Making Marketing Innovation Strategy a Reality: Insights from Leaders at LinkedIn and Columbia University

How Marketers Can Turn Their Innovation Strategy from Dream to Reality: Insights from Leaders at LinkedIn and Columbia University

Why do good strategies fail? Why is implementing change so hard? Unfortunately, the best strategic vision means nothing if your organisation can’t make it a practical reality. Bridging that gap means securing buy-in and budget, sourcing the right technology, and bringing people on the journey.

This is easier said than done. According to some estimates, only half of strategic initiatives succeed. To better understand how to overcome implementation challenges, at Canto’s Content Innovation Summit 2024 we asked two marketing leaders to draw from their own experiences to offer tips and insights any team can use to successfully navigate digital transformation. Here’s what they had to say. 

Identify the need

Before diving into solutions, identify the problem or the opportunity. This is the advice Rachel Rickles, Manager of Content Solutions at LinkedIn, gives to her clients, and which her own team practises.

“The successful implementation of any technology, whether it's a CRM, a digital asset management (DAM) platform like Canto, or even something seemingly more simple like Slack, relies on the identification of a need. If we were to adopt this technology, would it be used? Is it necessary? Can we fulfil the need using existing tools that we have in place today?” says Rachel. 

If this sounds simple, it is. But assumptions can sneak into strategies and derail them during implementation. For example, tech tools which worked wonders in your previous organisation might not fit at your next, and top tech from two years ago might have already been superseded by something better. Focusing on needs erases these blindspots.

Bring people on the journey

While strategising, it’s vital to collaborate with stakeholders. Sheri Whitley knows this only too well. As AVP for Digital Strategy at Columbia University’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, she found consulting not only improved the organisation’s digital transformation but also made stakeholders feel part of the journey.

“We literally make a list of who all the stakeholders are, and then divide and conquer. We do several rounds of roadshows and repeat those throughout the process. Almost every time, most people have the exact same challenges and needs. They just don't know it because they're not connected to each other. So a big part of our collaboration – the roadshows and surveys – is helping people understand that we all have the same issues and that, if we work together, we can fix this,” Sheri says.

It’s worrying, then, that more organisations take a technology-first approach to digital transformation (33%) than a people-first approach (15%). According to Ariana Keil, Senior Growth Marketing Manager at Canto, overlooking the people element of change means a host of missed opportunities. “The idea of running surveys gets discounted because it seems so low-fi. But what better way is there to involve additional teams in that feeling of collaboration, and to get an emotional barometer? Is this current issue something you're frustrated about? How does it make you feel?” she says.

Getting stakeholders engaged in – or even excited about – new technology also avoids the appearance of ‘ghost tools’. When enterprise tech is implemented top-down without proper consultation, often users don’t know that it exists or what to use it for, which results in low usage rates and individuals adopting other unauthorised tools.

Keep your strategy practical

While the idea of innovation might sound abstract, the best way to ensure your strategy crosses the finish line is to stay practical. Focusing on pragmatic day-to-day solutions makes it easier to onboard the right tech and ensure high adoption.

For example, Columbia University had three main issues borne from being a decentralised institution: there was no single view of the university’s events; there were “literally tens of thousands of websites”; and there was no single repository for its digital assets.

“There are hundreds of events across the university every day, but no one place to find out what was happening,” Sheri says. “Building that calendar was a pragmatic tool for helping people distribute information internally, and also a public relations tool which communicates everything that's happening here to the entire planet. And that is huge.”

Sheri’s office also partnered with Columbia’s central IT group to build a website distribution platform, reducing each department’s reliance on custom websites. Sheri says this “saved an enormous amount of money, time and efficiency. It also allowed us to bake in accessibility, regulatory compliance, branding, UX and UI.”

And she also introduced Canto as the digital asset management solution to help Columbia’s people find, organise, share and distribute their digital assets. “When we did our survey one of the most alarming things we learned was that people spent hours every week looking for photos or logos. Canto has gone a long way in helping us move toward a much more efficient workspace and work culture. To eliminate that for people has been a game changer,” Sheri adds.

Shift the mindset on ROI

A final tip – though perhaps most difficult to realise – is to try to shift management’s expectation of marketing. According to the panel, innovation strategies often fall short because they’re stuck trying to hit low-level metrics on ROI rather than more strategic KPIs. “It’s about convincing the CFO that marketing isn’t a cost centre but a profit centre,” says Rachel of LinkedIn.

“What happens in a more economic climate is C-suites focus on attributable ROI. How can we attribute every dollar that was spent back to lead or pipeline growth? And so a lot of marketers end up spinning their wheels in that space rather than showcasing the larger picture beyond this lower funnel effort. But that larger vision in the upper funnel is really where new business comes into play,” Rachel adds. 

Focusing on the long-term benefits of your marketing vision is key. According to LinkedIn research, around 95% of potential buyers of your product or service are currently ‘out of market’, but at some point in future they will come ‘in market’ and be ready to buy. It’s a big ask, but your innovation strategy should meet today’s needs and prepare for tomorrow’s opportunities.

Canto’s Ariana Keil, Columbia University’s Sheri Whitley and LinkedIn’s Rachel Rickles spoke at The Content Innovation Summit 2024 presented by Canto. You can watch the session here.

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