B2B skunkworks: the need for fresh innovation in B2B marketing

Is a lack of innovation keeping B2B Marketing departments in the dark ages?

A fascinating study of 400 top marketers by Forrester revealed a worrying state of affairs for marketing departments at large.

Researching our appetite for stepping into the brave new world, the paper showed that only 11% of marketing departments today have budget set aside for innovation. More worryingly only 9% have an on-going budget dedicated to experimentation and development.

These findings are outstanding when, taking the mobile industry as an example; we have seen two beacons of the industry fall due to their lack of innovation and inability to keep up.

The root of the problem seems quite clear. Since the recession, pressure has been piled onto two of our most precious resources – time and money.

Marketing departments are not only seeing budgets cut, but more and more are having to show a short term return on investment for every penny spent. Experiments into innovation simply don’t cut the mustard and thus have taken a back seat.

The very same for time – while investors, board members and sales teams are putting pressure on CMOs to deliver sales qualified leads in time for quarterly reporting, the time to learn and experiment with new technologies, channels and media disappears into the ether.

Innovation stagnancy seems to have crept into B2B. More experimentation is the way forward.

Here’s the irony – our increased obsession with efficiency and the elimination of waste has led us down the path of becoming the most stagnant department of any business, when we should be the opposite. By eliminating waste we are eliminating 90% of our chance of getting lucky – and ultimately striking the next big trend.

As Rory Sutherland nicely puts it, “if you don’t kiss any frogs you have no chance of finding a prince”.

The innovation stagnancy seems to have crept into B2B. This may be from mere observations but the ease of finding a blog post that isn’t talking about the same thing we were discussing three years ago is increasingly troublesome.

So what do we do?

The first solution is the most structured. Change how your marketing budget is set. Coca-Cola are leading the charge with this model; while 70% of their marketing budget is set aside for current activities, 30% is set aside for innovation and planning for ‘the next generation customer’.

There is a lot to be learned from this structure. We have previously argued the case for ring fencing 10% of your marketing budget to work on programmes that don’t have fixed ROI (i.e may well fail, but will give you key learnings for your business).

The second is slightly less tangible and counter intuitive to everything we have been told. At Earnest we often fight with the problem of the final 10% – those hours, weeks and months nit-picking the finishing touches to a project. The reality of the situation is that whatever you put out will never be perfect. The only way you can refine perfection is by measuring and learning from how your prospects react and engage with your communications. They say that luck is often as useful as planning – and biting the bullet to get stuff out there is more valuable than toying over v34 of your infographic.

Finally, we need to de-silo. Break down the walls of departments within businesses and the wider barriers between industries. In his brilliant TED talk, Where good ideas come from, Steven Johnson explains that an idea is not a single thing, it is a network of a series of thoughts coming together in one new cocktail of inspiration.

The point is businesses greatest innovations occur when there is a meeting of minds. From the small pubs of Oxford to the discussions around the conference table outlined in the Dunbar report – the greatest thoughts are often accidental happenings.

Chances really do favour the connected mind – so take time to reconvene and reflect on a regular basis. Discuss and debate with individuals across the business, read papers on seemingly random topics and open up the degree to which you are open to the possibilities of random connections.

The B2B industry has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years in proving ourselves not to be the poor cousin of B2C. Let’s not fail ourselves now with stifled innovation.