Many Paths Lead to Marketing Innovation. Choose Yours

By Ginger Conlon

Henry Ford’s assertion, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right” is just as applicable to marketing innovation as to any other aspect of life.


“The first point of innovations resistance? You,” host Lisa Nirell, chief energy officer of EnergizeGrowth, said during her opening remarks at the CMOs Leading Innovation Conference 2017 (CLIC 2017). Nirell added that CMOs need a mind-set shift to enable their own and their team’s innovation.


Innovative CMOs, Nirell said, think differently. They have a propensity for applying creativity to problem solving, thinking critically, and taking risks—and are always willing to drive toward a new desired state for their brand and customers when change is warranted. Innovative CMOs also are comfortable letting go of “zombie projects” and eliminating bureaucracy holding back their team’s progress—and proactively find ways to do so.


A mind-set shift is only the first step. CMOs also need to address their processes and work habits. “CMOs get so distracted by tactical issues that they don’t take the time they need to innovate,” Nirell said, citing the results of EnergizeGrowth’s fifth annual “CMO Innovation Trends” study. She recommends rethinking priorities, delegating the blocking and tackling type tasks, and retaining only on the technologies that support strategic goals to allow more time focus on innovation.

Lisa Nirell on Marketing Innovation -
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Photo courtesy of Chris Zegal

Try a little kindness

Nirell wasn’t the only one to provide advice on removing roadblocks to innovation. Keynote speaker Leon Logothetis challenged attendees to use kindness as inspiration for innovation. “Next time you’re creating a campaign, ask yourself, ‘Will it help more than the bottom line? Will it help the hearts and minds of the people who will see it?’” said Logothetis, star of the acclaimed Netflix series The Kindness Diaries, author of the book of the same name, and a global adventurer and philanthropist.

MKTGinsight Chief Editor Ginger Conlon with Netflix star and author Leon Logothetis

Pave your own path forward

During his CLIC 2017 presentation, Parkmobile CMO Jeff Perkins recommended that chief marketers think like the CMO of a startup, despite the size of the company they work for. He shared seven ways to do just that, including building the right team, prioritizing wisely, maximizing resources, optimizing everything, thinking big, being transparent, and being customer-centric enough to create raving fans.


Monique Elliott, global head of digital commerce at GE Power, explained during her CLIC 2017 presentation that she uses creativity, determination, and evangelism to innovate. Elliott saw an opportunity to “innovate” and increase online revenue by taking a more B2C approach to e-commerce. “I didn’t invent anything new; it was just new for the space,” she said. To get the initiative moving, Elliott enlisted the support of distributor partners and internal constituents, reframed marketing and risk taking, tracked competitors' sites and customers' preferences, and even changed her title from CMO to global head of digital commerce. “So, when we came out with the latest version of our e-commerce site," she said, "we... leapfrogged many of our competitors as a result.”

MKTGinsight Chief Editor Ginger Conlon with GE Power's Monique Elliott, global head of digital commerce

As Katie Keating, CMO of SRI International, said during her CLIC 2017 session, it’s essential for chief marketers to create and maintain a culture of marketing innovation. But, as she pointed out, innovation doesn't happen by serendipity; it has to be institutionalized as an integral element of a business's culture. Innovation has to be intentional, she said; it has to be a process that marketers spend time and energy on. And, Keating added, innovation is most likely to happen when a diverse, cross-functional team comes together.


Certainly, innovation rarely happens in a vacuum. But there are as many paths to innovation as there are problems to solve and opportunities to harness. So, the road that marketers travel to innovation can be as unique as they, their team, and their companies are.

What path will you choose?

MKTGinsight Chief Editor Ginger Conlon with Katie Keating, CMO of SRI International

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.