Across the Pond – Marketing Transformed
3. Tips, Tricks and Hacks for Faster Marketing Innovation and Transformation
This week we’re going to be talking about innovation, trying to define it in a way that’s useful. I know Sam gets hot under the collar about the true value of asking questions, so we’re going to spend a bit of time on that. He’ll no doubt be getting on his soap box, but he has promised me it’s a small soap box
No, I haven’t promised Chris, fake news, fake news sir.
We want to fit in some insights on design thinking and how to do that as well. So, tips, tricks and hacks for faster innovation transformation. Why did we focus on this as a subject? Well frankly that’s quite difficult, give me more, give me more ideas, give me solutions not problems, the pressure to change, the pressure to innovate is immense. However, innovation and transformation doesn’t always have to be about doing something new, but it does need to be a core part of a creative process. Sometimes that is about a pressurised environment, sometimes it is about giving the space to breathe and take in the environment so creative ideas flow, but the challenge is actually defining a strong process that enables that.
How many companies have gone under for creating products and services where there is no market for them? That’s why trying to keep your feet firmly on the ground and not in the blue sky is important. Try to think about a series of questions to ask: what problem does it solve? What need does it deliver on? What makes us different? What makes us better? That’s a relatively small question set, it will vary from company to company, but I always try to start off when I’m addressing a problem or a situation to look at it from an innovation perspective, and there’s a key one there as well that I didn’t include and its how will we measure it ? and I think that’s a good challenge that one in terms of what is innovation, how does that link to marketing performance?
The measurement one is good to have in mind as you go through this. When I think of innovation and how it’s linked to marketing performance, my definition I like to use is: what solution have we created for consumers, customers, shoppers or communities than the choices that currently exist? In a lot of organisations, there’s plenty of nonsensical work that isn’t driven by being solution-first or being powered by a true insight. Many are driven by shiny objects.
A great way of thinking about it is: who or what is being fired? What are you getting rid of? In order to hire this new thing, the soul destroying moments in my life have been imagine you know the office, whether it’s the UK version with David Brent or the US version with Michael Scott, your sat around a table with someone who’s perhaps less than capable, who’s capturing a brain dump of ideas (that are) really close in, (have) been rehashed and not grounded in any insight, and its soul destroying- another forty minutes - then everyone goes back to their desk, wondering why they didn’t follow their passion and become that military veteran or that jockey, or whatever the thing they felt like they wanted to do when they were a kid, because this is soul destroying and horrible and that approach leads to copycat, ‘me too’ ideas, with window dressing you're often guided by features and not benefits which are really to do with the consumer. Shiny objects, novelty technology or fads - internally charged ideas but often again without insight. Ok so, I’m going to move on from ranting. What does good look like? doing innovation well means it must achieve the audience or consumers behavior change.
The first definition is about the consumer, it’s a new offering that resolves a circumstance where they’re struggling to fulfil their aspiration, need. Virtually everything that is launched in the marketplace that succeeds is successful by displacing another product or behaviour. So back again to who are you firing? and why? with your offering are they going to hire you? Why, are they going to spend their time or their money or attention on you? That is a fundamental question that you’ve got to address when you're designing or developing innovation.
Yeah I like that one in one out policy as well, you know defining yourself in terms of ensuring that you need to move on and I think that link into striving for something better that’s the important part we need to focus on, in terms of does it actually achieve something better, and like I say that could be as much about increasing the efficiency of your process of existing product as much as it is about coming up with a new product, it does not just have to be about the new weird or wonderful, the new Facebook or snapchat. I also get the need to have a framework to work upon, we want the framework to be not a straight jacket but guidelines, I think that’s the distinction quite often you get to look at the process and it just feels very very bureaucratic and it feels like it takes all the energy and productivity out of that.
A good process is as empowering and feels like something that can be built up rather than something that restricts you. But I also feel it's everyone’s responsibility and marketing once again is the catalyst; I think that when you look around all the great innovators when we look at them now. In terms of some of the companies that we feel are doing a great job it is a cross functional team that delivers that. It comes from strong leadership as well, but it's all about a cross functional team. It's never just purely out of the marketing department.
What Does Innovation Really Mean?
Well I mean I look at it as change is the only constant in life and I thought that quote was attributed to my mum but I’ve been reliably told that it was Eric Petey’s who predates my mum by a couple of thousand years I think, but I think as a phrase this really sums it up for me, that we evolve and we must adapt and if we don’t evolve than your moving backwards. I think that’s the fun bit, that’s what’s exciting for me, but only when it’s done right. I think that’s an important aspect of it, you want to make sure its insight lead, you want to make sure its frame-worked to validate assumptions, a time for brainstorming, a time for clarity, and a time for gut reaction, and time to check that gut reaction for a time, for activity as well and keep coming back to what problem does this solve and why should I care? Keep repeating that mantra. What problem does this solve and why should I care as a customer.
