As we head into the fourth year of the age of the customer — a 20-year business cycle that began in 2010 in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers — focused marketing innovation programs are now table stakes to enter this new customer-controlled game. 

My latest report on marketing innovation discusses how companies are creating and where they are locating marketing innovation labs and talent to meet aggressive goals to win in this new age of increasingly empowered customers — "The Costs And Benefits Of Marketing Innovation Labs" (paid subscriber access required). The primary goal of these labs is to create new customer experiences and brand engagement that take divergent and discontinuous leaps from previous efforts. Some of the labs are focused more on technology transfer back into the organization, while others are focused on changing the culture of the organization and laying the groundwork for an entirely new mindset to emerge. Whichever focus they choose for their innovation labs, these organizations know they now must invest in customer experience and brand engagement innovation just like they did during the age of information (1990-2010) in supply chain, logistics, manufacturing, and back-office systems innovation and talent.

As I have written in previous reports, marketing innovation is not easy, and it takes dedicated, focused talent and resources to make big leaps. Teams that are focused on day-to-day marketing operations and execution are still responsible for incremental or operational innovation that happens step by step. However, in today’s world of the ever-changing customer life cycle and rapid adoption of technology, CMOs need a small focused team to identify big problems to solve and opportunities to pursue that stretch the organization outside its comfort zone.

Marketing and customer experience innovations also may take years, especially in very large or complex organizations, to fully implement. A good example is Disney’s implementation of MagicBands and iPads.

I just spent six days at Walt Disney World with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday where I had the pleasure of experiencing MagicBands and the integration of iPad tablets into resort check-in and theme-park entry. Check-in and theme-park entry problem resolution is now a breeze. PhotoPass integration makes it much easier to capture family photos. Disney theme parks appear to run as if each customer experience touchpoint is an innovation lab. You can see it in everything they do. However, as with most new innovation implementations, there are opportunities to continue improving the experience:

  • I have never received more paper receipts in my life. It would have been great if every receipt was associated to my MagicBand and I could review them on My Disney Experience mobile app. 
  • The bus system between parks and attractions also left a lot to be desired. I resorted to taxis the last two days at the resort. The bus experience could have been dramatically improved by integrating with My Disney Experience mobile app just as the theme park integrated wait times at various rides. It should take an Uber approach to solving this problem. The app should be able to tell me when the next bus from the Wilderness Lodge to Animal Kingdom was coming by so I did not stand outside watching 10 other buses come by before mine.  

MagicBands represents a high-risk, high-reward innovation that Disney had to take. The examples above represent a couple big problems and opportunities Disney still faces to complete the customer life cycle and brand engagement experiences it started with MagicBands. It also shows that innovation, especially in the age of the customer and the customer life-cycle-driven world, is never finished.

I am now working on my next reports on marketing innovation partnerships between agencies and brands, 2014 B2C CMO imperatives, and marketing innovation in lifestyle media. As always, I look forward to your feedback and questions.