How to prepare yourself to become a more innovative B2B marketer (a pep talk)
03 May 2022
I’ve spoken to many recognised and self-proclaimed innovators working within marketing and PR throughout my career.
The results of that innovation tend to spread far and wide. Think witty copy that many agencies wouldn’t dream of sliding past their clients’ desks. Creative campaigns hinged on abstract concepts that make so much sense you can’t comprehend why anyone didn’t think of it before. And an array of statistics that have been curated in such a way your brain actually takes it in.
It’s never really clear what kind of work falls in the brackets of innovation – but I guess that’s the point – the borders should be limitless.
However, I’ve found that one mainstay of innovation is mindset. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with an innovator in marketing that hasn’t touched on embracing failure, moving quickly, and thinking outside the box.
As I see it, being an innovator requires an awful lot of hurtling yourself into the deep end, standing on the precipice of the unknown, without having the comfort of knowing you’ll deliver the results you need.
B2B Marketing and Harvard have defined these characteristics much more articulately than I have in their B2B Tech Marketing Innovators Index:
- Transforming the way a department works with fresh ideas.
- Challenging the status quo.
- Free thinking to create a grand vision for the future.
- Being a virtuoso who pushes the boundaries of tech and data usage.
On paper, and somewhat in reality, this can all feel very exciting. But placed within the contexts of your working day, becoming an innovator can be very daunting. I think we’ve all had a taste of what it’s like working in unforeseen circumstances and moments of being unsure of the long-term roadmap. It can be scary, overwhelming, and restrict your capacity to think straight (let alone innovate). How do you prepare yourself for something that feels so vast?
While the whole point of innovating is that you’re forging a path ahead, having some resources that point you in the right direction is necessary to provide confidence and reassurance. So consider this my pep talk to anyone wanting to become more innovative like the talent showcased in the Marketing Index this year.
Safety in numbers
It’s been said countless times that innovation can’t be done in isolation. While this may seem obvious, there are multiple reasons why it’s harder in practice.
Firstly, innovation projects sometimes become side-hustles of the day-to-day. They’re extra-curricular activities that employees end up trying to make time for off their own back to get a promotion, build their skillset, or try and achieve better results. (Unless you’re a marketer who’s lucky enough to have ‘head of innovation’ as part of their job title.) In turn, people don’t necessarily feel they can ask colleagues who might be helpful in innovation projects to take on extra work. I think part of this also comes down to self-doubt – and those attempting to innovate may feel uncomfortable shouting about something that could fail – it understandably feels exposing.
Secondly, innovation can give a business a competitive edge. And this goes against the traditional business mindset of collaborating with those outside the company. I think marketers sometimes feel inclined to have to keep exciting projects behind closed doors and under wraps. However, having access to external point of views is invaluable, and some of the most successful and innovative marketers I’ve ever met have an inner circle of fellow marketers across several businesses. They come together for nothing more than to bounce ideas around and help each other out.
Getting in the headspace to be an innovative marketer isn’t just something you start doing. It requires input, whether that’s from colleagues or an external group of marketing peers. There are also several resources, such as the B2B Marketing Podcast, that can feed your brain the evidence that taking the leap into innovation might actually be ok. So, start by talking to others and reading material around innovation in marketing.
What if? A simple question, with big answers
Innovation definitely requires a degree of rumination (post-it notes optional). Although the outcome is not certain, it must have a strong and decided purpose.
Finding that purpose starts, like all good business opportunities, by noticing a gap in the way things are done, or questioning whether they could be done differently.
Vicki DeBlasi, owner of Innovative Comms, defines this concept as the ‘what if?’. And it was by asking herself this that she was able to transform a big in-person launch event into a virtual one with product testing, a filmed tour and a live panel discussion. It’s also what led her to be included in the B2B Marketing Index, and I think her simple question is a useful way to rank up your innovation factor.
So, what am I trying to say here? Great things come from simple questions. Don’t be perturbed by the impressive end results that innovators like those in the B2B Marketing Index showcase. All of these talented marketers started by asking ‘what if?’.
Just imagine if Andrea Clatworthy, head of ABM at Fujitsu had never asked herself what could be done differently. We may never have come across a concept that’s become a vital practice to many within B2B marketing.
What’s even more important to remember is that ‘what if?’ is a continuous staple of innovation – it’s not just for those at beginner level. Andrea hasn’t stopped asking herself this question. She’s still finding new ways of engaging with clients – including a campaign that broke a Guinness World Record – because being an innovator is arguably a lifestyle rather than a one-off job.
Areas to consider
Remaining at the forefront of market developments – one of the key traits highlighted by the Index – is another hurdle that also stops many from starting innovation. How can you possibly keep up to date with the rate of change in the industry as well as do your day job?
Well, you don’t know everything. And there’s plenty of resources that pride themselves on outlining what’s upcoming, such as Harvard’s Trendivity report (hint hint).
Perhaps focus on a couple of these upcoming trends, such as NFTs, Web 3.0, or ESG. Dig down and understand the lay of the land.
And lastly, just a reminder that while innovation often focuses on the output, the input is equally important. I saw a tip on Tik Tok the other day that said to read if you’re feeling unsure, and to write when you feeling overwhelmed with ideas. I think this rings true to innovation.
You can’t have ideas if you’ve not consumed anything, so don’t rush the process. Read the B2B Marketing & Harvard Index, look at what these marketers have been doing, and think about how you can apply that to your own workplace.