We ask the CMO50: What does it take to make marketing innovative?

Australian marketing leaders from Tourism Australia to Monash and Mars Pet Nutrition share their views on what it takes to drive innovation

Innovation is one of those terms that gets bandied about. But it was clear during the COVID-19 crisis that ‘innovation’ was what marketing leaders and their teams needed to embrace in order to pivot and adapt to the rapidly changing consumer and market conditions.

Given these learnings, and as part of this year’s CMO50 program, we asked our top chief marketing officers to share with us their recipe for pursuing marketing innovation, and what they believe it takes for marketing to be innovative.

Here, we present a diverse assortment of tips, tricks and musings on innovation from 10 of our finest marketing leaders.

Know when to hold ‘em

Tourism Australia CMO, Susan Coghill, has four key ingredients for making marketing innovative. The first is to know when you need to, and when you don’t.

“Know when to be innovative and, crucially, when not to be. It is important to understand where we can have the most impact and focus our creative energies there for greatest effect,” Coghill said.  

Supporting this kind of thinking is a combination of hard and soft data. “Using the right information sources at the right time to craft our strategies and ideas is vital,” Coghill continued.  

A third key ingredient is building support early in the process. “For an organisation like ours with myriad stakeholders, the best way to see innovative marketing ideas through to fruition is to ensure we have engaged the right people early on and rallied support along the way,” Coghill said.  

And that means exercising your collaboration muscle. “Working with a diverse range of talented creative thinkers here in Australia and with our teams and agencies around the world is vital to being innovative,” she said.  

Start with the customer

Over at Monash University, chief marketing officer, Fabian Marrone, said his innovation process starts by finding the nuggets of gold in customer experience data in order to fill a customer need in the marketing and conversion process and manage, or to mitigate an objection. From there, systems and processes allow scalability and consistency in message, motivation and action. And if you combine that with creativity, “you will get you through anything”, Marrone said.  

It’s a similar set of steps for Mars Pet Nutrition Company marketing director, Emily Dowling. “You have to start with a deep understanding of your consumer, and the market dynamics you are playing in. Once these are clearly understood, they provide the framework for creative and innovative solutions to be uncovered,” she explained.  

“Refreshing capability in line with new channels, technologies and approaches is the other key ingredient. As a marketing leadership team, we are always looking for a balance on internal and external perspective to ensure we remain competitive.”  

Added to this, Nestle Oceania director of ebusiness, strategy and marketing, Martin Brown, said curiosity was essential to identify the unconscious needs, or what consumers want, but can’t tell you. 

“Embracing technology to underpin personalised solutions is key, so marketers need to build their knowledge to make the connections between capability and needs,” he said.

Be bold

Being bold is another must several of our CMO50 insist is vital to driving marketing innovation. It’s certainly the number one ingredient for Dominos CMO, Allan Collins.

“Every decision that led to great outcomes has always required people to be different and to push the boundaries – and no decision that led to great outcomes didn’t have people a bit fearful and, at some point, questioning if this was the right approach,” he commented. “Just as being empowered is a key part of the skillset and attributes we’re building in our team, we’re empowering our team to be bold, to push the boundaries and even to be a bit scared.”

The perfect recipe for Domino’s success over the next one to three years is to “start with a great product, throw in some boldness, add a bit of nervousness mixed with confidence, expertise, passion and energy, and finish it off served with some fun”, Collins added.

Movember marketing director, Jason Olive, also cited bravery and boldness as one of the three broad organisational principles necessary for innovation. “You can say you’re innovative, but if organisationally you’re not brave enough, it will only take you so far,” he said.

“I’m not saying that bravery comes at the expense of working through challenges and threats, but organisations - not just brands themselves - have to have bravery at their core to truly innovate in the current landscape.”

Intertwined with bravery is trust, Olive said.While this might sound basic, being brave and innovative is only successful when people trust each other and there is a core unifying outcome,” he said.

Supporting this is a team committed to being structurally insightful. “To be really innovative, there has to be some robust methodologies employed around how you pressure test decisions and approaches to avoid group think and subjective outcomes,” Olive said.

Mix the old and the new

GraysOnline sales and marketing director, Natalie Ashes, believed innovation comes in many forms and isn’t necessary just about new and cutting-edge exploration.

As a first point, she advised going niche. “Don’t use big bang campaigns to try and reach everyone. My favourite saying is: ‘Don’t scream to a crowd, whisper to small groups’,” she said.  

A good way to determine the priority is to let your customers decide, Ashes continued. “We recently implemented a sharing feature on our website and were really surprised that the top sharing channels were WhatsApp and Weibo. This led us to create experimental campaigns within these channels,” she said.  

But that doesn’t mean GraysOnline should forget about the ‘old’ channels. “Email and SMS might not be as glamorous as other channels but they get cut through when done right,” Ashes said.  

Build external partnerships

Another common thread across the CMO50 alumni is the importance of external thinking to drive innovation. Tennis Australia chief marketing and insights officer, Josie Brown, said external partnerships, such as the Techstars Accelerator program that Tennis Australia supported this year, has opened the door to fresh innovation.

“Our teams were able to work with sports startups, learn from the founders and also partner with them to find new ways to engage consumers. It’s a fast track to bringing innovation to consumer marketing, while equally demonstrating the value of marketing to help companies grow,” she said.

Combine distinct personalities

Just having diverse personalities within your team can help foster innovation too, said Catch Group CMO, Ryan Gracie.

“I want my team to be the right mix of creative, artistic, logical, analytical and data-driven. Ideas and innovation comes from the mix of these traits, ideas breeds innovation and we want to continue to deliver innovative marketing, not just for the sake of it, but because it's in the interest of the customer and therefore delivers on the business strategy,” he said.

At Guzman y Gomez, chief marketing officer, Lara Thom, said the QSR’s founder, Steven Marks, is one of the biggest ingredients in fostering innovation.

“So much of his personality is embedded in the brand that I often get our most innovative thought starters from something he says in a meeting or when we’re having a discussion, not many brands have a CEO/founder who has that level of creativity, innovation and thought leadership,” she said.

At a wider level, Thom advised marketers to avoid following the status quo if they want to truly innovate. “Don’t copy anyone, ever. Don’t look at other brand campaigns and try to do ‘something similar’,” she said.

“Know your brand and what your brand stands for and create from there. We never copy and I think that’s what keeps us unique.”

Want to read more about how the CMO50 have spearheaded innovation during the COVID-19 and the lessons they're taking into the next normal? Check out our latest CMO50 whitepaper, Customer-led innovation in a time of crisis, here.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

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