Crafting a More Productive R&D & Marketing Innovation Partnership

Crafting a More Productive R&D & Marketing Innovation Partnership

By Connie Williams

By Connie Williams, CMO & CKO Synecticsworld Ltd.

Does your organization’s innovation feel like “In this corner, Marketing, in this corner, R&D”? If it does, that’s because R&D and Marketing work in very different ways, often seeing the world and opportunities very differently.

The old, traditional way of working, with R&D and Marketing in their separate corners working on innovation opportunities, has to be retired. While marketers tend to rule innovation in CPG and R&D leads in technology companies, when innovation fails to deliver the finger pointing starts. Not only do R&D and Marketing have different ways of working, but today’s customer needs are changing in a way that makes it difficult to achieve success without a truly collaborative approach.

In fact, today’s innovation needs are moving beyond purely new product development in many cases and need to be focused on finding new opportunities in the form of services, customer experiences, business models and integrated product and service systems. Now more than ever, innovation needs to be cross-functional, because R&D is probably not going to come up with new service ideas, while marketing is not going to understand how to develop integrated systems that rely on new technology streams.

An integrated approach to innovation with a whole different kind of culture comes from creating an emulsion.

An emulsion, at its most basic, it’s what you get when you force two things that don’t easily mix to form a homogeneous mixture. In cooking, this most often happens when you combine oil and a form of water, like vinegar or lemon juice. If you just put them into a container and stir them up eventually they will separate and stick with their own kind. But, if you use a surfactant (like mustard or egg yolks), you help the molecules become more attracted to others than staying with themselves. The emulsifier helps molecules to find and bind together, which is what gives vinaigrette such a luscious flavor and mouth feel in your salad.

So, what the R&D and Marketing partnership needs is an emulsifying agent. That agent doesn’t need to be another department or individual – but it needs to be a commitment to bring a new “field” into the mixture so that the R&D and Marketing “molecules” are attracted to each other in a new way. There is a powerful need for multiple perspectives: technology, customer insight, business model development, marketing and design. Both sides have to really understand the future needs and wants of people, working together to anticipate their future needs first; then responding with invention of powerful solutions and figuring out how to bring it to the marketplace in a way that both meets the need and works financially. The mixture has to come together in a way that has all the elements bound together to achieve a common goal.

How can you create cross-functional teams that take this kind of collaborative approach? First they both have to come together in a shared Innovation Vision: what inspiring future do they see happening. Then each has to be proactive in its approach:

For Marketing

Marketers should be locked in step with R&D from the first exploration of opportunity to the product launch and beyond. Spend time in their labs, talk about technology. Use techniques like “Tell me about this technology, if you were explaining it to your Mom, what would you say?” Work with customers, along with your R&D colleagues, to hear about their lives, their values, their beliefs to discover what motivates them. It’s important to get beyond assessments and if you do “Voice of the Customer” let it be real voices you are hearing together, not internet surveys.

For R&D

R&D should tap into the knowledge and creativity of marketers. They often bring a new lens to both the consumer and the marketplace. While R&D should certainly be the master of the art of the possible (and then figure out how to do the impossible) they should never be working in a vacuum. They should be engaging with customers and consumers directly, along with marketing. For R&D, learn new ways of tapping Marketing by asking “if you could do only one thing for our customers, what would it be?” to inspire new possibilities.

Led by the shared Innovation Vision, they should together build a shared sense of discovery, common goals and rewards systems that are integrated even if not the same. Spending time together and, if possible, co-location, helps build relationships and trust. And as they work together, these cross-functional teams should practice the art of appreciations, taking the time to explicitly value contributions and ideas from the other function and recognize new solutions and opportunities. They should work together to engage with the larger organization and use the power of storytelling for those shared goals and opportunities, building the narrative as team tells the same story.

Finally, they should share a salad. With vinaigrette.

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