noun in·no·va·tion ˌi-nə-ˈvā-shən

: the introduction of something new

: a new idea, method, or device

Innovation is a word that’s thrown around a lot in the marketing world. There are entire conferences dedicated to the topic – many of them, in fact. It’s also a rather broadly applied word used to describe anything remotely new and shiny. But what does “being innovative” really mean to marketers? That was the question we set out to answer during our most recent Digital Roundtable moderated by Gina McDuffie, CMO of VER and member of our Los Angeles Chapter. During the event, CMO Club members shared their insights into what innovative means to them and how to encourage and prove innovation in the workplace.

CMOs Define “Innovation”

“Innovation means doing something new –adding net new value” BUT there should be an “emphasis on creating results and adding value rather than innovation for sake of innovation”. Innovation is all about “strategically disrupting traditional approaches to do something in a new way” and “unlocking opportunities for improvement.”

Feeling the Pressure

Many of our participants agreed that the pressure to innovate is often self-inflicted. One of our participants observed that “part of the CMOs job is to think upstream… We should be fundamentally thinking about how we can have the biggest impact of the market.”

Unfortunately, many companies are demanding innovation without investing the dollars necessary to support innovative initiatives. Results of a recent survey by Imaginatik found that “while 95 percent of respondents say that innovation is important enough to be a consistent priority for their company’s leadership, nearly 44 percent are investing less than two percent of their annual budgets in innovation.”

Top-Down Innovation

All of our CMOs agreed that innovation happens most often when a culture of innovative thinking is established and maintained. CMOs cannot solely carry the burden of being innovative. Rather, their job is to hire the right people and then give them the freedom to bring new ideas to the table and then demonstrating the benefit of innovative initiatives. But as one participant noted, “Don’t set out to change culture – it should happen as a positive consequence of great strategy.” The best way to do this is by creating a brand narrative and ensuring that it’s adopted throughout the company – not just as part of a public facing function.

This doesn’t mean that CMOs shouldn’t also be looking to themselves and their peers as a source of innovative ideas. Gina cites her own experience as a participant in Stanford’s D School as a (one-week) program that inspired her to be more innovative as an executive and a leader. Also recommended at Stanford by another participant is their Strategic Marketing Management course

Everyone on the call agreed that no matter how small the progress, innovative steps forward should be celebrated throughout the company.