It is not a secret we live in an era full of changes. New technologies are speeding up changes in the customer behavior, and companies have to react quick not only to adapt their selves, but also try to work upfront.
However, the innovation is not new, we as human beings are being evolving since the beginning of our existence in this planet. There is only one different with what we know from innovation in the past, it should be faster, bringing value quicker to the customer. But innovation is nowadays a buzzword, very used is corporate strategy presentations and session. It seems, that this will be the “new trend” to jump into.
There are some good reasons for that, as we live is such dynamic environment (taking into account customers, competitors, new players, technologies, politics) that challenge the status quo is the only way to survive, and then success. Although there are several points to review to fully understand what does this mean, what are the benefits and how to move forward. Historically, innovation is a concept tied to technology or R&D (Research and development), but not really in other fields like marketing, finance or general management.
Innovation is very important in the product side, during design and development, but not only. Customer are looking for something more than products. The customer experience goes beyond the product or service the customer is interested in. The customer experience should cover the end-to-end life cycle and should help to engage and retain customers in order to be more profitable. All companies are looking for longer term relationship with their customers, and not one-off sale outs. It is very known that acquire a new customer is 4 times more experience than retain them and make a sale to an existing one (this is also other of the reason of the importance of CRM platforms and why companies are heavy investing on this lastly as part of the transformation to be more customer centric). Although I would like to remember the importance of the brand, how to target customer, the boost of the personalization, with the goal to bring live new solutions and experiences to the customer centricity.
A lot of companies, and executives are claiming to be customer centered, but scratching the surface we can see it is not always the way the run their business in reality. To be customer centric, customer first or customer obsessed is a very broad concept, and somethings, not easy to do. This is when the innovation (and new ways to be innovator) come up as a good practice.
There are different ways of innovate, because in a very generic terms, it is about to improve, in order to make more efficient any existing method, process,business model, strategy, technology or product. So, as Duncan Wardle (former VP of Innovation and Creativity at Disney) said, all of us are creative, so all of us could innovate, as all of us could improve small (or big) things in our daily jobs. But of course, there are several ways to innovate. There is also disruptive innovation, or this one that shakes in a strong way the current environment. It is also good to mention that the scope of the innovation is as big as we want: technology, processes, business model, products, campaigns, channels. Everything could be part of an innovation initiative, it doesn’t matter if big (disruptive) or small (progressive or evolution).
If we take the marketing field as example, we should be more innovative than we are. It is the way forward to evolve and progress. As mentioned in lines above, it is a requirement, indirectly mandated by our customers. If they change, we, as company should do it too. Society (markets and customers) are changes faster than ever, and if we really want to keep the pace, we can not keep on using same old methods, we should think in innovate faster, quicker and adding the more value possible. We should test new tactics, new customer journeys, new channels, new solutions, involving customers and doing it in shorter cycles than we do. Usually we use to spend short time in planning, but long time in building and executing. We should switch this approach, planning in deep, and building and execute in short cycle, so we can adjust with the provided feedback (direct or indirect) by customers. Don’t forget than it is easier than ever get real time feedback, and use it should not be an option.
Marketing has changed quick in very few years, and the technology has a big say. There are tons of platforms, systems and tools that support all these marketing processes, improving results and making activities more efficient. Activation budgets have changed from traditional channels (mass media such press, TV ads, …) to digital ones (paid search, email, social media,..). This required a new mindset, a new way of working.
There is another important point to make innovation a real success: collaboration across teams, of course not keeping out the customer in this equation. As mentioned before, there are several kinds of innovation, but something that is in our hands, is work with a end-to-end perspective. This means, have the big picture in mind, checking the provided value to the customer, implications and feedback from all the stakeholders (internal and externals) and effort (time, money and resources) required to make it happen. How does it sound? Let’s be honest, it is not easy, and it could take some time to be implemented, especially in big-old corporations, where current structures and processes could be a hurdle.
However never is late to change. With the strong focus companies are putting (or they should) in the marketing activities due this customer-centric philosophy mind change, it is easy to identify some examples to start practicing. The ultimate goal of the marketing activities are generate sales, previous new contact acquisition, engagement,.. So, why not involve sales teams in our planning? But this should not be a one-off, it required to create a cross functional team. Let’s think in an important milestone such blackfriday, Christmas season or preparation of certain key events. The cross functional team might be composed by sales team, IT representatives, marketing experts, legal or privacy officers, finance specialist and supply chain experts. It is important that all of them can not only be consulted, but also are empowered to make decisions. Teaming up we will avoid further problems, misunderstandings or lack of goals alignment, and in some sessions, this cross-functional team can end up with the end to end initiative, tackled from different angles. Granting visibility on the end to end, it will be easier to understand certain decisions for the extended teams, and also enable to make smarter decisions based on what is more beneficial for the customer. But what if this team work together, not only in this activity, but in a continues improvement mode? Together they will find out new requirements, new improvements or updates. It will be easier synchronize priorities across teams, and forget all these projects not bringing value, but consuming a lot of resources and energy. All the participants of these cross-functional teams should agree on the format and representation. If we want to think on the customer, a good way (although not the only one) is customer journeys (thinking not from the final end to end journey, but small piece of that). It will help to understand what customer wants, how are we going to help them, and all the intermediate interactions needed to make it happen. Some examples to illustrate this idea could be how customers will receive invoices, how to track orders after purchase them online or offline, how they will ask for product demo or how to invite them to events.
There are a couple of important thinks to have in mind with this change: it is already mentioned the need to include all the stakeholders. This includes internal teams, partnerships and of course customers. This last one will added very useful info, as all will be designed with them in the center. But there are several ways to include them. In some cases, some representatives could be included in working sessions, but asking constant feedback is other. We are in era with reduced teams and capabilities in the companies, so to extend these teams with external resources in forms of partnership will be the key for success. The second point is about the frequency of analysis. We should work in small iterations, in order to build value faster, bringing new solutions to the customer quicker and re-evaluate items to be improved faster and quicker. It is better build something small quick and improve/growth it on the go, than wait for ever to have something big and get it very late
Innovation is the missed piece in the business growth. If we want to get different results, stop using the same old methods. Iterate, ask feedback, built the correct team, spot working in silos, think in the customer and chunk the problem in small pieces. Innovation is think in the customer, but it should bring value faster is we want to keep up running our business.