Posted on November 18th, 2019
In 40+ years of being a professional, I’ve had the pleasure to serve with several truly innovative individuals and teams. Over the last 12 years, Aimclear marketers devised and executed a handful of pioneering takes on integrated marketing and PR. Please know we don’t overestimate our footprint and legacy. Still, judging the European and UK Search Awards, I see numerous case studies boasting techniques we evangelized first, along with entries using bespoke phrases, targeting concepts, creative techniques, metaphors, and data usages Aimclear formulated. Objectively speaking, some sharp companies hire and rehire us to help invent their marketing future, solve complex challenges, partnered to find success.
During each breakthrough period, players on our team and client-side threw up potentially fatal roadblocks, often unintentionally with best intentions. And, for each successful inventive concept, several other grand ideas failed—some because the ideas were flawed, others from an inability to overcome perceived barriers leading the team. Through it all, we’ve learned two simple words that cut through haze that kills so much innovation. Those words will be revealed shortly.
First, here are 6 major barriers to innovation, followed by those magical words to help inspire vision:
[The Innovation] is Completely Impossible
The client will never allow us to do it and they already said, “No.” The machines are not powerful enough. Google TOS doesn’t allow for the approach. It’s not in the budget. There’s not enough time. No germane methodology exists. We’ve tested something similar and it didn’t work.
Seriously, getting teams on board for trailblazing usually requires convincing players to proceed even though they’re dead-set against it because, to their mind, somehow the idea could never work. I’ve had to convince teammates to give it a shot over and over, that the worst case is failure.
We Must Model Results (the old way) Before Fully Committing Resources
Trailblazing marketers live this frustration all the time. A client hires us to test an innovative technique on their marketing system. The process becomes bogged down because stakeholders need justification to proceed in terms they already understand.
As an example, lately we have been pioneering the use of social video ads for low-cost, long-view-time engagement to facilitate quantifiable branding that results in direct and brand search organic traffic lift. This concept has less regard for cost-per-click (CPC) as a sole metric because the value is even deeper. It’s reasonable, however, that marketers and clients struggle to move from an entrenched focus on optimizing solely for CPC. The per-click cost is tangible and immediate – and clients likely may have internal pressures for such a metric or CPC is how they’ve always measured performance.
Our approach with this video ad concept may seem backwards initially, as CPC is usually pushed higher on the front end. However, Aimclear’s process follows by removing traffic data from ads themselves and measures direct and brand search lift against the overall cost of ads longer term, resulting in an “effectual CPC” (eCPC). This brings a more complete view of cost against the whole ecosystem – paid traffic, organic, direct. We blend more data points and elements for a view that deepens visibility into the cost and value of brand lift, which brings tangibility to a much longer-play, holistic value proposition.
Understandably, stakeholders are often locked into evaluating campaign performance by traditional CPC forecasts, they’ll freak. As such, some never get to see the value of our video ads concept. Such innovation can be DOA.
[The Innovation] is too Cumbersome to Scale
“Impossible to scale” arguments may offer the best opportunity and can be surmountable barriers. A teammate may try to dissuade, “Yes, but even if it works there’s no way to scale.” The system as-is simply will not accommodate scaling the test upon success. If we do find a scaling method, and that’s IF, the cost would be prohibitive. Ouch!
Perceived impossibility of scaling is WHY this innovation never been done, and underscores why this IS an opportunity. Remember, we don’t need to execute on the whole scale at once. So rather than bailing on a potentially great idea, do anything it takes to test a small swatch. Sandbox the test. Take the test out of the current martech system. Don’t worry about automation and run tests by hand if you must. Sure, it’ll take 5X as long, BUT this approach can produce data few others have because nobody had the guts to dig for it. Once effectiveness is proven, do the math, potentially justifying the millions required to build out our current system to accommodate scale. The seemingly impossible brainchildren can be actualized by working harder in the trenches than others have ever been willing to undertake.
Poor Ability to Partner
The nature of smashing paradigms is that processes can be messy. Innovation often requires teamwork. Teams require partnership. Some people just can’t hang with messiness or generally have poor partnering skills. Lack of predictability, setbacks, instinctual decision making, long hours, and other impediments are common. Pettiness, excessive competitiveness, empty suits, anger, fear, territorial paranoia, narcissism, poor mental health, selfishness, and other professional behavioral issues can dramatically reduce potential.
To redefine reality, everyone on the team must have everyone else’s back. It can’t matter who thinks of the big idea, only that we discovered solutions together. Changing the world requires competition, unpredictability, stress, and the need to remain healthy. Place your company’s most nurturing teammates on innovation squads, people who truly want to work with others for mutual achievements. If the innovation requires a team, then everyone better be skilled at partnering.
Not Every Situation Calls for a Bespoke Approach
We can’t reengineer everything all the time because we’d never get anything done. If the huge idea is to reinvent the wheel, a better paper napkin, or to develop a better mousetrap on the cheap, investing a ton of resources may not be prudent. Also, some ideas are actually impossible. Having the sophistication to make a no-go call or pull the plug requires uncommon wisdom.
Interestingly, overestimating potential benefits of successful innovation is as impactful an oversight as overall failure itself. Therefore, realistically approximating the spoils of success is a huge part of the decision-making puzzle. Not every situation calls for time-sucking innovation. Most often, current methods are just fine, not worth an investment to redefine.
It will be Difficult
My father taught me that pulling off really cool shit is hard. “If it was easy to be great, then everyone would be great,” he’d say. Innovation requires an unrelenting mindset. If victory requires shoveling a 2-ton pile of crap with a teaspoon, we’re willing. Bring it!
Set expectations that progression will be arduous, demands will be placed on persons and psyches. Innovation can be a long-ass journey, often as much art as science. Late nights, long hours, frustration, imperfect solutions to impossible problems are not only possible—but likely. If it was easy, everyone would change the world. Win by working harder and overcoming inevitable weariness.
2 Magic Words to Inspire Vision
In my observation, some of the above obstacles are so daunting it can be hard getting teammates to even consider trying. Getting to the next level is often made possible by removing barriers in thought process before reality. Remove barriers by first moving minds past engrained beliefs. You may be surprised how hard it is for some to even consider conquering supposed impossibilities, which to my mind is the greatest barrier to innovation.
When I’m informed a component of innovation is impossible, my response is, “What if?” “What if it WAS possible?” “What if we could?” “What if it did?” “What if it didn’t?” Pushback is inevitable. “We just can’t.” “It will never.” “No matter what, it won’t.” “That’s just Marty being Marty.” I respond like broken record, “What if?” “What if it WAS possible?” “What if we could?” “What if it did?” “What if it didn’t?”
Often the conversion takes many rounds and turns.
Turns out a key driver of innovation is vision – a willingness to imagine and believe something can be different than it appears and has always been.
As a leader, take on the battle for change by winning minds, getting teammates to imagine, and inspiring them to believe something seemingly impossible can be overcome.