How do you create a culture of innovation in your company? And how do you keep that culture relevant in a time when trends change at a rate faster than we can control? That was the question posed in the panel at the 2015 Marketing Innovation Summit, featuring delegates from tech giant Yahoo, FMCG company Godrej and media firm Refinery29.
Each of these companies comes from an industry with its own respective barriers to innovation. Shireesh Joshi, COO of Godrej Strategic Marketing Group, acknowledges that there is an element of complacence in many organisations, a tendency to “drive the known,” and deciding how much time or investment should be committed to innovation is a question some leaders struggle to answer. “When you are large players, you don’t want to sacrifice what you have,” he says.
Keeping it fresh
Yahoo helped to shape the internet experience for an entire generation of consumers, but keeping that kind of innovation going today is not so simple. For Nitin Mathur, Yahoo’s Senior Director of Marketing in Singapore, the answer lies at least partially in diversity of talent and perspective. “Our industry does not respect tradition,” he says. “’One of the things we do well as a company is to just understand what the consumer trends are. Two or three years back, when Marissa Mayer came on board, one of the big barriers for us was speed of innovation, and getting the talent to be able to do innovation faster… This led to a culture where we wanted to be far more open.” Since then, the company has made over 40 acquisitions, which provides “different mindsets to play with.”
For both Refinery29 and Yahoo, speed is of the essence. Mathur notes that all product improvements at Yahoo are done in batches; “We don’t need everything to be perfect,” he says, “because you can always do things better.” He believes that smaller improvements, with shorter lead times and quicker shipping, keep Yahoo’s teams and products on point.
Philippe von Borries, Founder of Refinery29, agrees; “There’s not a week that goes by where there isn’t a new platform that might be emerging where you can find fifty or a hundred million of your users spending time there, which means you have to move really quickly in figuring out what works on that platform… Let a week go by, see how people react, look at the data, and refine the product in better and better ways. I think the world in front of us is forcing us to move in these ways. You can’t be perfect, and actually consumers don’t want you to be perfect.”
Refinery29 has accommodated these time pressures by essentially creating an agency within its own four walls in order to serve its brand partners. “We move at such rapid speed that a lot of campaigns we develop have to happen in real-time,” says von Borries. “That means that we have to build a tight relationship of trust with brands.” One such example is the company’s presence on Snapchat Discover, the ephemeral platform where branded content is only available for a window of 24 hours.
Creating the right culture
In the case of Godrej, having a “culture of innovation” is all about understanding trends and having the internal capability to respond in a timely manner. “There has to be learning,” says Joshi, “you have to be an organisation that’s constantly looking outside…There has to be a connect with the consumers, but also partners with whom you can realise different combinations of ideas.”
Of his role in Yahoo, Mathur says: “My personal philosophy, my role in the marketing team, to drive innovation, is to make sure I’m not getting in the way, and I’m giving enough room for people to come up with experiments. We have a very collaborative culture, where pretty much anybody in the company has access to the data, to understanding consumer trends in a very open fashion.”
Freedom to experiment has proven worthwhile to Yahoo, as evidenced by its Hack Days, which take people out of their usual jobs and invite them to solve problems and work on new ideas. “We’ve seen that it helps encourage entrepreneurship and product enhancements,” he says, citing the increased daily usage of Yahoo Weather following the integration of Flickr images.
Philippe von Borries states that “innovation has been about tying our mission of inspiring women around the world directly into the narratives of the brands we’re working with.” One current example of building a brand message into the over-arching narrative in a way that moves people is Refinery29’s campaign about female filmmakers, a narrative which incorporates brands.
“Too often, I think in this world, innovation is really sort of segregated,” says von Borries. “Innovation really happens, at a corporate cultural level, from defining your strategy, from asking what is your winning aspiration in the world, and implementing that day after day.”