BMA annual: Marketers share innovation strategies

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Chicago—A panel of prominent b-to-b marketers on Thursday talked about how they have unleashed innovation strategies at their companies to develop new products and services to meet customer needs in a world changed by the Internet 2011 at the International Business Marketing Association Conference here. “ "Innovation' has gone through dramatic changes in the last decade,” said Steve Liguori, executive director-global marketing at General Electric Co., and moderator of the “Unleash Your Innovation” conference session. The panel featured marketers from Deutsche Telekom, IBM Corp. and National Starch Food Innovation/Corn Products International. “At GE, we led the league in R&D-based innovation going back 100 years,” Liguori said. “We invented stuff in the laboratory, and for years and years, that was how you did it and that was how you got rewarded.” Then the Internet came along and provided ways for people around the globe to connect, which changed business models for innovation, he said. “If you can't keep up with innovation and new business models, clearly you will become a dinosaur and will become extinct.” GE provides open forums for its customers, employees and business partners to contribute innovative ideas. Recently, it launched an Open Innovation Challenge on the Internet, asking people to contribute ideas for modernizing the power grid. “We thought we'd get a couple hundred ideas—and we got 4,800 ideas in six weeks,” Liguori said. “We can't be innovative if we're not willing to take some chances; and, with ideas we think are worth a shot, we are going to protect those ideas.” For example, he said, GE is exploring opportunities in the electric vehicle space, and it has to think outside the box when it comes to developing business models for that emerging business. “We are looking at building electric charging stations, but the business models to run them are wildly different,” he said, noting that customers may not want to buy electric charging stations, so GE could end up getting into the business of leasing and managing electric charging stations for businesses. Jennifer Okimoto, associate partner-social business leader at IBM Global Business Services, said IBM—which turns 100 this year—is also developing new strategies for innovation. “As the Web 2.0 world began impacting society and the workforce, and going much more global, it became imperative for us to put innovation front and center,” she said. “We had some very senior leaders who said, "We can't survive the next wave until we change and become agile and responsive enough.' ” She pointed to IBM's Smarter Planet business platform as an example of how IBM is working with customers, governments and thought leaders to create innovative products and services to improve the planet, such as providing more efficient transportation and energy systems in cities. Andres Jordan, VP-innovation and head of content and new media strategies at Deutsche Telekom North, said that with customers such as Google, LinkedIn and Yahoo, “a lot of innovations are riding on our networks.” “I believe the telecom industry has failed in not being able to anticipate the impact of our networks on the world,” Jordan said. As a result, Deutsche Telekom—which historically has been an engineering company—started an innovation practice in which it creates teams from marketing, sales, engineering and sales support. “These "Tiger teams' work very well, and people can come in with their passions,” Jordan said. Tony DeLio, global VP-marketing and innovation at National Starch Food Innovation/Corn Products International, said: “We have made innovation an objective of all business managers. We have an "innovation promise,' in which we provide visibility and accountability around all product introductions. We have competitions, and we measure quarterly.” New-product sales based on this innovation platform are growing at a rate three times that of average business, DeLio said. “You need to make some strategic bets, create a culture of innovation and make it very public,” he said.
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