I mean recently I’ve been helping an international environment, a scientific organisation called CABI and did work on their product and services, road maps, it’s a really interesting organisation it’s a non for profit, its international, its funded by about twenty-two governments and its dedicated to improving people’s lives by helping to solve problems in agriculture. And the environment but they bought me in to help them focus and help them shape a new product development process which would provide a framework for the organisation to work from. We introduced a new programme called trail blaze which provided the framework, but the really interesting part, the key learning out of it for me once it’s implemented is that I was aiming to help install a culture where at least fifty or sixty percent of the effort was put into the discovery and insight phase rather than the ideation and the creativity stage. So doing the work upfront really being clear what you want to achieve and building it on from there. So for me that was a really interesting shift in terms of how much that was and how its market driven to get you to the point of innovation.
Yeah I love the idea of being insight driven; we’re not going to go deep into defining insight, but I just love the idea of really getting to understand that discovery phase. What do people really want? Their desires and needs and what their motivations or beliefs and aspirations are. So, can you really address any of the frustrations that they have, or the tensions or the struggles , the trade offs that your brand , or your proposition or your solution can resolve, and so the insight is so critical and so key. You know the other thing that I do and put into practice is asking questions. The greatest technique I have found is asking questions- asking people what’s on their hard drive, what’s in their filing cabinet that no one else knows about, and you’d be amazed to find what you learn!
There is a buddy of mine, Michael Saubert, who showed me his innovation he was working on and I thought oh that’s not bad, so I started asking him what else have you got what else have you got that no one knows about? And then he proceeds to look at me and then he proceeds to tell me a story of a time he was baking with his daughter. they were cooking in the kitchen, using a mixer and they had to keep pouring the mixture in the side of the stand mixture, and his daughter said why do we have to keep pouring it from the side, why can't we just keep pouring it from the top? And he stopped, he thought about it and he said actually why not.
Fast forward to today, there’s a product in the market called ovation, which is a pour through the head stand mixer, where its got a hole at the top and you pour through middle and not have to stop and start or try to squeeze it in through the side. He has a military background and he flew on helicopters, so he took some inspiration from his military background and applied it to his design.
It all started with a question, and I just love that as a true background story to how that product got to market. For me, it was really solving a hassle, a pain point that people had on a regular basis. So, three things you can do from that story:
ask questions and stop to listen to that answer you get, when someone gives you information what you are going to do with it?
Listening to new and better info. Making this into a thing that the maker or organisation know about, so for me it was taking this idea and literally storming into my general manager’s office and saying why we need to do something with this idea that he has.
Mobilise a team; the resources and shake things up to turn it into action and momentum and so this became an initiative even though this wasn’t a focus area and part of the innovation process. We actually designed it into our innovation pipeline and over time, ultimately looking at what happened the product actually made it to market when a lot of people said it couldn’t be done it shouldn’t be done, it wont work but we made it happen so there is a bit of tenacity there.
Yeah I like that a lot. I like that challenging framework, that asking the question why, even just leaving that dead space waiting for the answer is an important part.
How to Build a Questioning Culture
I think the questioning approach is a true reflection of your culture and the challenge for the listeners is that, for some cultures, questioning is viewed as subordination, as rude, undermining authority and in those cultures you’re going to know when you’re in them and they’re going to be tough to do this well. What we do know, and there’s lots of data and evidence to support this, is that asking questions in the right way will guide you to innovation and solutions, Einstein said “if I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it I would use the first fifty-five minutes determining what the correct questions are to ask”. So, Einstein’s going to spend fifty-five minutes thinking about a solution and the last five to make a plan.
I think the power of asking propelling questions such as “how might we”, and the response to that is “we can if…”. Here’s an inspiring example:, Audi asked a propelling question, which was how to win the Le Mans race in France, how to win a Le Mans race if your car could go no faster than the others -because a faster car equals a winning team right? We have to make a faster car. The only problem is that Audi is competing with teams with bigger budgets, longer history, more money in the La Mans, also trying to build the fastest car , so they had to ask themselves a different question, a more propelling question, relating more to their mission to win the race with their constraints, their constraints are to build a faster car, their response was to make it more fuel efficient and for it to have fewer pit stops.
So their progress was their development of the first diesel car and that won le mans for three years in a row. So, they propelled the question and built constraint and actually came up with changing the fuel, not even touching the car and three years in a row won the race, that to me is just brilliant because it was really driven by the question that they asked and then the solution of “how might we” forced them and enabled them to look beyond touching the wings and the suspension and aerodynamics and just simply changing the fuel!
Yeah I like that a lot. Sometimes it takes someone new to come and look at a problem objectively. Sometimes there’s a mindset there as well, people just tend to be able to look at it from a lateral perspective, which is fantastic if you can find those people or just bring them in it’s a great help. But sometimes I think you’ve just got to deal with what’s in front of you, which reminds me of early days in the early 2000 setting up the email marketing business for Emap and Bauer, which for you US listeners Emap and Bauer are large scale magazine and media organisation in the UK and now radio TV events as well as magazines. I was looking at the SRN the digital marketing, there really wasn’t in those days and I was looking at how we could use HTML email to drive communications with the customers either from an advertising perspective or subscriptions perspective and it seems absolutely crazy now but at the time it was seen as something brand new - there was only a couple of brands using it at the time ,and I was responsible for using this to drive forward.
