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Do you agree that most marketing professionals are better executors than innovators and focus primarily on optimizing their current business model versus looking for game-changing creativity? But what if this paradigm could change? Look at what Dollar Shave Club, Curves International, and Sprinkles Cupcakes accomplished in developing brand innovations that literally changed many of our consuming habits.
True brand innovation only happens when an organization has the leaders, culture and practices that encourage individuals and teams with the freedom to explore possibilities. So how is that innovation-loving culture created? Blogging Out Loud interviewed four top executives in their fields for today’s roundtable about the most effective ways managers can maximize brand innovation.
Successful brands take a deliberate approach to fostering creativity at all levels of their organizations, and deploy creative thinking to attack problems big and small. How have you created a culture of innovative thinking in your company?
John DeCero: We foster a culture of success and gratitude. Because our industry is so competitive and tends to be devoid of new ideas, our mission is to innovate and constantly improve everything we touch. It’s inherent in all of our employees’ psyches. That’s why in just seven years, California Republic Bank has grown organically to over $4 billion in managed assets, was ranked by Credit Suisse last year as the top ROE bank in the country, and is already the 17th largest bank auto lender in the country.
John MacDonald: To understand how creativity is fostered at all levels of Management Resources (MR), and indeed any successful organization, you must first understand that creativity and innovation have different meanings and purposes for each level of an organization. For leadership, innovation and creativity may mean the development of new directions and or markets for a company or a product. For project leaders and team members, creativity may translate into how to develop new and unique processes and products to support the company leadership’s vision.
Sam Bottros: We make it a practice to give ownership of problems, challenges or the “finding a way” to individuals and teams while management facilitates the process. When we’re coming up with a “growth” idea, we use the same approach: we create a team that is tasked with finding the next big thing (revenue generator) and senior management is tasked with facilitating that process to make sure everyone has what they need to move forward.
Innovation needs time to develop. How do you manage the inherent challenge of getting the daily work done, while still providing opportunities for employees to be innovative and creative?
John DeCero: We encourage a healthy lifestyle, so we provide time for employees to get out of the office and take walks together. Invariably they talk about work and how to improve things. Many great ideas are born out of these “walking” sessions. Walking spurs more creative thinking and helps us come to better solutions, as opposed to just sitting in a conference room and looking at each other.
John MacDonald: For us the means to insure that all our team members have an opportunity to use their creative skills to develop new skills and business ideas is to set realistic deadlines and workloads that make sure that “the work gets done” and that our clients are happy and satisfied, but also gives team members an opportunity to schedule their own client/creative balance.
Sam Bottros: We do two things: first, we allocate continuing education hours to all our engineers and tie their salary increases and bonuses to the certifications that they achieve. Second, we ask our team to blog or write about a challenge they solved for a client and to think if there is a better way to deal with this challenge in the future or if we could create something to alleviate the problem in the first place. This exercise of putting their thoughts on paper often spurs ideas that lead to innovative solutions, and we love those!
Chris Horton: I don’t let them get bogged down on one project too long. I make sure they take a step back and work on something else. It’s important to take that step back and reboot. You have to change gears to keep the creative juices flowing. Allow them to open their minds and run free because you never know when the next idea will be the home run.
Companies that emphasize brand innovation have created a systematic approach to building a culture of innovation. What do you believe is the most critical component of creating a culture of innovation and why?
John DeCero: Listening well to ideas and being open for any employee to present an idea is paramount to creating a culture of innovation. As a bank, we are very homogenous with all of the other banks out there, except we have managed, through innovation, to offer very different products and services and innovative ways to deliver those than the big banks.
For example, we have created our own proprietary wire system portal. This idea was suggested and championed by one of our Business Development Officers who, being closest to the customers, listened to their main concerns and, after talking with our IT group, came to executive management with the complete idea. We quickly tested and implemented it. It has not only become a revenue generator but has also fueled a lot of our growth with larger, high volume clients.
John MacDonald: The most critical component of creating a culture of innovation is the simplest one: just listen to your employees’ ideas and suggestions. Not every idea presented to you will be a great cornerstone on which to build a new business venture. You will have to listen to and consider hundreds of new ideas before you find that “one” on which to act but, if you never listen to any, you will never find it.
