CMO Wake Up Call – Innovation Isn’t Dead

I hear innovation is dead. Long live innovation.

Despite some well-informed and provocative writing about the recent death of innovation, I would like to respectfully disagree.

Innovation in marketing measurement and technology might be at a slow point.

If it were a racecar, it would be downshifting for the hairpin turn. But innovation is far from dead, and I’d like to take issue with the mourners and give some advice to marketers.

First, the evidence of innovation’s supposed demise. On a high-cultural level, Kurt Andersen, in Vanity Fair, wrote that, “new technology has reinforced the nostalgic cultural gaze: now that we have instant universal access to every old image and recorded sound, the future has arrived, and it’s all about dreaming of the past.” Ron Ashkenas in the Harvard Business Review blog wrote a much more scholarly piece called “Managers Don’t Really Want To Innovate.”

Ashkenas lays the blame on short-term thinking. “First, managers need immediate results, often reinforced by short-term incentive plans or the regular expectation of earnings improvements. Innovation may take a long time to produce returns, which conflicts with these short-term requirements.” The Unofficial Stanford Blog unexpectedly hops on the bandwagon writing: “What happened to new ideas? What happened to innovation?”

Too often I go to conferences and hear negative attitudes from people who should know better. Ph.D.s, analysts and even experienced executives often speak of the mounting gap in innovation that’s hurting the marketing’s growth. To me that is a self-fulfilling proposition. If you keep saying innovation is slowing, you’ll keep finding reasons to believe it. And inherent in the statement is that only the person who thinks innovation is dead can be the one to resuscitate it. Bull puckey. I believe a better spirit must be embraced. The current state of marketing needs to be accepted, but the spirit of innovation and the simple fact of innovation will continue to dominate.

Let’s look at that area close to my heart: marketing measurement. I’ve heard at recent conferences that marketing measurement lacks innovation both in terms of execution and results. That pessimism is simply unwarranted.

Innovation is subtle.

Just look back, one of the greatest innovations in marketing measurement has only been around for a few years, and that’s the measurement of viewable impressions. Several years ago the issue wasn’t on the radar. Now it owns the radar. Viewable impression innovation changed the way digital advertising is measured and the way the results are attributed.

I understand that it’s easy for Vanity Fair and Harvard to throw bricks, and it’s easy for them to be provocative because it does get attention. But it’s short-term attention. I’ll agree with Ashkenas to the extent that if a company wants to innovate and wants to innovate in the marketing measurement space it first needs to stop and think, which means thinking long-term. It’s true that some managers don’t innovate because they can’t get their heads out of this week, let alone next year. I get that. We’re all moving very fast in this business, trying to scale, and trying not to scale headcount. Innovation, however, is at least going to take some “mid-term” thinking.

Here’s what I mean by that. Short-term thinking means your company looks at your marketing mix as a static image. We know it’s not. Long-term thinking is often left to the visionaries: the CEOs, the analysts, the academics. Let’s put innovation in the middle. Let’s put it right into the 90-day plan. Because if you’re not thinking at least mid-term about measuring marketing success with attribution, viewability, pricing, and other marketing measurement issues, your competition will. I promise you that.

Innovation is what you make it. Marketing measurement right now is at Level 7. If you want to get to Level 10, embrace the innovation in its nascent stages now. The elevator is going up.