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Every business wants to be seen as innovative, as leading the market with new ideas and practices that help increase KPIs, but actually implementing a spirit of change can be a real challenge.

Last month we hosted our Future of Digital Marketing (FODM) conference in London, and had a chance to ask some of our speakers which obstacles businesses faced, and how they might overcome them.

1: Company engagement

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Sarah Wood from Unruly felt that getting buy-in across the board was a big factor in driving change throughout a business.

We often talk about the importance of senior buy-in when driving change in organisations, but even a directly order from the boss won’t help if employees are opposed. If you’re implementing a new project, it’s incredibly important to confer with staff at all levels and make sure they understand and support the need for new practices.

Changes affect people, so they need to be informed, especially if they’re the ones on the ground who’s workflow will be directly influenced.

2: The acquisition of data

Data may well be the new oil, but it won't make great marketing fuel unless you have enough of it. Terrible metaphors aside, James Carson makes a great point; Every business is rolling in data, but too often we see different departments capturing different figures, meaning it’s nearly impossible to refine and apply so that it affects the customer experience.

Teams need to share data and make sure common goals are defined. Don’t silo your biggest asset!

3: Lack of imagination

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This might seem like a controversial point. As marketers, we like to think that everything we do is driven by creative ideas, but as Gerd Leonhard points out, it’s all too easy to fall into regular patterns at work, meaning there’s less time for imagination and consistent improvement.  

Redesigning work environments so that they are more open can help, but ultimately it’s important to allow staff the time and space to consider new practices. We’re all busy people, but if we can spend one hour thinking about an idea that may save us five hours a week, it has to be worth investing the time. 

4: Clearly defining new ideas

Will Critchlow underlined our earlier points - a lack of shared data and the urge to ‘do the same thing every day’ can have serious impact on your ability to consider the big picture for the company.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutia of everyday tasks, but as with our analytics, it’s only when we start looking for larger patterns that we’re able to make good decisions based on the data.

Looking at granular impacts is useful, but it’s important to have senior staff dedicated to locating pressure points in existing workflows and defining the need for change clearly. Again, a lack of definition and clear purpose is often the largest barrier to buy-in.

5: Tear down the walls 

Again we come to silos. Neil Perkin explains that true innovation just isn’t possible when disparate teams work in uncoordinated patterns.

Teams all have their own agendas and targets, but that doesn’t mean they can’t collaborate. Ultimately this may reflect a need for organisational transformation, with departments taking on broader responsibilities with more room for overlap and collaboration. 

6: A great idea can come from anywhere 

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As Toby Barnes states, innovation shouldn’t be something we try to compartmentalise.

Every member of a company needs to have input into broader strategy, and the ability to share ideas based on their own experience and customer feedback. Even if you can’t talk directly to everybody in a company, it’s easy to add a ‘suggestion box’ to the intranet, or set up a shared doc where staff can add questions and ideas. 

7: Getting stuck in a rut

Anthony Mayfield felt that defined business models, while effective, can also be limiting.

Many companies simply don’t have the room to effect large-scale change, meaning they are constantly playing catch-up in a changeable marketing landscape. Again, this can be helped shifting focus at an organisational level, but it’s also the responsibility of department heads and managers to make sure staff can communicate ideas upwards easily.  

8: Don’t be afraid of failure

It’s a cliché, but as Simon Andrews mentions, failure is often as valuable as success.

While the financial returns may not be as great, having the will to try new things that don’t work means you’ll have much greater chances of success. Many businesses have begun putting money into ‘experimental’ pots, allowing them to test new ideas out without always worrying about the bottom line.

Even if you can’t go that far, it pays to make time to try out new technologies and platforms as they emerge. Try organising a monthly meeting to compare tools you’ve found or just share great campaigns you’ve seen recently (Why not start by checking out The Digitals Yearbook for a bit of inspiration? ;)

9: Practice makes perfect 

Mark Cridge felt that many struggle with innovation because it isn’t a core responsibility for them. You don’t have to be a 24-7 creative genius, but it is important to allow yourself time to step back from the daily grind on a regular basis. Again, a regular meeting to share ideas may help (as may a regular trip to the pub). 

10: Keep one eye on the future 

Dr. Kate Stone highlighted a familiar problem; Even when you do have an amazing idea, it takes time to implement, and can get lost in the rush to get on with today’s pressing deadlines.

It sounds obvious but there’s great value in making a huge shared doc full of ideas. At Econsultancy we do it with possible blog headlines, which is a great way to get collaboration going. 

Bonus! 11: All of the above!

Steve Callanan summed things up well. Ultimately it’s a struggle for any business to constantly innovate, and there will always be challenges involved, but by taking simple, practical steps you can build an innovative, collaborative spirit into the heart of your business. 

Matt Owen

Published 21 June, 2013 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

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Comments (4)

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Barry Rutter, Digital Marketing Manager at Reed Exhibitions

I would add that Complexity is a major barrier to innovation, the more we innovate, the more we integrate, the more complex our systems become. This makes being agile in order to innovate quite tricky as those existing complex systems then often become the barrier to innovation.

over 3 years ago

Emma North

Emma North, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

I would also suggest that budget restrictions would be a pretty big barrier to innovation or the fear of not achieving or at least being able to measure return on investment for innovative projects.

Ideally these sorts of projects would have a pre-assigned budget with which to work but getting that signed off in the first place can be difficult without the company engagement and managerial buy-in you referred to. You need a good idea and a great proposal to make these sorts of things work.

Thanks for this post Matt, some great information and advice.

over 3 years ago

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laaki

Innovation is a mindset. Playing it safe creates a comfort zone and not many can break out of it. Ideas are plenty but who would stick their neck out for the untested?

over 3 years ago

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Tony Edey, .

In addition to #4, without a clearly defined objective then you can't clearly define your success criteria. When you are scoping anything ask yourself, "What does success look like for this?". I've seen a lot of innovation done just because it's innovative, but then falls flat because it's got poor usability, SEO, accessibility, tracking etc. Innovation without being able to prove results or achieve targets/objectives is gambling with your eyes shut.

over 3 years ago

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