By Samuel Greengard
Image Attribute: Free Great Pictures
The rapid and radical advance of digital technology has opened the door to business and creative opportunities that were unimaginable only a few years ago. But somewhere between opportunity and possibility lies the very real world of navigating today’s swift-moving and often difficult marketing landscape.
“There’s a need to innovate faster, smarter, and better,” said Glen Hartman, senior managing director for North America and global digital marketing at Accenture Interactive.
At the center of this concept: thinking and acting entrepreneurially, or, within an organization, intrapreneurially. This approach, at the most basic level, requires a high level of agility, flexibility, adaptability, and creativity. It requires an organization, or an executive, to explore, pilot, fail, learn, and iterate on a regular and ongoing basis.
“Marketing has always had a wonderful relationship with innovation,” observed Scott Brinker, co-founder and CTO of ion interactive and author of “Hacking Marketing.” “But there is so much disruption happening--there are so many channels and touch points--there’s a need for different thinking and different approaches.”
The need to think and act like a startup is rooted in fundamental changes in customer relationships. Mobility, apps, cloud computing, geolocation capabilities, social media, crowdsourcing, and big data have changed the landscape. As Brinker explained: “Digital technology has shortened the connection point between marketers and customers.”
To be sure, consumers now have instant access to pricing information and other data about products and companies. They have growing influence over a brand. The result, Brinker said, is marketing blending into a more complex function that intertwines with product development, sales, support, and other parts of the business.
How can organizations and marketing leaders adopt a more intrapreneurial approach? How does this impact teams, processes, and practices? And how can a focus on innovation spark new ideas, products, and approaches? There are no simple answers, but going about business as usual isn’t likely to yield desirable long-term results.
As Kim Smith, chief digital officer at Capgemini Consulting, put it: “As business conditions become more complex, it’s increasingly difficult to forecast and predict where an organization is going and what will be required in five years. The only way to approach digital disruption is with a high degree of dexterity. Organizations and executives can either brace themselves or fully embrace it.”
A New Deal
The ability to think in an intrapreneurial way can yield insights and answers that spark a new campaign--or an entirely different product or approach. It may lead to new and more robust partnerships and filter into customer interactions. One of the advantages that individuals and startups have is that they often view things possibilities in a fresh and sometimes radically different way.
“Entrepreneurs are typically focused on solving a problem. In marketing, there’s a tendency to fall into the trap of selling features versus benefits,” said Rick Ducey, managing director at marketing consulting firm BIA/Kelsey.
The result is an inability to truly connect to customers. The abstraction layer between the business and the real world of consumers often grows thicker as organizations become larger and more successful. Moreover, the layers of bureaucracy that frequently develop within a mature enterprise--often taking the form of silos and turf battles--make it even more difficult to think freshly and creatively. At some point, the objective becomes less about delivering value and exciting consumers than meeting the organizations goals, metrics, and revenue forecasts. In some cases, business leaders also adopt a protectionist approach. They look for ways to shut down competitors rather than innovate.
“Once a CMO ties into this idea of being an entrepreneur and focusing on problems, solutions, and value propositions, it’s possible to move from, ‘We have a trustworthy brand, and it has these features’ to, ‘We can solve this problem for you,’” Ducey explained.
This, in turn, leads to a more engaged relationship with customers and deeper loyalty. Yet the road to results often winds through unfamiliar territory, making it necessary to approach tasks in different and sometimes uncomfortable ways. This means, among other things, questioning the status quo, developing new and different groups or teams, and using different methods and technologies than in the past.
A significant problem organizations face on the path to becoming intrapreneurial is that great ideas and new concepts don’t necessarily come from the top. They now come from anywhere--employees outside the marketing department; customers, campaigns, or products and services produced by other companies; social media and crowdsourcing methods; and a variety of other sources. But often, stated Claudio Vandi, innovation programs director for Numa, a global startup incubator and accelerator headquartered in Paris, employees spot opportunities for improvements yet run into a brick wall or are stifled by ongoing resistance. This can result in an innovation gap and cause employees, including marketing teams, to become frustrated and, eventually, disillusioned. The end result may be an exodus of talent.
