Kimberly Jones is President/CEO at Butler/Till, one of the fastest-growing independent media agencies in the country.
Most companies strive to be innovative, hungry for the edge it can provide to help them get ahead and differentiate in an increasingly competitive world. While out-of-the-box thinking is undoubtedly a powerful tool with universal appeal—Gartner research shows that more than 90% of marketers are involved with innovation efforts across their organizations—it can be an especially elusive concept that’s difficult to define or implement.
Academic research around innovation is often vague, theoretical and not directly applicable to business, and the more practical business experts largely focus on product innovation that isn’t relevant to all organizations, including marketing and media firms. So how can marketers help their firms and their customers make sense of innovation and create tangible, results-driven efforts?
They can do it by operationalizing innovation through a combination of strategy and infrastructure and by building skills and nurturing a culture that promotes innovation at every level.
Here are four straight-forward, effective ways to take big ideas and nurture them into reality:
Build an innovation infrastructure.
Innovation starts with brainstorming and ideation, but it can be challenging to connect a desire for innovation with concrete business goals. The right tools and processes can help you prioritize ideas against actual business goals and take them to the next step by moving them into action items.
For example, at Butler/Till this means leaning on proven models, like the FuGle Innovation Process Model, which provides systematic ways to move ideas, and the 10 Types of Innovation Framework to define what innovation means to our organization, enrich our idea pipeline and spot gaps. It also means relying heavily on templates and existing frameworks within our firm, as well as on project management platforms. Utilization of these processes and tools provide a clear way to create ideas and organize, evaluate and prioritize for development.
A key to success is avoiding complicated tools and processes that require heavy administrative time and effort that could be better spent. Keep processes simple, comprehensive and easy to communicate, and ensure that they work within your existing infrastructure.
Set expectations, and educate and nurture your team.
An important component of driving innovation is providing the knowledge and skill-building required for your teams to understand the intention and expectations. A defined curriculum for both leaders and employees will help to build an innovation mindset and expand your innovation capabilities. The curriculum can include problem and challenge setting, scenario thinking, adaptive leadership strategies, and an overview of innovation styles.
Building a culture of innovation demonstrates that your organization is committed to dedicating time to new thinking and plans. It will also help to set the expectation that participation from all employees is essential to the success of your initiatives.
Our firm has created an innovation app that makes it easy for employees at all levels and departments to contribute and share ideas—big and small—and we rely on an innovation communications plan for disseminating information and progress updates. Both help to keep innovation top of mind throughout the organization.
Regardless of the approach, specific objectives and metrics, regular check-ins, and clear measurement can help gauge progress toward innovation goals and ensure that you’re continually driving toward improvements.
Create an innovation network.
According to research from MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte, 80% of respondents cultivate partnerships with other organizations to facilitate digital innovation, and 83% depend on cross-functional teams to advance their innovation efforts. It’s for good reason—two heads are always better than one. Rather than tying innovation to a single team within your organization, build a strong network of partners to expand your expertise and capabilities.
For instance, as a women-owned and led organization, we are working with the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association to enhance our healthcare network and together are dedicated to furthering the advancement of women in the healthcare industry.
Develop new ways to service clients.
Forty-five percent of business leaders surveyed for Gartner’s Innovation Survey cited product and service enhancements as top drivers of their innovation efforts. While not product-driven, service organizations, including marketing and advertising firms, have powerful opportunities to enhance their client relationships with new service offerings, including content marketing, advanced analytics and data enablement, to name a few.
As we look ahead to 2023 and beyond, the investment in tech is another area to not overlook. At Butler/Till we are investing deeper in cybersecurity, software development and leads modeling. Sixty-two percent of high-growth companies plan to invest in technologies that lead to higher rates of innovation.
Investing in reliable tools, seamless processes and a forward-thinking culture will help to drive your innovation efforts while minimizing the friction that’s sometimes inherent to adopting new ways of working. They’ll also help to scale your efforts across the organization, extending it beyond an innovation or R&D team, and encourage your people to actively contribute to bringing ideas to life.