January 22, 2010
This is part five of a ten-part series that will share my Ten Habits of Highly Effective Chief Marketing Officers, based on my experience and what I have learned from others. See my January 13 entry for Habit #4 — Get your team right. And do it early in your tenure.
Habit #5: Champion innovation, especially disruptive innovation.
This is an especially important habit in these turbulent times, where we are not confident we are out of a recessionary mindset among the people we serve through our brands.
Business history is chock full of successful brands that launched or relaunched during recessions; Google and Apple are two examples. There is nothing more important a CMO can do in a recession — or anytime really — than to lead the innovation program for a brand or a company. Usually in partnership with the CTO. True innovation is impervious to recessions, witness the recent success of Amazon’s Kindle, Motorola and Verizon’s Droid, and the breakthrough results for Avatar.
Leading innovation is too often not a high enough priority for CMOs. They are distracted by the many short term issues that can consume the best of us. Here is what I have found that has worked for the best CMOs:
— Ensure your forward-looking innovation portfolio is building your value as a brand. Value is always important, but these days it is especially important. And this is very measurable before your innovation goes to market, so make it important in your pre-launch criteria. And expedite those innovations that do build value. When people, consumers, rate your brand a better value than the competition, I guarantee you will grow and achieve market leadership.
— Ensure your innovation portfolio is sufficient to meet your future growth goals. Sounds obvious, but I am amazed at how many CMOs and CTOs cannot answer that question. There are a variety of ways to measure this pre-market introduction, and if you do not have those capabilities in place you need to do that.
— Build balance into your innovation portfolio. Most innovation programs are dominated by incremental product or service innovations, with 80-90% of the initiatives directed at maintaining the brand’s position in the market. This would include things like longer protection from a deodorant, more on-time departures for an airline, or an improved taste or crust for a pizza brand (I must say Domino’s is creating a lot of buzz now for an incremental innovation.) You need a balance of incremental innovations like these with a small portfolio of discontinuous innovations. Discontinuous innovations are things that change the dynamics in a category, create new markets, solve problems in new ways. Clayton Christensen has wonderful insights in this area. Discontinuous innovations are riskier, but great CMOs create and manage a diverse portfolio of innovation … with the obvious benefit of stronger growth and the less obvious benefit of cultivating a culture of creativity and bold thinking.
So, if you are a CMO and you are not championing innovation, start today. I cannot imagine a higher ROI for your time.