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3 Paths to Marketing Innovation—and 3 Roadblocks to Navigate

By Ginger Conlon | 10.18.18

Marketers can aspire to innovate, but aspiration is no guarantee for innovation. Before innovation can happen, a marketing organization its company’s culture must be set up to support it.


At EnergizeGrowth’s CMOs Leading Innovation Conference 2018 (CLIC ’18), founder Lisa Nirell shared her three musts for innovation and three obstacles to overcome.


The paths forward:

Use applied creativity – Marketers must apply creativity to create a new and improved state for their stakeholders. In other words, test and learn—repeatedly. Marketers also need to know who they’re innovating for. That requires understanding who their stakeholders are, because they’re not just customers.


Set a new desired state – Innovation isn’t just tuning the knobs; that’s incremental improvement. Marketers should aim for wholesale change. “Innovation occurs when you help others reach a new, desirable, and improved state,” Nirell said.


Hire for level-3 critical thinking – Level-three critical thinkers are curious; they challenge the status quo, welcome new ideas, show discernment, and form opinions from their analyses they can then drive through the organization.

They’re also comfortable failing, learning, and trying again. “If you don’t have these people on your team, you’re going to be frustrated with the lack of innovation,” Nirell asserted.


The roadblocks to get around:

Overly dependent on behavioral norms – If a company suffers from “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome, innovation is unlikely. CMOs need to work with other leaders in the organization to build a culture that fosters innovation; for example, encouraging risk-taking.


Sabotaged by bureaucracy – Bureaucracy can make getting anything done nearly impossible. Chief marketers should build partnerships across the organization to foster action and combat inertia.


Stalled by zombies – Zombies get in the way of innovation by draining resources better spent elsewhere. Zombies are projects and initiatives that aren’t delivering ROI but happen anyway, often without marketers even knowing why they continue. Zombies are also disengaged staff. Marketing leaders need to energize their zombie staff or replace them.

About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.