The Unseen Barrier To Marketing Innovation

Following my post on sense-and-respond marketing, I exchanged emails with Steve Haeckel, who coined the term “sense-and-respond” as a business concept in the mid-80s.

One comment from Steve sheds light on why many innovation initiatives (which includes building a sense-and-respond marketing capability) are doomed to under-deliver, if not fail outright:

The legacy managerial framework systematically discourages front line empowerment in general, and innovation and improvisational responses in particular, because these are disruptive, inefficient, and contradictory to top-down authority hierarchies.

Changing the managerial framework from one that discourages, to one that fosters, improvisation and accountability for outcomes is pre-requisite to sustainable adaptability. As soon as executive attention turns to other priorities, the management system begins to corrode sense-and-respond behavior…which is why sustaining empowerment, simple rules, teams, and customer-back behavior has proven so difficult, and is so rare.”

Short-term focus and lack of resources are often cited as the top barriers to innovation. From Steve’s comment, I can’t help but think that these issues pale in comparison to a bigger barrier to marketing innovation: Management itself.

Check out Steve’s web site at

p.s. By “customer-back”, Steve is referring to “establishing a business’ purpose, designing its business model, and driving its operations from the customer benefit back….rather than from the firm’s internal objectives forward (e.g., revenue, profit, cycle time, customer sat metrics, margins, ROI).”



One thought on “The Unseen Barrier To Marketing Innovation

  1. This really does “hit the nail on the head.” Only by changing the management system itself to a “Sense-and-Respond” framework can innovation initiatives flourish. Moreover, as Steve Haeckel posits, the measurement and reward system has to be aligned with the new management system, to assure that accountabilities for new outcomes (not new behaviors) are driving the innovation process.When the whole system is aimed at increasing customer value (through innovations AND optimized performance), new, breakthrough ideas will find fertile, receptive ground in which to grow the firm.

Comments are closed.