Aligning Marketing and Technology to Drive Innovation: Successful Breakthrough Innovation Depends on Integrating Marketing and Technology Functions, a Study of 32 Companies Demonstrates

By Cotterman, Ronald; Fusfeld, Alan et al. | Research-Technology Management, September-October 2009 | Go to article overview

Aligning Marketing and Technology to Drive Innovation: Successful Breakthrough Innovation Depends on Integrating Marketing and Technology Functions, a Study of 32 Companies Demonstrates


Cotterman, Ronald, Fusfeld, Alan, Henderson, Pamela, Leder, Jonathan, Loweth, Carl, Metoyer, Anthony, Research-Technology Management


The study reported in this paper sought to differentiate between practices leading to incremental versus breakthrough innovation. The goal was to identify proven and effective practices that consistently drive breakthrough as opposed to incremental innovation. To accomplish this we looked across companies to see the commonalities rather than highlighting one company's practices in depth. This study thus adds to and expands upon the innovation literature by providing normative rather than simply descriptive findings regarding drivers of disruptive innovation.

Our study sought to explore more deeply the extent to which companies with a strong record of breakthrough innovation were able to align robust working relationships and processes between marketing and technology functions. How did they identify and commercialize successful innovations? How did they define the roles and responsibilities of marketing and technology groups? What was the balance between "technology push" and "market pull" for successful projects? How did they merge the unmet needs of the market with the potential of advanced technology to deliver solutions that had a strong value proposition for both the customer and the company? What were the specific organizational structures, market research methodologies, and integrated development processes that drove these innovation successes? How did the practices used by the various companies compare, and which were in general most successful?

We used an open-ended, in-depth interview process with a senior executive from each of 32 companies with a history of successful new product introductions and technology development to discover what they attributed their success in innovation to, and what the key innovation drivers and effective practices were. Analysis of these case studies produced a framework that emerged from and subsequently defined distinctively different behavior across the broad innovation elements of corporate culture, market research processes and organizational structure.

Four Levels of Innovation

Interview data were summarized and the companies classified into four levels of innovation, from 1 (lowest level) to 4 (highly innovative), with the sample set being distributed across all four levels:

Level 1--Limited product change and not satisfied with innovation approach and results.

Level 2--Incremental products and somewhat satisfied with innovation approach and results.

Level 3--Some breakthrough products and somewhat satisfied with innovation approach and results.

Level 4--Breakthrough products and fully satisfied with innovation approach and results.

Analysis of the data collected in this study indicates that a company's innovation level is a function of three elements: 1) organization of the people involved in uncovering unmet market needs; 2) market research tools and processes that are employed; and 3) the corporate innovation culture. In general, companies with high levels of breakthrough innovation have well-developed capability in all three of these areas. Figure 1 illustrates the degree to which companies at varying levels of innovation have implemented processes in these areas.

While other papers in the literature, including those cited, describe organizational structure, processes and culture associated with innovation, none developed a framework for Levels of Innovation that distinguish among innovative companies. This paper explores common practices for incremental innovation which differ significantly from those used in breakthrough innovation. The methodology used in this paper furthers the field of innovation research by enabling insights to be gained by leveraging the consensus and divergence often found in corporate practices. In addition, this effort highlights the often overlooked area of market insight as a driver of breakthrough innovation (1). It shows the evolution of methodologies used as well as the appetite for greater innovation around these methodologies. …

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