Innovative Marketing Techniques – Let’s Create Some
As B2B product marketers, it’s easy to assume that the innovative marketing techniques we see companies using in other sectors don’t apply to our own. I mean, not everyone sells shoes or phones, so why even try to produce content that really stands out? Well, with marketing innovation (which Gartner defines as “the execution of new ideas that create value”) now making up more than 20% of overall marketing budgets, it’s important to pay careful attention to the essence behind these amazing ideas and ask: how can we take this same spirit of creativity and innovation and apply it to our own work?
To discuss how to jump-start your innovative thinking as a B2B marketer, I joined Carla Johnson, Marketing and Innovation Strategist, on a webinar hosted by the Content Marketing Institute. We talked about the power of brainstorming, embracing ideas from across and even outside your organization, and taking inspiration from your daily life in order to drive innovative, out-of-the-box thinking.
Brand detachment disorder
If you’re sick of hearing about world-class creative companies like Apple, Absolut, or Amazon––you know, the ones that are always held up as prime examples of innovative marketing––you might be suffering from what Carla calls “brand detachment disorder.” This is a term she uses to describe exactly what I’m talking about here: our tendency to dismiss the relevancy of great ideas because we think what we do is entirely different or unique. In other words, sure, that iPhone launch was great, but I represent a boron mining company (an actual example Carla used during our talk)––what does any of that have to do with me?
The good news is, you’re not alone. And, even better, this disorder can be cured. Even if you’re in a totally different industry––cybersecurity, blockchain, fintech, etc.––you can still use other companies’ innovative marketing ideas to spark creativity in your own work.
The secret? You need a brand transplant.
What exactly is a brand transplant?
According to Carla, the best innovative marketers tend to follow a similar process. They start by observing the world around them, then they take their observations and distill them into broader patterns, finding the aspects that are universally applicable no matter where they originated. In other words, these thinkers are able to find the essence behind a great experience or idea and ask: what exactly makes it so great?
What occurs next is where the real magic begins. Innovators don’t stop at pattern finding––they then figure out how to apply those patterns to their own work. This is what Carla calls a “brand transplant,” or the antidote to brand detachment disorder.
So, for example, if you are a product marketer at a cybersecurity software company, you might be struggling to differentiate from numerous competitors and substitutes for your offering. You can implement Carla’s idea first by observing––in this case, going to a number of your competitors’ websites and other product review sites to see how they position themselves. If you then take a step back, it allows you to see what patterns you observe in these positioning snippets, and you may find a blank space or opportunity to differentiate your product.
Innovative marketing relies on inspiration
A Gartner study showed that 46% of marketers face risk resistance from within their company as their greatest barrier. These findings cite the top three barriers to innovative marketing as being: 1) reluctance to embrace change among senior executives, 2) the difficulty of measuring innovation success, and 3) finding adequate innovation talent. So how can you, as a marketer, break through all of that to achieve truly innovative marketing?
The key is to make sure you connect the dots between what inspired you and the idea you are pitching. If you can’t describe the full context of your idea and where it originated, you risk triggering your colleagues’ brand detachment––“No, that’s not what we sell” or “No, we’re not that kind of company”––and a trip or three back to the drawing board.
So instead of saying, for example, “Let’s do a campaign like Nike” when you’re marketing a banking solution, try to figure out exactly what about that Nike campaign inspired you. Like the Nike campaign, what similar emotions can you trigger to inspire, uplift, and attract folks to your proposed idea? Then, when you’re making your pitch, you can retrace the path your idea took back to its origins. By doing so, you make something that appears risky feel a lot safer, since it started out with something that was already successful.
Think outside the bubble
Another crucial part of the innovation process is to foster a company culture that encourages individual thinking and inspiration. We often engage in a kind of brand detachment within our own companies, delegating one single department or group to be in charge of creativity and innovation. Ironically though, that isn’t the best way to encourage innovative marketing practices.
Innovation comes from anywhere
Just like in our daily lives, we never know where innovation will come from next. As such, it’s best for us both as individuals and as companies to remain open to different perspectives from any direction, whether it’s Sofia in shipping or Steven the CMO. In fact, many companies incentivize innovation amongst their employees: 44% revealed they give incentives for innovative accomplishments, and 42% offer an innovation-focused activity or events like hackathons.
Outside firms are also a great way of keeping your thinking fresh and adding different perspectives. Hiring an agency allows you to think outside the bubble of your company’s everyday norm, and it creates a sense of safety by encouraging people to take creative risks and ensuring that the people who are willing to push the envelope are heard over the naysayers.
Get out your post-its
Remember, not all ideas have to be earthshaking, either––creating an environment where innovative marketing is a way of life requires consistently practicing creative thinking every day, making little decisions that add up to big changes. This also keeps your focus on the actual process of coming up with an idea rather than getting too caught up on the idea itself.
Brainstorming is a great way to stay focused on the process while making sure everyone’s ideas get heard. Here at Aventi, we often use Miro to aggregate ideas and get the creative juices flowing before a strategy meeting. In this way, everyone can share the things that inspire them or catch their attention without fear of judgment or criticism. Once those ideas are circulating, who knows what they might lead to?
Work smarter, not harder
During the fireside chat portion of our webinar, Carla and I agreed that one common error marketers make while pursuing innovative ideas is to assume that more content is better. Since as much as 80% of the content created by marketing teams goes unused by sales, the opposite actually proves to be more effective.
Producing a higher volume of unique pieces can in fact turn off potential customers, as it only serves to add to their already-chaotic and noisy lives. Instead, I suggest creating one research note that really stands out, then using that to spin out derivative pieces and amplify them across your online presence. Driving activation and engagement over volume of content will help keep your innovative marketing ideas condensed, powerful, and highly effective.
Fail early, fail often––but always fail forward
To my mind, this famous quote by John C Maxwell is the real essence of innovative marketing. The secret is not just to fail faster or more often, but to fail and then learn from your mistakes in a constant iterative process. Remember, Thomas Edison took 10,000 tries to invent the light bulb––and he learned from and adapted to each of those 9,999 failures before succeeding.
So yes, be bold, push boundaries, and create content that might go even a few steps beyond what you think is possible. But every time you do, whether you succeed or fail, make sure to get some data from the attempt and let it inform your decision making on the next round.
The recipe for innovative marketing
In the end, Carla and I agreed that achieving real innovative marketing requires a little of everything: a willingness to fail better and smarter, an openness to ideas from anyone and anywhere, and staying focused on the core message instead of just throwing content out there to see what sticks. Throw in the ability to shake off brand detachment and think outside the bubble of established institutional constraints and you’ll have an environment in which innovation and creativity will thrive.
If you’d like some expert help on inspiring innovative new approaches in your marketing team, contact us for a 30-minute consultation.