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How To Create A Culture of Fearless Innovation

By Robin Fisher Roffer

Quality and customer service are no longer differentiators. Innovation is what creates a sustainable competitive advantage.

I’m feeling like the word “marketing” should be retired. I know this may sound like blasphemy to most of you, but what I see driving success in large corporations and in small businesses is not traditional marketing, it’s culture.

The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “an activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Maybe that statement rang true in the 80s, but today it’s not enough to create and communicate value. We are in an Age of Transparency and it takes a whole lot more to penetrate hearts and minds. What we’ve learned from Google, Apple and IBM is that it takes a movement.

I removed the word “Marketing” from my company’s logo years ago, but most of my clients still have that dated noun in their titles. Which is incongruent when you stop to consider that most CMOs are now in the throws of changing the entire culture of their organizations so that they are free to innovate in order to meet the demands of their customers.

Every forward-thinking company needs a mission, vision and values to unify the workforce.

Why? Because in addition to a money objective, every great company today has to have a mission, vision and set of values that drive the business. That’s because in an interconnected and interdependent world where everyone wants to feel empowered, people need a North Star and a set of guidelines that touch heads and hearts. It’s about creating a crystal clear united strategy and purpose that moves people to fearlessly innovate.

Creating a culture movement, as opposed to an advertising campaign, is a completely new way of marketing. You start by involving your people in defining why the company exists and where they want to take the business. Then they share their passion with others in a way that sparks customers and partners to join in. It’s about intelligently connecting a relevant purpose to your brand.

In guiding companies to create a culture of fearless innovation, I put executives through a soul searching and uplifting process that engages them at every level. One of the many exercises we do is an “Is/Is Not” list of attributes. These are the aspirational traits you attribute to the success and failure of your business. For example:


Our Company is:

Our Company is NOT:

  • Nimble
  • Risk Taking
  • Innovative
  • A Leader
  • Relevant
  • Valuable
  • Collaborative
  • Creative
  • Partnership
  • Reactive 
  • Reckless 
  • Stuck 
  • Derivative 
  • Expected 
  • Disposable 
  • Combative 
  • Limited 
  • Order Takers


When your people have a list like this in their hands, they know the line they shouldn’t cross. If they are rewarded for staying on the left side of the list, productivity and innovation increases. Adding this list to an agreed upon mission, vision, values will create a smarter, more independent-minded and personally dedicated workforce. This is the beginning of transforming your entire organization so that the value you communicate is reflected in every person and in every action. Doesn’t that seem a whole lot more important than marketing?

Forget the notion of marketing. Create a culture that allows for innovation and your business will thrive for years to come.


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Join the Conversation...

Fiona McEachran
I'm not sure if "Marketing" should be removed. Maybe just redefined. Aiming for a Google definition of culture might be nice for advanced companies, but I am just thrilled when staff in a business grasp that marketing is more than advertising. Overall I agree though - culture is paramount. But how bout we integrate with marketing, rather than separate?

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