Lisa Nirell's Marketing Waves Blog

Marketing Innovation in the Age of Resistance

Marketing Innovation ResistanceMarketing leaders are swimming in a sea of innovation resistance from customers, assertive shareholders, Glassdoor-savvy employees, and fierce competitors. Some of us are embracing it; others are ignoring it and hoping the resistance shall pass; and some are engulfed in it. In all three scenarios, the movement is forcing many marketing leaders to re-evaluate our brand, our values, and our own relationship with risk.

Media outlets fuel the resistance, and have profited from it. The New York Times, for example, added more digital subscriptions during the last quarter of 2016 than in 2013 and 2014 combined. The populist elections, and the ensuing kerfuffles since our 45th U.S. president took office, have opened the floodgates to resistance as the new norm in business.

Even trusted brands can face resistance when they least expect it. Kevin Plank, Founder and CEO of Under Armour, made positive remarks about our president last month, and unknowingly set off a firestorm with brand ambassadors Stephen Curry and Misty Copeland. He walked back his positive Trump commentary by posting a full-page ad in The Baltimore Sun, espousing diversity, inclusion, and job creation. (Here’s the complete letter)

There’s a hidden benefit to all of this talk of resistance. It’s creating a parting of the seas among competitors. Brands on one side of the waters are telling the world what they represent; what they stand for. They are willing to polarize the market. They are open to new, edgy marketing strategies.

Fashion designers have made some of the boldest moves by turning runways into bully pulpits. During February’s New York Fashion Week, Tommy Hilfiger models walked the runway donned in white bandanas to show their support for Business of Fashion #tiedtogether program. Pabal Gurung’s multi-ethnic models strutted wearing black and white t-shirts festooned with empowering slogans, such as “The Future is Female.”

Brands on the other side of the sea–the calm side–are doing good work too. They raise awareness around less controversial issues that cross party lines, such as cancer awareness and nutrition. That may bode well for brands that span multiple demographics and psychographics, such as Coca-Cola and Dell. But will it incite passion for your brand over the long term?

My friend, Guy Kawasaki, discourages single threaded, “play it safe” marketing strategies, and I agree with him. Guy invented the brand evangelist role, and has turned it into his life’s work. In many of his books, including The Art of the Start, he encourages entrepreneurial thinkers to polarize markets. He believes that it’s key to continuous product and marketing innovation. Historically, Digital Equipment, HP and IBM chose to overlook that strategy with grave market share consequences.

Certain brands have capitalized on the resistance movement to fuel specious click bait strategies.Witness Reebok’s recent “Nevertheless, she persisted” t-shirt sales spree. They chose to turn a quote from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s speech (citing Coretta Scott King) into a workout slogan, which she attempted to convey during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ hearings. When a New York Times reporter, Amanda Hess, tried to order a t-shirt online, she discovered they were sold out. Much to her chagrin, “Reebok invited me to submit an email address to ‘stay updated on all our women’s stories.’ Instead I received a 15 percent-off coupon for my next order.” Reebok’s marketing team lost the opportunity to truly integrate their company values with their marketing actions, eroding customer confidence.

Marketing Innovation Resistance

San Diego, USA – May 27, 2016: Demonstration attracts hundreds of protesters to speak their voice outside a convention center.

Regardless of what side of the resistance movement you choose to claim, use this moment in history to guide strategic deep dives. These questions will trigger honest conversations in the boardroom, and stamp out complacency:

  1. What organization values are being challenged by today’s political climate, and how will we respond?
  2. How will integrated marketing programs best support that response?
  3. What are the consequences of remaining neutral?
  4. Does our crisis management program ready for the public response (think Under Armour)?
  5. What old beliefs hold us back from taking bold forays into new marketing innovations and programs?
  6. How do top CMOs respond to C-suite resistance to marketing innovation—particularly from the VP of Sales, CEO and CFO?
  7. When do customers resist our ideas, and how quickly do we embrace that resistance?
  8. How does our past success get in the way of innovation?
  9. What established processes and organization structures undermine our need to risk and reinvent?

Behind every peaceful resistance movement is that disquieted person asking “what if?” Courageous marketers already know this, and they don’t need to wear white bandanas to prove it.

P.S. Want to join us in stamping out marketing innovation resistance? Mark your calendars now for our 3rd annual CMOs Leading Innovation Conference (CLIC ’17) November 9-10 in Warrenton, VA. This year, our theme is: “The art of innovation resistance.”

Speakers from top-notch marketing organizations are now confirmed, including:

  • Jeff Perkins, CMO of QASymphony
  • Monique Elliott, Global Head of Ecommerce, GE Energy Connections
  • Tarek Kamil, CMO of Cerkl
  • Matt Howard, CMO of Sonatype (and recovering CEO)
  • and several more resistance movement leaders

Sign up for our CLIC ’17 “know ahead” list now at

Related posts:

Deconstructing the White House: Election Leadership Lessons

3 Subtle Ways Work Culture Turns Negative

White Only? How Meetings Promote Divisiveness and Poor Decision Making


copyright 2017, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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