Lisa Nirell's Marketing Waves Blog

Marketing Innovation: Help from Honeybees

Honeybees? What is the connection between marketing innovation and honeybees?

During our annual CMOs Leading Innovation Conference (CLIC ’16), we scheduled a unique group activity that helped us explore that question.

We observed active honeybee colonies up close during our conference at the Airlie Retreat Center. My intention was to raise awareness of the perilous fate of honeybees and help German Parilla, the head of the George Mason University Honeybee Initiative, with his mission. (You can also help–visit this page for details).

Parilla provided insights into the precarious future of honeybees. He has committed his 30 year career to addressing the distressing plight of the world’s honeybees, and provided us with an “up close and personal” experience.

I immediately saw parallels between the age-old practices that honeybees demonstrate, and the essential qualities of our innovative CMO clients.

Honeybee cooperation and resourcefulness were the two themes that surfaced during Parilla’s lecture. Coincidentally, they are also fleeting qualities for several 2016 CMO Innovation Trends research respondents.

The goals of the annual Innovation Study are to:

  • determine perceived innovation challenges and opportunities in today’s CMO profession
  • gauge the priority level of marketing innovation among today’s CMOs
  • identify the preferred learning and peer sharing methods for busy marketing leaders
  • help our community compare their issues and priorities to peers’.

One of the biggest shifts since our 2015 study is the CMO respondents’ growing challenges with winning the hearts and minds of key stakeholders. Without strong cross-functional alignment and cooperation, they can neither activate nor sustain an innovative marketing culture.

I find it interesting (and disappointing) that, in spite of the 7,000+ marketing automation and reporting tools now available at a CMO’s fingertips, executive alignment is lacking.

Honeybees, queens, and drones couldn’t survive without their innate sense of cooperation and purpose. They certainly do their part to support humans–about 30% of our food supply relies on pollination. Sadly, for several years, scientists have been confounded by the disappearance of honeybees. Some attribute it to a parasite. Others blame the reckless use of pesticides. Perhaps it’s partially due to global warming. It’s probably a combination of these factors.

Whatever the cause, honeybees remain purposeful, aligned, and committed to their mission:

“When a solitary animal comes across food, the better the food, the more they will eat. When a honeybee comes across food, the better the food, the more she will go back home and dance…Honeybees are the ultimate, altruistic, cooperative species. Everything that they do is for the good of the hive…somehow there’s been a switch from me to we.”

– Dr. Gene Robinson, The National Institute Of Mental Health

Today’s marketing leaders can learn from nature’s cooperative, agile team players. Otherwise, they become drones in a colony of chaos.

What else is keeping CMOs from dancing with innovation? Download our free study here to find out. Feel free to share your own thoughts below.

copyright 2016, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

P.S. Want to join our “know ahead” list for CLIC ’17? Register here to receive announcements and early bird rates.

4 Responses to Marketing Innovation: Help from Honeybees

  1. Mark Levy: December 10, 2016 at 10:00

    Thanks so much for holding this wonderful event, Lisa. It was inspiring.

    Actually, I’m now looking into beekeeping myself. Among other things, in a couple of months I’m taking a weekend course, so I can better understand everything needed to tend to bees.

  2. Lisa Nirell: December 10, 2016 at 16:30

    Mark, this is music to my ears! Thanks to you and the CLIC attendees, we have raised over $500 for the Honeybee Initiative. You are making a difference.

    If anyone is interested in supporting this important program at George Mason University, please visit this page:


  3. Jess: December 13, 2016 at 17:55

    Lisa, this is a great post. I continue to be surprised as to how closely aligned office relationships and culture are to the symbiotic relationships found in nature. Then again, when I consider it further, I suppose I’m not.

  4. Lisa Nirell: December 13, 2016 at 18:06

    Jess, I am very glad you saw value in the tour–as well as my post. When we ignore or deny the incredible lessons that nature teaches us, our cultures suffer. We cannot lead alone! It does take a hive–or a village. – Lisa

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