Imagine you are a company that produces products for consumers. It could be toothpaste or soft drinks. You decide that your differentiator is your marketing. (Read one of my articles on “Innovate Where You Differentiate“)
Given this, you might assume that the marketing department is the most important part of the business.
This assumption would be wrong.
There is no “most important” department in any organization. Each contributes to the differentiator in their own unique way.
To determine how, you need to dig deeper.
What aspects of your marketing sets you apart? Is it really just about your advertising or brand recognition? Or is there more to it?
For example, maybe it’s your scientifically proven marketing claims that set you apart – “Our laundry detergent cleans whites 50% better than the competition.” For marketing to promote these facts, you of course need to have an R&D team that can create these products. Although (in this example) R&D’s primary role is to support the company’s marketing efforts, this does not mean the marketing function is more important. Everyone is equally important. For example, packaging becomes critical for highlighting claims. Product distribution may impact how a package is displayed on the store shelf. Technology that supports the acquisition of intellectual property may play a major role, as will the lawyers who secure the IP.
But maybe your marketing is not about scientific claims but is instead about clever promotions. Your products target a younger demographic. Therefore you create competitions that appeal to these individuals. Product development now shifts from creating the “best” product to potentially one that responds to consumer suggestions (think Mountain Dew flavors created by customers or M&M colors voted on by customers). Manufacturing needs to get in the act of making sure these new flavors/colors can be produced. The technology that runs competitions and sifts through consumer recommendations quickly and efficiently will help facilitate the customization.
Of course, recruiting makes sure you hire the right people for all of these “marketing” roles. Training makes sure that the critical skills are in place. And so on.
The key is to cascade your differentiator down to every individual.
It is critical that you innovate where you differentiate. But differentiation is not a department or function. Each employee in every department directly contributes to your differentiator. In order for them to know how to make the greatest impact, your differentiator needs to be translated in a way that helps individuals prioritize their work.
Innovation is everyone’s job. But everyone should not be innovating everywhere.