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What’s the Secret to Marketing Innovation?

WVU Marketing Horizons | What’s the Secret to Marketing Innovation? with Michael McCathren

Michael McCathren, innovation lead at Chick-Fil-A, and author of a new book: 6Ps of Essential Innovation, is an expert on the “innovation organization.” In this episode, he shared with us specifics about how marketing departments can develop the capabilities and the culture needed to implement new ideas. Listen in to learn how marketing leaders should adopt an innovation mindset, to make new ideas welcome, and to stimulate “idea equity” in their companies. Michael explains why an innovation organization is NOT the same as an innovative organization, and why it matters. His secret weapon for innovation: Stay close to your customers and let them speak for themselves.

Cyndi Greenglass: What do you mean by the term innovation?

Michael McCathren: Depending on how large or complex your organization is or what industry you're in, innovation can take on a different definition. In my book, I try to identify how important it is as a philosophy as you're creating this innovation organization that you define it in a way that aligns with your culture. We define it at Chick-fil-a as transforming ideas into business value. It could be something that the consumer may not ever experience, but supporting our restaurants is an ongoing area of innovation that we're that we're continually trying to improve.

Hopefully, that allows our operators to better serve customers and team members, so that it does indirectly impact them. Other types of innovation are obviously menu or product innovation. There's two sides to innovation. One is the capability that we call innovation, and the innovation process. The other side is the culture of innovation, and what I have found in my own experience, working with various organizations, is that we often try to incorporate the capabilities of innovating into areas like marketing. What I've seen time and time again is that the culture of the marketing department isn't ready to receive that capability, then it never takes root. I make a distinction in the book about innovation versus innovative. I want organizations and leaders to want to create an innovation organization versus just an innovative organization. Innovation organization suggests more about who you are.

Ruth Stevens: What culture should a marketing department be trying to develop?

Michael McCathren: In a department like marketing where there's this balance of data, analysis and understanding and evaluation with the creative communication, I think culture plays a critical role in at the sub department level. You could have a CMO who is innovation minded. He or she desires to have that culture. But, if it doesn't resonate with the sub departments and those leaders to create and strengthen that innovation culture, then the marketing department as a whole will not be an innovation organization. The leadership behavior of a leader who leads with an innovation mindset means that ideas that are presented will be met with questions and not statements. Also, everyone is around the table. Nobody is around the walls, and everyone has equitable voices without judgment.

Cyndi Greenglass: You mentioned there is a balance between creativity and data and that we feel we have to justify and quantify our seat at the table. Does that impact the ability to be an innovation culture?

Michael McCathren: Great In any culture, we want to see progress – whether it's our own personal societal cultures or professional cultures or organization cultures. We want to see progress, and the only way to see progress is for all of us to agree – do we have the right audience? Do we understand their greatest need or obstacle or opportunity? Forget about the solution, forget about the idea. Forget about the great creative marketing and advertising work. Let's just agree on that, and then talk about how will we know we succeed in those dimensions. That is the absolute first baby step of the innovation process. It's not just unique to marketing. That's where every discussion on a new initiative should begin and getting agreement on that around the table with senior leadership helps to eliminate the subjectivity of data interpretation later on or the quality of the creative. We can always go back and anchor it to “remember when we recognize that this is our number one audience?” This is their number one need or opportunity. Collaboration is one of those essential ingredients to the innovation process. What we don't talk a lot about is cooperation, which is the other end of that. We can collaborate and leave the room, and I might have absolutely no interest in cooperating. Leaders need to get that out on the table. I need everybody around the table to leave the room as though they were a hundred percent bought in on this stuff. You may not agree with it, but outside of this room we need to cooperate and agree that collectively, as a group, this is what we're agreeing on as we leave.

Key Takeaways/Three Little Piggies

  • Companies often try to incorporate new capabilities without building a culture that is able to accept them.
  • Marketing leaders can create an innovative culture by asking questions instead of making statements.
  • The voice of the customer can be the “rocket fuel” to drive growth through innovation.

Marketing Communications Today presents Horizons, it’s forward-thinking, looking ahead, through the front windshield and beyond, into the marketing future. Join Cyndi and Ruth bi-weekly for new ideas, technologies, tools and strategies that are emerging to help marketers navigate over the marketing horizon.

Meet our guest

Michael McCathren

Michael McCathren, best-selling author of 6 Ps of Essential Innovation, is a strategic innovation expert who has spent more than 30 years leading efforts across operations, supply chain, finance, strategic planning, and marketing. Currently, he oversees Enterprise Innovation in the Innovation & New Ventures group at Chick-fil-A where he and his team are responsible for helping the organization transform its ideas into business value.

A curious, creative problem solver by nature, Michael approaches life with an innovation mindset and dedicates time to fostering that potential in others. Outside his work with Chick-fil-A, he is an adjunct professor of Innovation Management for the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia.

Michael holds a Master of Science in Innovation from Northeastern University. He's deeply devoted to his faith and family, and enjoys seeing the world on his motorcycle or camping with his wife, Dena.

Meet the hosts

Cyndi Greenglass

Cyndi W. Greenglass is a founding partner and president at Livingston Strategies, a data-informed, strategic consulting firm that helps clients develop, execute, and measure their customer communications with a close focus on results. Cyndi has razor-sharp strategic skills matched by impeccable on-the-ground savvy and tactical abilities. She is an Adjunct Instructor in the Data Marketing Communications online master's degree program from West Virginia University.

Greenglass has twice been named into the Top 100 Influential BTB Marketers by Crain’s BtoB Magazine and was the 2012 CADM Chicago Direct Marketer of the Year. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for BRAND United and has taught, trained and presented at over 50 conferences throughout the world.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, for business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York.

Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City.

Interested in growing your career with a master's degree in Data, Digital or Integrated Marketing Communications? Request more information today!

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