Success Under Stress? 3 Key Factors
Brands will need creativity and learning agility more than ever to recovery from the economic devastation of COVID-19. The focus now is on the design and delivery of innovative services and experiences for their customers. Companies look to their marketing leaders to marshal the right talent and resources to chart the innovation course.
COVID-19 strikes: The Marketing Path Forward
Today clients are mobilizing teams and resources to navigate their path out of the dark woods. Brands not only want to conserve cash but activate innovative strategies to accelerate revenue.
Companies are quickly altering agency contracts and compensation models for maximum flexibility, preferring limited engagement and project-based scope agreements vs retainers. Some focus on reducing marketing/media costs, with paid media auditing underway. This is simply the consequence of the economic ambiguity that surrounds us.
For others, innovation directives rise to the top. Innovation is easy to understand, more difficult to execute. Brand innovation agendas may require different kinds of leaders, internal teams and external agencies to achieve desired marketing and sales results.
Marketing Success requires three key things:
- Clarify: “What Kind of Innovation Do We Need?“
Despite the economic urgency, the goal to jump-start a brand’s relevancy will still benefit from its clear north star. Level-setting marketing teams with the answer to the question what kind of innovation are we talking about? informs tough decisions about what employees and partners should be engaged in the directives. Without it, the executive mandate to activate the company’s collective brain power and creative competency to support innovation can wander off course.
“Not every business needs the same kind of innovation applied to their brand creative efforts,” explains Diana Stuart, a former Creative Vice President and Creative Director for Hallmark and Director of Design Operations. With over twenty years of experience directing the teams and build-outs of studio operations across eight industries, Diana’s experience is significant. She has designed functions and directed agile work teams to support digital marketing, web design and content development and management, as well as new product development and technical design.
“High performing internal teams need to know where they need to focus innovation efforts and why, continues Diana, “and today’s virtual work teams should be organized with that criteria in mind”.
Diana advises clients to “place a pin somewhere on the brand innovation continuum“. Leaders should to be clear as to what kind of innovation will be of highest value to the business. The answer informs the retention of staff, or the recruitment of new people and agencies to get the job done.
Brand Innovation Continuum- Where are you?
Creating “The Brand New Brand” – these companies seek wow-me level, out-of-the-box thinking to fundamentally pivot. They need to redefine the company’s products and services to fulfill the mission to their customer; they seek innovative, tech-enabled tools and services with new-to-the-brand marketing programs.
These clients seek the right mix of strategic and creative resources to enter new markets, with new products and new Business Models. Direct-to-customer and subscription-based services are the priority.
- Like many retailers hard hit by COVID, Signet Jewelers provides a strong example of innovative delivery: leaders focus on bringing the best of their store offering online, moving quickly to show continued growth in the e-commerce environment. New online tools, coupled with virtual sales training support empower retail team members to work from home as they help customers plan their still-significant jewelry purchases, like engagement and wedding rings. Virtual special events e.g., for upcoming Mother’s Day, will enable customers to send an expression of love gift across the miles. The company has rapidly added to its online inventory from store stock to be ready to meet all customer needs.
Creating “The Brand New Way” – these companies seek to create agile, cost-effective systems to manage a dizzying array of personalized creative solutions while they serve multiple channels and stakeholders; they also seek leaders to integrate teams and resources to fill, test and scale a pipeline of possibilities.
These clients want to adapt to new ways of working (fast), as well as harness best in class, fresh resources to design and execute holistic innovation frameworks and systems.
- An excellent example comes from Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health and its agency Brunner Marketing. The applied Blended Agency Model provides a fresh way of working together to manage the integration of talent for effective idea generation and decision-making across Highmark’s in-house capabilities and its agency teams. Brunner’s division BHiveLab also offers cutting-edge technology, delivering clients a repeatable framework of Think It-Create It-Scale It to support companies with innovation goals.
Creating “The Brand New Narrative” – these companies seek acute insight to author their most relevant brand message strategy, with appropriate promotion to follow in cross-platform thinking and asset development; an integrated communication strategy that recognizes present day challenges during COVID-19 crisis, yet with dollars paying out in stronger brand equity. This solution requires creative campaigns that amplify the brand voice and reflect the topical pulse of the organization.
These companies communicate brand actions that inform, connect and empathize with their customers.
- Subaru of America’s latest initiative provides a great brand narrative example. In response to COVID-19, the Subaru dealer network of 633 retailers nationwide is partnering with local Feeding America member food banks in the form of food drives, donations and volunteer events. These initiatives strategically align with the Subaru Loves to Help brand pillar, the community-focused initiative of the brand’s enduring Subaru Love Promise.
#2. Marketing Success requires fertile Cultural Conditions
Innovation requires the corporate environment not only value ideas and creative thinking, but know how to capitalize on it. The ultimate purpose of innovation is to increase the brand’s economic value. Foster the appropriate cultural norms and ensure innovative ideas are given a chance to gain traction.
C-suite leaders need to affirm and reward the behaviors that produce high quality, original thinking and new ideas. Core values like affirmation, risk-taking, transparency and diversity tend to fuel the creative development process. A healthy culture is positive, affirming and open, allowing creativity and innovation to flow through it.
Generating a bunch of cool ideas is not enough. Across-the-board collaboration is key. Achieving stakeholder alignment regarding the specific decision-criteria for customer value, company fit, and commercial potential sharpens everyone’s good intent. It helps teams prioritize various innovation options and reduces conflict. (Everybody operates with some bias, even when data is involved).
Innovative Companies often foster the cultural conditions to process ideas, sponsor productive discussion and address conflict, especially now while working remotely. They create faster buy-in for implementation actions across supporting teams and functions.
#3. Marketing Success requires Servant Leadership Mindset
The Innovation-oriented culture is shaped by every person and team that participates in it, but especially by those in leadership positions. Effective marketing leaders bring the right temperament, values and brand vision to an organization.
The primary contribution of today’s marketing leader is not the advocacy of his/her own singular view but the build-out of the ecosystem of talent to serve the organization. This COVID-era eco-system will include those employees who are to be retained, or newly recruited, trained and coached; the eco-system will still include finding and hiring the best digital, creative and media agencies to add strategic value, creativity and executional speed to the innovation agenda.
Innovation needs all types of creative thinkers to fully embrace the concept of serving customers and each other.
CMOs are expected to impact their company’s innovation goals. They are expected to increase consumer engagement and loyalty to their company or brand, under the most stressed current economic conditions. Yet innovative ways to do this takes great energy, organizational capacity and star power.
Companies will realize success when they:
- clarify the type of innovation they seek
- foster a culture of creativity and collaboration
- recruit the right leader with supporting cast to chart the course.
Hiring best in class creative, media and agencies also increases bandwidth and accelerates achieving the innovation vision.
ROJEK Consulting advises its clients how best to define their brand innovation agenda, then use it to build creative capacity and recruit the right talent they need to succeed.