Digital marketers find themselves at the front lines of innovation for a variety of reasons.

  • The rise of digital marketing positioned marketing leaders who embraced digital as change agents. Then, digital marketing gave way to digital business transformation, and those same marketing leaders found themselves still holding the innovation bag—even in organizations that hadn’t fully defined innovation.
  • Marketing also has a closer proximity to the customer and more access to customer data than other functions, giving marketing leaders a direct line to the voice of the customer, which can be a source of innovative ideas, and direct insight into consumer behaviors that can triggers for innovation.

But innovation is a major mandate and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Misunderstanding the CEO’s definition of and success criteria for innovation can lead to lackluster ideas confusion and redirection. Misjudging the company’s risk tolerance can land you in hot water with legal and security teams. Failing to accurately forecast the revenue and expenses of an innovation pilot can hinder your ability get funding.

Before you accept responsibility for innovation ask five key questions:

What is your CEO’s definition of innovation?

What some companies call innovation, others might see as business process improvement. That being said, CX innovation is leading form of innovation. Operational changes can be a precursor to delivering a better customer experience. It’s important to align to a common definition of innovation and confirm expectations of senior management.

What type of innovation are you responsible for?

Marketing innovation, which could involve new marketing channels, techniques and marketing technology, shouldn’t be confused with product innovation. Marketers can provide valuable insight to inform product innovation, but real product innovation takes more than marketing. The type of innovation you’re leading will impact the resources and collaboration you need.

What is the goal of innovation in your company?

Successful innovation can support to a variety of business goals, from improved customer acquisition through marketing innovation to increased retention through CX innovation to a new revenue stream earned through product innovation. The goal of innovation should guide how you source, assess and test ideas, as well as how you measure and scale a successful pilot.

What is your company’s risk appetite?

Investing in innovation is like placing bets, some riskier than others, which requires you to know your company’s risk appetite. This can be influenced by industry, culture and climate. Banks are likely to be more risk averse than consumer brands competing against Amazon. Yet, even brands can have conservative cultures or face financial constraints that limit their risk appetite.

How will your company measure success and handle failure?

Since investing in innovation is like placing bets, remember that not every bet will be a winner. In order to lead or support innovation, you need to know the metrics for success. If the primary metric for success is ROI, you may also need to manage expectations of the likelihood and time frame for profitability. True innovation is hard to achieve unless failure is an option.

Answer these five questions before you pick up the innovation mantle. Otherwise, you risk accepting a responsibility without fully understanding what is at stake for your company or your career.

This weeks’ Analyst Picks include research that can help you ignite innovation efforts in your organization, advance the maturity of marketing innovation and learn how to generate, evaluate and executive innovation pilots. This weeks’ headlines offer advice on leading innovation, from deciding if you need an in-house innovation team to building that team. The headlines also offer advice on leveraging partners a key learnings from Harvard’s Innovation Lab.

Use these resources to approach innovation with internal alignment and understanding of what your company hopes to achieve. This is the first step toward establishing an innovation function, justifying investment in your ideas and ensuring those ideas match your company’s objectives and expectations.