My Chief Strategy Officer Summit Presentation

ON FRIDAY it was my honor to share the podium at the 2013 Chief Strategy Officer Summit in San Francisco with Deva Annamalai, who works with me at Zions Bank as a product marketing technology strategist. Our topic was “Innovate or Die.”

If you work in marketing, especially interactive marketing, you know that that’s not mere hyperbole. It’s not difficult to come up with a laundry list of once-seeming couldn’t-fail organizations which, thanks in large measure to changing times, are no longer around or are struggling. Examples include CompUSA, Blockbuster, Toys “R” Us, and Circuit City, to name a few. As the inimitable Yogi Berra famously and so aptly put it, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Innovation is not mere ego gratification for techies who want to brag about being on the cutting edge. Consumers demand innovation. Yet the challenge is not to innovate for its own sake, but to innovate in a way that meets customer demand.

Sounds simple enough, but then, that’s the trouble: it only sounds simple. Customer demand is a moving target. Sure, you can ask customers what they want, but don’t assume they know. Or, if they do know, that they don’t shy from honest answers that may reveal something about themselves they’d rather keep private or not face. Or that they won’t change their minds: in a high-tech world that spawns new apps daily, what is hot today may quickly cool by tomorrow.

So my recommendation isn’t so much to innovate where you think customers may someday be as to innovate where customers are already headed. In my own field of interactive bank marketing, we know that in the last quarter of 2013, 54 million people in the U.S. used a mobile device to access their bank information, 32 million to access their credit card information, and 30 million to view or make electronic payments. So banks that want to be around right now, much less in the future, must lead in the mobile arena. No wonder we see that banks with the strongest commitment to innovation tend to win greater customer loyalty and commitment.

The key to successful innovation is to foster a vibrant environment that involves people organization-wide in discovery and dialog, and can distill that dialog into value-generating ideas. Your work is cut out for you.

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