“A tolerance for diversity of opinion” is paramount, Ducey said. While it’s important to think critically and question any initiative, campaign, feature, or innovation, it’s also critical to avoid derailing every idea before it has a chance to spread its wings and fly. Within some departments and companies, naysayers and devil’s advocates shut down innovation rather than looking for ways to make innovation and change happen. Vandi, who works with prominent companies to adopt intrapreneurial methods and ratchet up innovation, told CMO.com he believes that it’s important to understand who is equipped to participate in an intrapreneurial type program or group and achieve buy-in--even if their ideas or projects aren’t pursued by the group or the enterprise.
A key to building an effective intrapreneurial model is learning how to embrace the unknown, Vandi added. “Too often, companies want to describe the project and have it mapped out before starting out,” he said. “This doesn’t work within an intrapreneurial framework."
Instead, it’s critical to understand how and where innovation delivers benefits, how technology intersects with the user experience, and then build a platform that supports intrapreneurial thinking and actions. Within this framework, CMOs and others must set aside time to think--and gain an outside-in perspective.
Beyond The Basics
Tuning into intrapreneurial thinking requires a focus on a group of core issues, Brinker said. CMOs and others should be asking an important group of questions: What are some of the emerging disruptions? How are these disruptions and trends impacting businesses and marketing? How do they impact the dynamics of B2B interactions, customer interactions, and more?
“Getting a handle on the environment requires more than simply talking about it,” he said. “It requires a move away from traditional top-down marketing and rigid quarterly plans. It’s important to have a framework in place that allows cross-functional participation, experimentation, rapid testing, and agile sprints. It’s a much more iterative approach that requires leaders to set aside their fear of the unknown.”
Organizations may benefit by establishing specialized “incubation” teams that focus on different thinking. Larger organizations may also benefit from an innovation lab that focuses on experimenting and testing concepts to see what works. It’s then possible to seed these ideas and technologies within marketing and across the organization. However, Brinker cautioned that establishing elite groups can also introduce different problems. Look for ways to make innovation a part of everyone’s job; sequestering the task can potentially undermine the process.
“When everyone within the marketing organization has some connection to innovation and intrapreneurial thinking, the organization wins,” he said, with the end goal to “build innovation into the DNA of the organization.”
It’s also vital to know when an idea, approach, or campaign works and scale up rapidly, Ducey said. Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Amazon, and Zapata exploded onto the scene because they not only recognized a need for a core product or service, but they also had the ability to plug in technology and innovation. Amazon, for example, started with used books but eventually expanded in the Swiss army knife of retailers. Along the way, it introduced a number of innovative marketing methods, including customized page views, customer reviews, and Amazon Prime. While marketing campaigns and approaches may not always be clear-cut, the same types of opportunities exist.
In the end, Hartman said, the task of becoming entrepreneurial falls somewhere between art and science, intuition and analytics. Teams, departments, and groups must move beyond silos and data ownership and view the organization as a single entity. Marketers must understand the customer at a far deeper level and rethink what it means to deliver value. The right combination of YouTube videos, Instagram posts, Twitter hashtags, and smartphone app features may deliver results that traditional media and approaches cannot. Yet, at the same time, a well-placed TV commercial tied into a campaign and integrated with Shazam might spark consumer interest.
Achieving an outside-in view requires an acknowledgment that an entirely new ecosystem exists, Capgemini’s Smith said. It’s one in which CMOs view customers as producers and partners, seek out new and different business partnerships--including some that would have been unthinkable in the past--and engage in pilots, A-B testing, and social experimentation as a matter of course. This is the new order of business and marketing. “It’s important to ignite your talent,” she said.
Concluded Vandi: “Innovation is everyone’s business within a company. It shouldn’t be exceptional for a team to do something innovative.”
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