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The Yin-Yang of Marketing Innovation

The goal of many organizations is to become more customer-centric, so it should come as no surprise that marketing is being tasked to generate substantive digital growth via meaningful innovation. Moreover, creating improved customer experiences tops the list of corporate goals for marketing-driven innovation efforts.

The possibilities for enhancing the B2B customer experience are vast, but the path to progress is problematic. Let's explore the available evidence.

According to the latest research insights from Gartner, marketers need to focus more on the few high-potential ideas that can really show value for the customer and the rest of the business. They must also raise the profile of the marketing organization as a key innovation partner.

Marketing Innovation Investments

Some Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) have embraced the challenge and are committing financial resources and staff headcount to help drive successful 'digital growth' initiatives. Marketing budgets show increased spending on innovation efforts. That spending trend shows no signs of decline.

Gartner says that more than half of all marketing organizations now have dedicated innovation staff. In-house talent works in concert with marketing technology partners and external marketing agencies to form an ecosystem of human resources driving innovation projects.

Companies that make above-average financial commitments to marketing innovation report higher revenue and profits compared to their industry peers. Having dedicated talent on their teams also makes business leaders more willing to back high-risk, high-potential return initiatives.

CMO inclusion in strategic planning, combined with dedicated resources for the task at hand, should help to drive marketing innovation success, yet constraints remain. Marketers say that organizational resistance to risk, an inability to measure the impact of innovation and challenges finding skilled and experienced talent limit the impact of their innovation efforts.

Gartner believes that these barriers to progress reflect a larger issue of an organizational mindset. Innovation sometimes introduces new concepts that require a 'leap of faith' in untested people and their associated ideas.

To truly innovate, marketing leaders must be willing to fail. Most executives understand that in theory, but when faced with a real-world decision to fund a new idea, they balk. Gartner says that the lack of trust between marketing and finance leaders can negatively impact strategy execution.

"Innovation used to be thrown around as a buzzword, but as CMOs continue to dedicate headcount and build strategic partnerships, marketing-led innovation has become a maturing practice driving legitimate growth for the business," said Elizabeth Shaw, senior director analyst at Gartner.

Marketing Innovation in Practice

From my perspective, I've witnessed the ongoing challenges of developing and nurturing B2B marketing teams that have the appropriate mix of skills and experience. Within the business technology arena, the task is compounded by the need to draw upon the talent that has proven industry domain expertise and demonstrated business acumen.

Across the technology sector, the availability of multifaceted marketing staff -- both internal and external sources -- seems to have been in decline over the last decade. Furthermore, recruiting new people who have the desire to learn and apply core product marketing skills remains problematic. Marketing campaign specialists are abundant. Social media experts are bountiful. Yet few aspire to learn the ability to research and develop compelling customer-centered narratives.

Why has this inability to build a pool of customer-aware commercial storyteller talent become a showstopper for most technology vendors that seek new market development advancements? In reality, most vendors offer undifferentiated points of view about their available offerings. They highlight product-centric benefits that are virtually identical to their competition while claiming that they're somehow unique (when they're not).

Besides, rather than consider the illuminating findings of market research studies or the revelations from customer survey results, they'll more than likely ask their salespeople and/or channel partners to provide the requested guidance -- in the belief that this might (potentially) lead to differentiated offerings. The desire to conduct a comprehensive situation analysis is rare, by comparison.

Granted, it takes time to perform an in-depth 'design thinking' assessment. That's often counter to the 'agile marketing' methodology that currently dominates the typical 'stand-up' meeting process. Is there a way to combine two opposing thoughts within the same marketer's brain? Today, I don't know the answer.

That said, I'm hopeful that by continuing to ponder these scenarios, a viable solution will emerge... eventually. Today's industry marketing of complex IT products and services require the development of persona-based value propositions that uniquely target the business outcome interests of key C-suite decision makers.

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