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Fostering the Idea Culture: 10 Must-Dos for CMOs

Ben Legg
Ben Legg

Creativity is not a department; it’s everyone’s job

According to 2016 in-house creative services industry report, 92 percent of in-house creative professionals identify brand knowledge as part of their value proposition, 85 percent of in-house team members support advertising and 75 percent partner with external agencies.  

Creativity is not a department; it’s everyone’s job. It’s the mission of a great CMO to draw creativity out of everyone. This means teaching people to be agile and to innovate with whatever they bring to the table and welcoming constant change. It means getting rid of the status quo processes, procedures and marketing models and relentlessly driving education and evolution. It means getting up every day ready to create, launch, learn and know you’re going to start all over again the next day.

The following 10 actions will foster an idea culture in your business.

1. Look for human truths

The most powerful ideas come from real human insights. Things that are universal and really connect. Whether through primary research, social insights or other means, uncover the real insights into what consumers are feeling.

As a quick example, a large fast food chain we were working with needed to sell a new sandwich. Unfortunately, the sandwich had a name that was difficult to pronounce. Knowing that people love to correct mistakes on social media, we purposefully mispronounced the name of the sandwich throughout our campaign. This not only gave customers permission to order the sandwich — and have fun mispronouncing the name when doing so — but also encouraged an extraordinary amount of social conversation as people corrected our “mistake.”

2. Give your customers control and grow brand advocacy

It may seem counterintuitive to loosen the reins, but the better you define your brand and encourage a strong emotional connection to it, the more your customers will feel ownership. You’ll be amazed at how they’ll defend your brand, help reinforce your beliefs and become your co-conspirators. It creates the most powerful type of marketing.

You must also maintain consistency. As soon as your words or actions don’t reflect who you say you are as a brand, your customers will call you on it. It empowers its people at every level of the organization to live the brand; that mindset permeates every word and action. As a result, customers understand what the brand is all about.

3. Join your customers on their journey

It'd be great if you could make your customers slow down and listen to your message, but the chances of that happening are slim to none. How can your brand join them on their journey? Think of a day in the life of your customer; consider your brand purpose and how it can come to life in new ways and in every connection your customer has with you.

4. Form alliances

Sometimes the best ideas are forged from unlikely alliances -- look for those collaborations. Take your CIO for example. First, your missions must be aligned and centered on the consumer experience. Then, whether through eCommerce solutions, customer service or database marketing, both the CMO and CIO can look for new ways to make every customer engagement lead to a positive perception and strong brand reinforcement.

5. Leverage technology, but don’t rely on it as an idea

How many times you heard someone wants to jump on a new platform because it was just launched? Using technology in this way — just to say you did — is absolutely the wrong way to go. Start with the idea, then see how it can best come to life. If that’s through technology, run with it. But don’t do tech because someone else did or because it’s buzzworthy. Great creative is idea-driven, has an objective and aligns with your efforts to drive results within your target market.

6. Challenge the status quo every day

You don’t have to do things the way you’ve always done them -- sometimes you’re better off if you don’t. Question and disrupt your legacy processes and procedures on a daily basis — not just to be disruptive, but because there could be a better, more dynamic way to solve a challenge. The old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” leads to stagnant thinking, complacency and risk aversion. Make sure everyone you work with has the mindset of always looking for a better way.

7. Create spaces that encourage collaboration

Make your office environments and culture open to collaboration and innovation. If your teams are locked in offices or stuck behind cubicles, their creative spirit is being held back. Work to bring energy into your office. Find ways to support your team’s efforts to work together. If your culture won’t allow you to reconfigure office spaces, take your team out for branstorming time to time. Sometimes the best collaborations happen in a new and unexpected place. So take your teams outside their everyday environment on occasion and find a new one — and some new ways of thinking

8. Get your leaders to commit to doing what it takes

Great companies reinvent themselves. The alternative is to become one of the countless mediocre brands out there — to fall into a vast sea of sameness. Do what it takes to be exceptional, ensuring you and your leadership are all involved in creativity. If you’re relying on mid-level managers to bless strategies and review work before it hits your desk, you’re wasting time and energy. Ultimately, everyone is trying to predict what you will like and not like. You and the other C-level execs must be involved in strategy, direction and objectives and invested in providing feedback along the way — or the second-guessing will kill the truly great (and often scary) ideas.

 9. Expect greatness from your partners

People rise to what’s expected of them. We know which clients demand greatness and which are content with marginal work. We want to do the great work. We want our clients to expect great work every time. Let’s do it together. Expect nothing less.

10. Keep your eye on the ball

Others may get caught up in the day-to-day drama or a crisis. The CMO can’t do that. He or she must keep the brand on course and delivering the only result that matters: business growth. So measure your efforts and stay true. That might require evolution, like rethinking how you do testing. It’s not just a TV world any more. Today’s pace is quick and one of constant monitoring, iteration and optimization. Every move you make — and every great idea you and your team develops — needs to remain firmly centered on moving your business and brand forward.

Ben Legg
Ben Legg Member
Ben Legg is a global chief executive, engineer, marketing leader, entrepreneur, keynote speaker and author. Currently, Ben is the CEO of AdParlor, the world’s leading all-in-one video and social advertising platform. He has served at executive levels at Coca-Cola, was COO of Google Europe and spent a decade as an officer in the British Army. In 2016, Ben wrote a book entitled Marketing for CEOs: Death or Glory in the Digital Age that focuses on helping C-suite executives understand the changing landscape of marketing. Ben is based in New York City.