by Sandra Zoratti, inspired by Susan Shields

Winning CMOs embrace innovation like a hug. They open their arms to new ideas; embrace the best; hold on to the one’s that work and release those that don’t. Innovation is a competitive differentiator and has been shown to translate into superior financial results.How do you catalyze innovation within your marketing team? Let’s talk about how to get a marketing team excited to create and embrace the next big idea.

Why. To be an effective growth CMO, you must innovate in ways that give your customers something they want or need. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The best ideas often come from a multitude of sources, and within a large organization, employees offer many customer touch points who have strong voices with big ideas. Marketing can play a key role in actively listening to these voices. This will help to create more intimacy between you and your customer and drive the innovation necessary for ideas that create “hockey-stick” success.

What. Begin with an open mind and open arms, ready to embrace what’s next. Leverage your marketing team to take a leadership role in culture changes that encourage innovation. Specific, actionable Ideas below.

How. Be clear. Be focused. And shine a light on what inspires the future. Start with your team. Then each team member can be an innovation ambassador within your company.

A. Communicate a Clear Strategy

It’s critical for the C-Suite, particularly the CEO, to communicate the company strategy effectively. Most under communicate. Be the rare exception of one who over communicates – in a clear, compelling and encouraging way – this creates consistency and clarity.


Per D.A. Benton, author of The CEO Difference, CEOs say a good communicator is someone who embodies these traits:

    • Stays engaged.
    • Can carry a conversation.
    • Knows what’s going on in the world.
    • Puts thoughts forward clearly without ambiguity.
    • Has the ability to influence without power.
    • Is diplomatic.
    • Thinks about everything they say; refrains from saying everything they think.

B. Establish a Structure for Inputs

  • Gather inputs that gain momentum towards your strategy by creating a structure for inputs, such as a focus around innovation that addresses a customer need better, faster or more completely.
  • Listen – Participate – Share. Create a culture of sharing great ideas and encourage participation at all levels within your organization.


    • Get marketing to connect to get other departments on board.
    • Make it fun through competition and gaming. Employees just entering the workforce have grown up with technology in ways that many in the C-Suite didn’t. The average 21 year old has played over 10,000 hours of video games, that’s a quarter of their life. These expert gamers have an incredible ability to problem solve creatively. Give them an outlet to solve your customers’ biggest problems.
    • Leverage social media for easy sharing of ideas and instant recognition.
    • Hold an event that promotes innovation, sort of like a science fair.
    • Consider an idea incubator or allocate employee time to develop creative ideas.

C. The Idea “Spotlight”

  • Embrace innovative ideas by recognizing and rewarding those who generated them.
  • By creating a culture where employees feel heard and valued, they’ll contribute more and invest the time thinking through ways to improve a customers’ experience.


      • Participate in the brainstorming and discussion of new ideas.
      • Announce prizes and awards for ideas. Recognize employees whose concepts align with your strategy and serve your customers best. Give financial incentives to those whose ideas result in increased ROI.
      • Gain the momentum you desire through fast prototyping. Think “Fail Fast”, which has a flip side, “Celebrate Small Successes and Build on Them”. Either way, learn > improve > grow.
      • Yammer to brainstorm, but to assess the best new ideas the innovator must demonstrate its value.
      • Hold on to the best ideas and cultivate.

How have you embraced innovation? Does marketing in your company set the tone for a culture ripe for innovation? Share your ideas so we can all be better innovators.