Should marketers make innovation their top priority?

Should marketers make innovation their top priority?
Should marketers make innovation their top priority?

With innovation at risk of becoming an overused buzzword in the industry, a focus on one-off 'hacks' and start-ups might be a distraction from the core business of marketing. We asked marketers whether innovation should be a top priority for brands.

Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit

Jeremy Nicholds
Executive director for mobile, Visa europe

Taking innovation as the introduction of something new, I would see it as a top priority, not the top priority – depending on what market position that brand or product finds itself in. So, not change for change’s sake.

The top priority for any marketer has to be staying relevant to customers – reading and anticipating changing behaviour, being alert to the possibility of doing things in fundamentally different ways. The ensuing task is to articulate a strategy/plan that delivers (incremental sales, profitability and so on).

Innovation is in Visa’s DNA. With a sizeable ‘cash’ market still to go after, our move from conventional to contactless cards has not only been essential in opening up lower-value transactions and providing a better cardholder experience, but also, importantly, has prepared the way to move beyond ‘plastic’ in due course, with consumers able to use their mobile phones to ‘tap and pay’.

Anna Hill
UK chief marketing officer, The Walt Disney Company

Innovation is really important, as it has the ability to excite, engage, and entertain consumers. Through digital and data-driven marketing, brands have the ability to be relevant in a manner that can surprise and delight their audience. At Disney, we are always looking for ways to innovate in terms of how we connect with our guests and make experiences more compelling; whether that’s through My Magic Plus in our theme parks, or creating birthday calls from our characters to support the bedtime routine.

Innovation can be expressed in many ways; through content (new ways to tell stories, such as Frozen and Maleficent); product development (apps and games like Infinity); and marketing (using technology to create personalisation).

Innovation is also really important in attracting the best talent to a business, which, in turn, keeps teams motivated and passionate about working for their brand.

Louise Fowler
Marketing director (Interim), First Direct, and director, Devenport Strategy

With so many possibilities opened up by new technology, innovation is becoming easier, more rapid and much more exciting. With this, however, comes the risk of innovation for innovation’s sake.

I’m not sure why I need video games played through my glasses, nor do I really know why my telly needs to curve. Innovation is fantastic, exciting and life-changing when it meets a need or solves a problem, but there is nothing inherently fantastic about innovation that doesn’t.

The first priority for any marketer worth their salt remains, as it has always been, profitably to meet needs or solve problems for their target customers. If they can do so innovatively, so much the better – but that is not the end in itself.

Cheryl Giovannoni
Chief executive, Ogilvy & Mather London

If the question were whether marketers should focus solely on innovation, then I would have to say no, absolutely not. The challenges that fragmentation brings call for a broad and deep understanding of the vast suite of tools available to the modern marketer.

Having an innovative mindset, seeking out new and different ways of engaging with your consumer, testing and learning so you fail fast and build on success are perhaps more important than anything else right now in a world that is changing so fast.

That being said, investing in innovation in a specific area where rapid change needs to happen will improve the conditions within which progress can be made. Otherwise it’s no one’s job to drive that change through, and it’s unlikely to become embedded over time. We recently appointed our first chief innovation officer to help with that process.

Matt Edwards
Chief executive, WCRS

I looked up innovation in the dictionary and, surprisingly, it doesn’t say "developing a load of random ideas, related to a new piece of tech, which are unlikely to deliver any kind of ROI".

I say surprisingly, because it’s this type of thinking to which the word ‘innovation’ seems increasingly to be attached.

A marketer’s top priority should be profitable growth, not innovation for innovation’s sake. True innovation is finding a new idea or product that people in the real world care about enough to pay for. And these people aren’t remotely interested in tech incubators or the speech some guru gave at SXSW.

We are lucky to work with and learn from some proper innovators who develop brilliant, consumer-focused inventions. Betfair’s Cash Out, King’s Candy Crush franchise and Sky+ are all good, profitable examples.

Fiona McAnena
Partner, Clearhound

The top job of marketers is to make sure that what their business delivers is the best possible fit with what customers value. Communications may be the most visible thing we do, but innovation is the one that adds most value. When customers believe the proposition is worth it, you are less likely to compete on price or to be forced into discounting. It’s cost-effective in marketing communications, too. The best propositions need less comms investment because, when the fit with a need is clear, customers do some of the work for you.

Innovation doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s just about finding better ways to do things. Addressing points of dissatisfaction can be as good as inventing the next big thing. Clearer bills, for example, can really increase customer satisfaction. Observing and listening with a curious, open mind is a rich source of innovation that will differentiate and add value.

Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit

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