The following is the sixth in a series of conversations about marketing innovation with Jeff Janiszewski and Ginger Shimp from SAP North America Marketing. In this blog, they discuss the importance of creativity to the innovation process.
GINGER: Across the last five blogs, we’ve talked about what marketing innovation is, why it’s important, and more particularly, how we used it to reach out to our audience in a new way.
JEFF: We’re fortunate to work for a company, and a VP, that understands the importance of innovation and supports our efforts. Business is changing more rapidly than it ever has and slower than it ever will, and marketers in every industry need to innovate to keep pace.
GINGER: Nonetheless, many marketers find themselves focusing on immediate problems rather than designing innovations that will build long-term relationships with their customers. While it certainly makes sense to supply customers with specific information late in the sales cycle, it’s important to understand that on first contact, potential customers are typically looking for empathy and advice. In fact, Stratabeat did a survey and found that emotion is the #1 factor in customer loyalty in 18 of the 18 industries examined. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio once said, “We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.”
JEFF: And from a marketer’s perspective, that opportunity for empathy is a great way to begin the design thinking process to look for ways to innovate.
GINGER: We’re big believers in the design thinking process. Having a rational, iterative, step-by-step approach to innovation is important, particularly when the collaboration of many participants is required. However, at the heart of the innovation process is creativity. Innovation is not about applying known solutions to known problems; that’s engineering. Innovation is about creating a practical, novel approach to new challenges.
JEFF: However, that raises some questions. Will design thinking always lead to innovation? Can you really take a systematic approach to creativity? And can creativity be taught?
GINGER: Those questions have been hotly debated by experts for years, and if they’ve reached any conclusion at all, it would be, “it depends.” It reminds me of an entomologist that I met at a party. Her specialty was spiders.
JEFF: Wait, I thought entomologists studied insects; spiders are arachnids.
GINGER: That surprised me too. Apparently, they study insects, spiders, arthropods, worms, snails, and anything else that creeps you out, but don’t get me off topic. This woman knew absolutely everything there is to know about spider webs and how they’re made, and that’s a vast topic. However, she had never made a real spider web.
JEFF: The woman? She’s not a spider.
GINGER: Exactly. Simply studying creativity and innovation won’t make us creative. Even if she were to spend a lifetime trying, she’d never be able to make a genuine web because she’s not a spider. Now that may seem obvious or silly, but the point is that creativity requires more than just desire and knowledge. It requires some degree of innate ability and skill. The good news is that creativity isn’t binary. You can’t really say that someone either is or isn’t creative. Unless you’re in a complete vegetative state, you have some degree of creativity, but it needs to be nurtured.
JEFF: And people will excel in different domains. Some will be creative painters, some will be creative writers, and some will be creative musicians. My uncle was a creative bookkeeper, but he ended up in jail.
JEFF: Well, some people are overly creative and only use their talents for self-fulfillment, but true innovation is inherently pragmatic. That’s why the design thinking approach works well in a collaborative setting. It forces those who are wildly creative to be a little more practical and play well with others, and it encourages those with minimal creative ability to step out of their comfort zone.
GINGER: There are a lot of obstacles to marketing innovation such as time, budget, a focus on immediate concerns, and an intolerance for risk, but it’s often the inability of collaborators to communicate with each other effectively that poses the biggest obstacle. In my opinion, marketers and associated creatives need to fashion a common language — an argot — to facilitate better communication.
JEFF: Yes, if you want to see a creative whither before your eyes, just say vague things like, “Can you punch that up a little?” or “Can you do that differently?” Marketers need to practice their creative criticism, so in the ideation phase they can say something more than, “That’s not really working for me.”
GINGER: Marketers need to get away from their desks and explore artistic endeavors. Jeff and I both read books — well … we listen to audiobooks now. We both like to cook and go to the theatre and visit art museums. There are all sorts of options, but it needs to be something artistic. Intellectual pursuits like playing chess or doing Sudoku puzzles are great ways to engage your brain, but you need to get involved in more subjective pursuits, so you can train yourself to have a more critical eye and be able to easily articulate constructive criticism. It takes practice.
JEFF: Criticism is a vital part of innovation because you can’t progress until you determine whether an innovation is making things better or worse.
GINGER: Often people won’t voice their opinions because they lack the courage of their convictions, or they don’t want to be negative. Naturally, no one wants to work with a toxic troll, but legitimate, thoughtful opinions should be welcomed.
JEFF: In any case, marketing innovation is almost always a collaborative process, and each participant will bring his own style and ideas to the table.
GINGER: Participants also bring unique skills. Some will be leaders, some will be wildly imaginative, and some will be pragmatic project managers. Without question, the most important factor in marketing innovation is bringing together the right people with the right skills.
JEFF: From there, you need to empathize with your customers, narrowly define your goal, and begin the ideation process.
GINGER: Finally, it’s important to remember that there is no failure. This is an iterative learning process. Regardless of whether things go as planned or not, you need to evaluate and share those lessons, and then leverage them into the next innovation.
JEFF: So that’s it for now. If you get a chance, please check out our audiobooks on the Intelligent Enterprise ― we cover 15 industries ― and let us know what you think. Seriously. Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you. Thank you all for reading.