Fast-forward to 8 years on in my career at The Guardian was making sure this was not just seen as just a transaction, not just buying a newspaper but seeing it as a lifestyle choice that someone wanted to subscribe to. But again, trusted with bringing that vision to life. I think some of it is about anticipating future needs, infusing it with marketing and technology and using it to deliver a better marketing experience for the consumers trying not to overcomplicate it.
The second bit is about being given trust, and quite often that’s at an early stage as well and maybe that’s just something where you have to take that opportunity where you can. But I think also as you move more senior in your career you need to make sure you’re empowering some of those junior members to allow a chance to innovate and create as well, because you never quite know where it's going to come from and sometimes it just needs someone who’s got a very different perspective or indeed a perspective on what the technology in the future is going to be for. A segment of audience as well that’s certainly a couple of things that come to mind there.
Yeah, having a team approach on a short time scale sounds a lot like design thinking, and design thinking elements are critical to doing this stuff well. Design thinking is an approach to solving problems and an approach for people and that’s the key part; you’re actually including the people the solutions are for in the process and it helps you accurately define the problem you’re trying to solve before defining the solution.
So, again this idea of asking the right questions, having the people it’s designed for in the process and then going to solve it. You have to embed humanity and empathy within that process, you have to have a collaborative approach and co-creation. It really does allow you to bring cross-functionality and different people together. Not just having experts in their ivory tower and their lab solving it but really connecting it with people, connecting them with the solve, asking for their input and letting them lead elements of it. Design thinking for me is one of the super powers that a lot of organisations could tap into to succeed and win in this space.
One piece of advice from me is design thinking is be responsible for your own market research as well, get involved, run a focus group, run a user experience session; whatever it is, find a way to get involved and do it yourself. One of the biggest decisions and one that I am most proud of is coming out of the Guardian as a large scale organisation with fifty people where I thought ‘going forward I am going to be facilitating my own research’. I went straight into a gaming organisation and I was facilitating the research that allowed us to get real time impact on what customers were doing and bring to life the game designers and help them improve what they were doing. However, it would not have worked if we were two or three steps removed- making sure that you are able look in the white of the eyes of your customers, not scaring them but certainly looking them in the white of their eyes is hugely impactful.
FreeFormers is another example, they set themselves out to try and establish the digital economy of the future and they most recently have been working on a programme with Facebook to digitally train and provide digital skills under the Facebook banner for over a thousand people across six countries in Europe. We had about six or seven months to get that off the ground and we threw ourselves in the room to come up with a programme , we had daily check-ins to try and make that work, we had time limited creative sessions partly because we had to, we made sure it was across a collaborative team we made sure that we tried to learn from those mistakes.
Interestingly, although we achieved success with the programme, I think our first iterations of it - we were going down slightly the wrong path and that’s probably because we didn’t set the right parameters, as well we weren’t clear enough on the goal, clear enough with the restraints that we had to work with it. The idea of making sure you've got collaborative tools like Slack and Google Sheets. Making sure you’ve got the time limited meetings, short bursts of examples, ideation on small tasks - I think are all a few tips that have actually helped bring a successful innovative culture to life.
I completely agree with the principles and protocols you were sharing, I think from my side it reminds me of a time I was doing a home interview with a consumer and, even if you have all the ideas or the product or the campaign or creative that you want to get feedback on and you want to test the tag line and the label and everything. I walked into this lady’s home and sat down. One of the first things she said is that she’s a breast cancer survivor and listening to that, it suddenly kicked in and became crystal clear that now we had to shift into a more sympathetic mode and really be in the moment and respond in the right way to what I had just heard. It was really humbling because it was really the power of engaging with people in their real lives and their real situation and being in the moment and not just being that marketer who’s got their agenda and their list of questions that they’ve got to fly through.
But to just imagine what it was like to be that person, and then how they engage with your products and categories and brands and how it fits into their life and not just about you making money and selling something. So doing it yourself and being allowed to go out into consumers houses means you really have to have the empathy, you have to have the training, and you really have to be in the right place to engage with human people and not just be that marketer or that researcher analyst and only be focused on your corporate agenda. So, I fully agree that looking in the white of people's eyes is such a powerful way to unlock the power of innovation.
Three Key Takeouts and Reflections
You know what Chris, I get this is a recurring pattern, and yes again I was listening. So, three takeouts from today’s show,
Being solution focused. Innovation is about new solutions and not only new products, so think about how you solve for the consumer, the customer, the shopper or the community in a better way than what already exists.
Solutions flow from asking great propelling questions, and as a couple of resources out there there’s Beautiful Constraint by a couple of authors out there and there’s also a book called A Book Of Beautiful Questions by Warren Berger that I love and so those are resources you can use in order to ask better questions.
It doesn’t need to be a long process. In fact, time constraints are your friend. Embrace time and resource constraints, they could lead to the biggest breakthrough because it forces you to be entrepreneurial and move really quickly so be solution focused, ask propelling questions and live into a constrained time amount and actually leverage constraints as an advantage not a deficit.
Nice, I like that, nothing else to add I think that’s great.
So in terms of next week’s episode we’re going to go big and talk about who we admire in the space and what we can learn from them.