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Enough of the fluff: It’s time to recognise the value of innovation

Claire Mason, managing director at Man Bites Dog, urges CMOs to champion a more innovative approach to business

Jill Lepore’s recent critique of Clayton Christensen’s long-established innovation gospel, ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’, in which she dismissed the concept as a dangerous, unpredictable and unprofitable ‘novelty’, sparked fierce debate about the validity of innovation in modern business.

Lepore’s derision reflects the wider trend of businesses failing to recognise the critical commercial benefits of innovation and creativity. Brushing it aside as a nice to have, or window dressing for ‘harder’ bottomline priorities, undermines the strategic role of innovation in shaping business models and driving organisations towards topline growth.

In post-recession Britain, growth, rather than recovery, is the topic-du-jour in most boardrooms. But where is this future revenue coming from? Research from strategic innovation consultancy ‘What If’ found three-quarters of UK business leaders believe their organisation is reliant on fading revenue streams, and more than a third don’t know where a significant proportion of their earnings will come from in the next year. The need for strategic innovation in these businesses is painfully clear.

Yet CMOs complain that recession belt tightening has left them with caretaker boards unlikely to foster the vision and culture required to reap the benefits of strategic innovation.

Who better than marketing then to bring diverse new thinking to the party and champion a more innovative approach? Marketing has a unique opportunity to step out of the functional box, own the customer and push innovation to the top of the boardroom agenda.

Marketers could guide innovation through the organisation, at strategy, business model, product and service levels. With a stronger focus on the customer, iterative testing of new propositions and quick and responsive marketing, CMOs can begin to work towards not just improving the sullied reputation of innovation but actively promoting it as their firm’s most critical growth lever.

As boards shift their focus from efficiency to growth, innovation is a more hard-edged business issue than ever and it is up to marketers to stand up and fight in its corner.