I write a lot about innovation and explore a variety of methods to infuse it into your marketing efforts. In this post I reviewed four key innovation elements from Google that are broadly (if not universally) applicable to the function of PR and marketing. There was a two elements missing from that list that are worth exploring.
Part of the process of innovation involves a certain mindset that not everything goes as planned. If you try enough ideas and try hard enough, some will work out with astounding success while others will be doomed for the deadpool before they even launch. Still, if you have not encouraged your marketing organization to truly embody what it means to innovate and move quickly you will be missing out on massive opportunities to engage your consumers and stakeholders.
It’s easy for senior leadership to get excited about the buzzword “innovation” and they will likely welcome hearing you talk about how you are making your marketing and PR engine more lean and innovative. It’s the kind of stuff managers like to hear. But the reality of innovation is this – it’s not always rosy. Often, it results in bad results.
To capture all of the upside you also have to accept that there will be downside too. These are a couple of very important mindshifts you will need to consider before you start selling your organization and your agency roster on innovation:
1. It’s OK to Fail
This is such an important mindset to embody and it’s very, very difficult for many managers to accept this reality. A lot of organizations are tuned to extract failure out and in the process make those who may have bold ideas fearful of exploring them. You have to be willing to address that when it comes to marketing and social innovations, some amount of failure is OK. Better than OK, actually, because if you haven’t failed at a couple of things you are probably not taking enough risks. Google was famous for its quarterly planning process involving OKRs (that’s Objectives and Key Results). Each employee was expected to set for themselves every quarter what many might consider absurd performance goals. Most often, we’d fail to reach them and that was considered ideal – the stretch goals usually constituted about 120% of what success really looked like and so by getting to 90% of the goal, major progress was made. This encouraged everyone to experiment and to do so without fear of being tagged “failure.” Note: this is not a license to throw caution to the wind with every project and rush into things. It will be your job to defend every single project coming out of your marketing group to the rest of the company. But you won’t make those strides that will be widely celebrated if you’re not open to failing a little along the way and committed to providing that failure the necessary air cover.
2. Re-examine Your Listening Capabilities
I’ve seen this concept tested time and again and it’s another area where most organizations fall short. What often happens is someone in the marketing organization dreams up a grand idea for a new tactic or social innovation program. They write up a brief and put it out to their agency roster for consideration. The agency team executes on the work, launches the initiative and no budget or bandwidth is set aside to iterate or tweak the program. The thing is, most often you don’t get things right the first time. You won’t have time to send everything through QA. What you should be doing is listening intently to your most ardent advocates; generally, they will be first to suggest improvements to a new program, app or initiative and will also be the first to let you know when something goes sideways. If you’re not listening to that chatter closely you’ll miss the insight and if you aren’t aligned with enough bandwidth to tweak the program, you’ll quickly lose your followers. If you follow the “launch it and move on” mentality, you’re almost guaranteed to have mediocre results. So think about how you can make listening a core part of your marketing innovation process.
3. Know When to Sunset
All things come to the end of their logical lifecycle. Bad programs that go sideways will get there a lot faster and if you keep pumping resources into it will drain your organization of energy, money and ideas. Back to my first point, you have to be willing to accept failure every so often and if you’re moving quickly and pushing out new marketing initiatives as fast as you can dream them up, you’ll probably hit a few sour notes. Shut them down and move on. Don’t pump resources into an idea just because it’s there. It’s OK to sunset ideas. Communicate clearly with your fans and consumers about the reasons behind it, move quickly to the next great idea and capture key learnings as you go to ensure you are moving through the ideastream strategically and not just flitting from project to project.
Combined these amount to a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for a lot of marketing organizations. Corporate politics, budgets and planning cycles do not always permit sweeping changes overnight. But be persistent and chip away at them over time. You can change how you engage your stakeholders and market products and services.