Sam Bottros: Innovation rarely is born in a single person’s head. We feel that collaborative teams produce the most worthwhile ideas. This speaks directly to the hiring process. There’s a ton of great engineers that apply to work with us, but we only hire the ones that demonstrate that they fit the “type” that we’re looking for. So we believe the most critical component (of innovation) is the hiring process and knowing exactly what “type” of individual you are looking for.
Chris Horton: The most critical component of creating a culture of innovation is allowing your marketing team to have a voice. Empowering your marketing team to come up with different ways of marketing your brand can lead to success for everyone. But you have to be willing to listen and implement the idea. You have to take a chance. I have a weekly meeting to listen to ideas my team has come up with. I keep an open mind. You have to show confidence in your team.
Nearly every business’s mission statement includes words about “innovation,” yet risk-taking and creativity are often punished instead of rewarded. Rewards come in many forms. How do you reward/encourage innovative thinking?
John DeCero: We celebrate them, we promote from within, and we’re not at all afraid to financially reward people for good ideas that improve the company as a whole.
John MacDonald: Often managers will hear a phrase like “reward/encourage innovative thinking” and immediately think that the key is some monetary remuneration is the best way to reward or encourage creativity. Of course it does help, and is important, but you would be surprised just how far simple verbal recognition and encouragement can go in motivating your staff.
Sam Bottros: Recognition amongst peers is key in our industry. That’s why conferences like Defcon and Blackhat are extremely well attended. These are nothing more than peers getting together and showing off innovative ideas that they created. We also memorialize our team member’s achievements. If an engineer files a patent, no matter how minor, we order a beautiful plaque with the embossed patent document that carries his/her name.
Chris Horton: If you want your employees to work hard for you, you have to show them you appreciate their efforts. This is also true when they fail and it wasn’t for lack of trying—I always praise them for the hard work they did put in. It’s about making them feel a part of something. Money comes and goes, but self-worth will last forever.
Describe the most successful outcome of innovative thinking for your brand – an out-of-the-box marketing campaign, a new product, etc.
John DeCero: Actually our most successful “out-of-the box marketing campaign” came from within a box. We learned that for our business clients, a branch on every corner wasn’t really necessary as they preferred to do most of their banking online, through couriers and check scanners. We provided all of those top state-of-the-art technologies to our clients to transact their business but we found that we would piecemeal it out to them and suggest a scanner one week and cash deliveries and other products another. Our delivery method seemed disjointed.
That’s when we created our proprietary “Bank in the Box”, which was actually a white box that looked like a traditional little bank branch from the early 1900’s with our logo and name etched across the top. As the roof opened to the cardboard box, inside was all of the equipment and manuals to essentially put together a bank branch in our client’s office. Our marketing and advertising campaign revolved around the slogan, “Other banks may have a branch on every corner, but have a branch on the corner of every client’s desk.” So when people ask us how many branches we have, we respond by saying thousands, because they’re in every client’s office.
John MacDonald: In the thirty-five years Management Resources has been in business, I’d like to think that every project we have worked is in its own way an exercise in innovation. Perhaps this is the best way for a service business to look at their product – each is a unique exercise in innovation. It is only when you look at your clients from a “cookie cutter” approach in terms of you services that you truly start to lose the ability to innovate.
Sam Bottros: A major sports brand came to us having already spent over half-a million dollars on trying to get a project off the ground and into production. The project was brought to us with a six-month timeline for completion. The previous company had already spent well over a year in development so we thought a good chunk of work would already be done. We soon realized that the other company had done no real work. We were now tasked with completing a 1.5 year job in six months and on a budget 1/5 the size of the original.
Our team went into the think tank for a week and came up with a bunch of innovative ideas. They created a development methodology that would let us develop the project in parallel to meet the client’s time restraints. We eventually filed a patent for the methodology and use it today.
Chris Horton: In the past, we used to put Pay Day candy bars in the payroll packages we had delivered to our clients. We did this for a few years and when we stopped, we started getting phone calls from our clients letting us know we forgot their candy bar. It’s the little things that matter the most.
Share Your Insights
Now you’ve heard from four bold creators of brand innovation. What wisdom can you share with our audience for promoting creativity and innovative thinking? How would you frame the future of brand innovation and combat “me-too-ism”? Let us know your insights in the comments section below. Note: Participants responses have been edited for length; for a complete participant response to any question, please email our blog writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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