Reflections on CLIC ’15: First CMOs Leading Innovation Conference

We just completed our first annual CMOs Leading Innovation Conference (CLIC ’15) in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. Although this full day session deserves more reflection than a David Letterman-style Top Ten List, I wanted to pass along my initial thoughts.

Twenty-five CMOs and CEOs gathered from cool companies such as Twitter, Informatica, H&R Block, SageWater, Gannett/USAToday, Decision Lens, XO Communications, Celerity, and DestinationDC. Adobe’s CMO.com, a globally reknown publication reaching over 22,000 marketing leaders, partnered with us to cover the event. Steve Cook, seasoned CMO and Contributing Editor, conducted some brief video interviews from the day, which I’ll be sharing with you within the next few weeks.

Now, my top 12 takeaways:

  1. This C-suite community is stellar. And I get to be part of it. One participant said “This was no ordinary conference. It was a gathering of generous people who immediately connected and shared ideas. I felt like I was in a CMO classroom. That intimacy made it special.”The CLIC '15 Power Panel: Creating Marketing Innovations in Mature Markets
  2. Marketing innovation isn’t for sissies. Courage is still a precious and rare commodity, even among seasoned CMOs. It’s easier to focus on fixing yesterday’s issues, or cleaning out today’s inbox. Creating the future? THAT takes “cojones.”
  3. Making small tweaks to a broken program, website, or platform is not innovating. Many of us confuse problem solving with creating the future. They’re different. And that’s not what CMOs are paid to spend their time doing in the long term.Kip Knight, President of H&R Block, showcases branding lessons learned from food, feds, and fun.
  4. Travel creates the conditions for innovation and critical thinking. The Grand Hyatt Tyson’s Corner staff could have been emissaries from the United Nations. Every person other than the sales director was born in another country, and shared their story of coming to the USA. I was inspired by their unique (and often challenging) stories. Anyone who makes sweeping generalizations about immigrants needs to spend more time on the road to expand their world view.
  5. Laughter helped everyone learn and relax. When I reassured everyone that Pope Francis had blessed our hashtag #CMOCLIC15, the room roared. We enjoyed using papal metaphors throughout the day to make points. It worked!
  6. Being provocative makes our community stronger. We debated privacy and its implications for marketers, mindsets versus demographics, and other big topics. Had we not created a cone of confidentiality at the outset, people would not have participated to the fullest.
  7. The state of being a marketing innovator gets little attention. Most CMOs want to jump to the step of selecting a marketing innovation to test. This increases the chances of failure. I outlined 13 areas that marketing leaders must consider before creating innovation tests. For example,
  8. It pays to pick your media partners carefully. I have spent the past 12 months cultivating relationships with Adobe and CMO.com. Contributing Editor, Steve Cook, was allowed to attend CLIC ’15 under one condition: that he agree not to share any confidential company statistics or challenges without my approval. As a result, participants felt comfortable sharing ideas and tangible innovation results without competitive concerns. (Check out part 1 of the 2 part CLIC ’15 post here).Steve Cook and Lisa Nirell
  9. The “devil” is in the details. Vicki Corson, my events sherpa, removed tons of stress for me. Even the paper clips and wrapping paper matched our event color scheme. I’m only as strong as the people who surround me.
  10. I’m finally willing to call myself an innovator. My dear father passed away 9 years ago. A true innovator, he filed many patents for his mechanical lock designs.For decades, I told myself that I never had his gift. Through introspection and this “learning laboratory” I call my business, I have discovered I was wrong. I’m grateful that the gift was there all this time, and he helped me find it.
  11. Innovation emanates from the heart. The days of using military and male sports metaphors Daina Middleton, Head of Global Marketing for Twitter, Presents at CLIC '15to guide your marketing innovations are numbered. The days of “killing the competition,” “targeting your customer,” and “total world domination” are OVER. Twitter’s Daina Middleton has completed some seminal work on the benefit of creating Nurturist organizations. This concept from her book, Marketing in the Participation Age, resonated with our community. Consider your customer related innovations like a garden, not a battlefield.
  12. For all of my Jewish friends and colleagues, I PROMISE not to schedule CLIC ’16 on a holiday!

Copyright 2015, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy of Eric Lecky.

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