Back in the day, marketers scrambled to get a hold on social media. Nowadays, it’s chatbots, Facebook messenger, voice-enabled devices, and much more. There’s always a new trend or advancement to learn.

But you don’t just need to stay on top of trends—you need to stay ahead of them. If you want to launch the next great campaign or initiative, you and your team need to remain far ahead of the curve.

“When we get so reliant on these tried-and-true tactics, we often miss out on new opportunities, whether through bias or opportunity cost,” explains Jeff Kear, Co-Founder of Planning Pod event management software, “Your target market rarely stands still, so you shouldn’t either.”

Your team has to be innovative to come up with that next brilliant idea or insight. After all, you don’t have a crystal ball (it’d be nice, wouldn’t it?).

Unfortunately, that’s not always so easy to implement and encourage. Saying that your team is innovative is one thing. But, actually pushing the envelope and consistently churning out groundbreaking ideas? Well, that involves a lot of elbow grease and fruitless brainstorming sessions.

Let’s dive into six different, actionable strategies that you can use to pull the biggest, best, and brightest marketing ideas out of the brains of your team members.

Lightbulb Moments: 6 Strategies for Bigger and Better Ideas

1. Encourage them to listen instead of speak.

Think innovation means always talking and spitballing? Not exactly.

Your team can easily become internally-focused under the pressure of constantly hunting for their next idea. This leads to a lot of talking and brainstorming, but not a lot of listening.

However, learning to actively listen is important for innovation, particularly when it comes to listening to your customers. So, instead of pushing your team to always ideate, make sure that you also stress the importance of keeping their ears open and absorbing insights and information from other areas of the business.

“In the case of our company, what I have asked our customer support reps to do on a monthly basis is to compile a list of top customer requests, complaints, and feedback,” says Kear.

“Although quite a bit of this input has to do with improving the product itself, much of it also focuses on our customers’ favorite tools and features, preferred methods of communication, and new markets and approaches that we were not aware of,” he adds. “By funneling this input directly to our marketing team and contractors, it provides fodder for fresh marketing ideas and tactics.”

2. Resist the urge to pigeonhole.

Your team members all have their own unique strengths. Perhaps one is really skilled with SEO while the other is talented at identifying data trends. It’s great to have those different skill sets packed on your team roster, but it doesn’t necessarily give you permission to lock team members into super specific (and, ultimately, monotonous) responsibilities.

“Having worked with teams large and small, one thing I’ve learned is not to pigeonhole team members into one specific craft or discipline,” says Brandon Seymour, Founder of Beymour Consulting, a marketing agency, “When team members are locked into silos, it makes collaboration more difficult, and each team member’s role limits their potential to grow.”

As an alternative, push your team members to step outside of their work comfort zones and tackle projects outside of their wheelhouse.

Giving them the opportunity to explore other areas of the business increases their understanding of the entire picture, while also providing plenty of inspiration for new ideas and initiatives.

TIP: If you really want to give your team a push to try something different, take a page from some of the world’s most innovative companies and consider hosting a regularly scheduled hackathon. It’s a day where your team members can set aside their normal responsibilities and tackle a different project that interests them.

Resisting pigeonholing goes for location as well as skillset. Remote work is becoming more of a standard across industries, and it's imperative to look for the best candidate for the role, even if it means a dispersed workforce. Research remote team management tools to facilitate a diverse and widespread team and watch their creativity flourish.

Another reason you shouldn’t pigeonhole your team members? Literally anyone can be creative. Find out more in David Kelley’s inspiring TED Talk:


3. Place the focus on starting small.

Innovation can be intimidating, and constantly pushing your marketing team to churn out the next greatest thing can feel like a big, overwhelming ask. So big, in fact, that it paralyzes them. They feel like they need to have every single thing figured out before they even pitch their seemingly brilliant idea.

“Marketers will dive into a new direction with both feet and a big spend, without testing the waters first,” says Kear, “I have discovered from experience that innovation starts slowly, with test campaigns and smaller efforts to test the waters and get a feel for your new channel or medium.”

Emphasize that it’s alright to start with baby steps. Let your team know that it’s good to test ideas out even if they aren’t fully-baked. Testing early can save time for ideas that aren’t worth pursuing, and can inspire confidence on ideas that are worth exploring further. Encouraging experimentation without fear of reprimand is sure to level up your team’s innovation.

4. Emphasize knowledge-sharing.

Continued growth and learning must be a core value if you’re going to foster a culture of innovation. After all, the more your team members are exposed to, the more ideas they’ll have.

Think this sounds complicated? It doesn’t have to be. It could be as simple as sharing an industry-relevant book or podcast you recently loved. Or you could set up a regular lunch learning event where different subject experts give a short talk to your team. For example, Silicon Valley design agency ZURB holds a monthly lunchtime talk where they invite well-known design influencers.

When a work environment encourages continued learning, your employees will be empowered to push boundaries and break free from the safe and predictable ideas.

5. Talk about your own flops and failures.

When you’re innovating, you’re not going to hit it out of the park with each swing at bat. And for many of us, it’s hard to talk about our failures and seems a little counterintuitive.

But being open and honest about your losses as much as your successes can remove the shame and embarrassment that often accompanies failure. You might feel you should be a flawless example for your team. However, sharing the details of your own mistakes makes you far more relatable.

The added benefit is that you’ll also normalizing and destigmatizing failure at work.

“Encourage failure. Encourage doubt. Innovation is fueled by fearlessness and curiosity,” says Seymour.

It’s far more than encouraging failure. It’s encouraging learning from that failure and moving swiftly to make any changes. This is something successful entrepreneurs have been practicing for years under the concept of Fail Fast.

One last caveat: You need to show that you’re tolerant (and even supportive) of the mistakes that come along with innovation, or your team will be far too afraid to step out of their comfort zones and make them.

6. Remember the importance of rewards and recognition.

All of the above strategies will set the stage for innovation on your marketing team. But when team members actually pitch great ideas? There’s one more step that you simply can’t skip: providing appropriate rewards and recognition.

Think about it—why would your employees want to continue cranking out their best work if they get absolutely nothing to show for it? They won’t.

Make sure you have steps in place to appropriately applaud team members who go above and beyond—whether it’s through a simple compliment or a formal recognition program. That will serve as motivation for other team members to continue pushing the envelope.

Finally, don’t forget that one of the best rewards for innovation is to actually follow through. When a team member has a valid suggestion, take the necessary steps to explore it. It’ll be tough to convince your team members to keep brainstorming if their ideas never actually come to fruition.

Want more tips related to employee recognition? Check out our post!

Over to You

In the world of marketing, being content with the same-old, same-old means you’ll only be left in the dust of your competitors. You always need to stay a step ahead of what’s coming down the pipeline.

It’s important that you encourage a strong spirit of innovation on your marketing team so they can come up with even bigger and better ideas.

While it sounds challenging, there are some tips that will help you accomplish just that. The ones we touched on include:

  • Encouraging active listening, especially as it relates to the needs of your customers.
  • Resisting the urge to pigeonhole your team members.
  • Emphasizing small steps to make big ideas seem more attainable.
  • Establishing ways to share knowledge amongst your team.
  • Being transparent about your own failures and missteps.
  • Adequately rewarding and recognizing innovation.

If you put those tips to work, you’re far more likely to have a team that feels encouraged and empowered to toss their crazy ideas out there on the table. And, as you know too well, it’s always those seemingly crazy ideas that lead to some of the greatest discoveries and outcomes. Good luck!