The following is the first in a series of conversations about marketing innovation with Jeff Janiszewski and Ginger Shimp from SAP North America Marketing. In this blog, they discuss what innovation is, and why it’s important.
GINGER: I’m excited about this blog series because we need to reflect on what we’ve learned from our marketing innovation projects.
JEFF: I couldn’t agree more. It’s helpful to share what we’ve learned and get feedback from others too.
GINGER: So, let’s begin with why it’s important to innovate.
JEFF: They say, “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
GINGER: Who are “they?”
JEFF: The ubiquitous “they.” The people who just know things.
GINGER: I’ve never been convinced that “they” are the best authorities.
JEFF: You’re such a cynic. It’s just a saying. It speaks to the inexorable need to innovate.
GINGER: Okay, but they’re wrong.
JEFF: What do you mean, “they’re wrong?” We’re talking about marketing innovation. Don’t you think there’s a need for marketers to innovate?
GINGER: Absolutely there’s a need to innovate, but that’s not exactly what the saying implies. What if you’re satisfied with what you’ve always got? The implication is that you simply need to do what you’ve always done, but that’s not true. That contradicts the law of diminishing returns. If you keep doing more of the same thing, you’ll ultimately get less return on your investment. So, it should be that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get less and less until you have nothing.
JEFF: This isn’t an economic argument, we’re talking about marketing.
GINGER: If you send out an email to a targeted audience, it might be effective. If you send out that same email to the same audience every week for five years, it won’t be as effective. Just because you keep doing what you’ve always done doesn’t mean you’ll always get the same results.
JEFF: But clearly the initial assumption is that you’re not satisfied with what you’ve always got, so you need to innovate.
GINGER: Okay, fine. Let’s say you don’t like what you’ve always got. Just because you start doing something different doesn’t mean you won’t continue to get what you’ve always got. In fact, you could get something worse than what you’ve always got.
JEFF: To me, that points to one of the key distinctions between invention and innovation. While it’s possible to make a useless invention – a waterproof towel for example – innovation, by definition, is a pragmatic shift in the status quo. While the light bulb was a great invention, by itself it’s pretty useless. It was the innovation of the electric power system that made the light bulb valuable. More than just an object or process, innovation is about adopting a new way of doing things.
GINGER: And while the idea for an invention might randomly strike you out the blue, innovation is necessarily an ongoing process because the world is changing at an increasing pace. The status quo is not an option. There are no phone booths anymore, so if you need to make a phone call – or change into a superhero costume – you need another solution. You need to innovate. The same is true with marketing. Things keep changing, so we can never anticipate that we’ll always get what we always got.
JEFF: But we can anticipate the market. It’s not guesswork. We can look for trends and response rates, compare our program with other marketing initiatives, run tests, analyze the results, and so on.
GINGER: Which is exactly what most marketers do. We begin with a specific goal – we’re told that we need to generate X number of qualified leads. Then, because the goal is a quantifiable metric, we naturally look for a pragmatic, engineered solution. But that’s not innovation, that’s invention. Inventions are engineered, but innovation is designed.
JEFF: What’s the difference? you may ask.
GINGER: We’re so glad you did. Engineers are problem solvers. Once they’ve found a solution, they’re done. They collect their paycheck and go home. True innovators are never done working. Instead of solving problems, they look for elegant solutions. Instead of minimizing variables and trying to control the results, they embrace variables. They love the challenge of change. Marketing innovation isn’t focused on filling pipe; it’s focused on finding a better way of doing things.
JEFF: I think a lot of businesses may be uncomfortable with that idea. They’re not interested in running a marketing thinktank; they just want to sell products. But I think we can make the case that marketing innovation not only benefits the bottom line, but it’s critical to the business.
GINGER: Peter Drucker, the father of business consulting, said businesses have only two functions: marketing and innovation. In his mind, you only needed to create something new and tell people about it, and everything else would fall into place.
JEFF: Most great startups begin that way. They have a passion for their innovation and it draws people in. But once a company matures, it becomes more conservative and the first things to go are marketing and innovation. It would rather do what it has always done in hopes of getting what it always got. Satisfying investors, employees, and customers is a lot safer than delighting them.
GINGER: We’re fortunate that our company has such a strong commitment to innovation. Ten years ago, Hasso Plattner, one of the founders of SAP, admitted we had lost the desire to innovate and he took the company in a new direction. He began by creating two new institutions, The “Stanford d.school” and “The School of Design Thinking” at the Hasso Platter Institute at the University of Pottsdam in Germany. Both of these schools are dedicated to teaching the process of innovation.
JEFF: Plattner was then able to apply the lessons learned there to not only create new product innovations at SAP but also to innovate the way our company does business – including innovative marketing.
GINGER: Now, we can leverage these lessons to help our customers become more innovative and successful, helping the world to run better.
JEFF: These blogs are part of that. If we can share with our customers how to innovate their marketing, it’s great for us in the long run. Throughout the series, we’ll discuss how marketing innovation works in principle, and more specifically how we achieved it. We hope you’ll all stay with us. If you’re up for checking out some of the innovative things Ginger and I’ve done, tune into our radio drama, Searching for Salaì, on Apple/iTunes, Stitcher, Castbox, or whatever platform you prefer. Then think about the innovative ways you use technology in your everyday life.
GINGER: Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.