Who Owns Innovation: The Role of Market Strategist
Updated: Aug 17
Most organizations ask their customers questions to help them decide what to build. They do surveys and focus groups, mine customer data and pick the brains of their customer advisory boards. Yet those same organizations struggle to produce innovative solutions their markets want to buy. Why?
Much of this challenge is due to a critical ownership gap. In most organizations, there's no one in charge of deciding what questions need asking. No one to say what personas and markets to focus on, and how radically unique the opportunities you go looking for should be. No one who owns innovation.
There’s no Market Strategist.
What is a “Market Strategist?”
The Market Strategist drives organizational success at the intersection of what your markets need and who you want to be. To do this, the Strategist seeks out market-driven innovation opportunities that are aligned with the strategic direction of their organization. They communicate the insights revealed to enable teams to design, price, sell and support solutions that delight markets, disrupt competition and solve new or previously-unsolvable problems.
The Market Strategist drives success at the intersection of what your markets need and who you want to be.
As covered in my last post, other team members may be doing parts of the Market Strategist role but not all - leaving critical workflow and knowledge gaps. Product managers and marketers have near-term deliverables and responsibility for the "now" that can't be shirked, making it difficult for them to also discover opportunities to drive future success. The Market Strategist fills that gap.
What Does the Market Strategist Do?
Market Strategists find emerging opportunities to strengthen organizational advantages and ensure success into the future. This may require building new products, but could involve innovative pricing, new sales channels or a shift in product positioning. The Market Strategist investigates beyond buyers and users, with research encompassing cultural preferences, supply-chain, emerging technology and delivery options. Key responsibilities include:
Understanding organization vision and strategy to deliver impactful innovation. The Market Strategist ensures innovation is market driven, but also fulfills the promise of the organization’s vision and strategy. For example, if it’s a strategic goal to open the European market, the Strategist looks there, rather than Canada or Peru, for emerging opportunities.
Aligning with leadership on what "innovation" means. "Innovation" doesn't always mean radical, disruptive products built with brand-new technology. For some organizations it means serving existing customers in new ways, or offering existing products in new markets. The Market Strategist aligns with leadership on the desired scope of innovation and works accordingly.
Establishing a workflow that will result in market-driven innovation. This includes establishing a baseline of current market knowledge, filling the gaps in that current knowledge, and establishing ongoing workflows to ensure the team can act quickly if something changes.
Focusing and aligning teams. Market Strategists disseminate market knowledge to internal teams to ensure that their work is activated by the right opportunities.
Setting an example for being market- and strategy-driven. The Market Strategist is in a unique position to curtail well-meant but ineffective “innovation by guesswork." The Strategist challenges teams to experiment and validate prior to building exciting but untested ideas.
Innovation may require building new products, but could be achieved with a new pricing model, different sales channels or a shift in product positioning. The Market Strategist considers them all.
Based on the above, it's pretty obvious this is a unique role, requiring different skills than you may have in-house today. What should you look for when hiring a Market Strategist?
What it Takes to Be a Market Strategist
Holistic thinking. Not all opportunities are product-centric. Market Strategists look for innovation opportunities in all facets of the market, including evolving workflows, new pricing models and changing demographics. If ever there were a role for someone who can "connect the dots," it's the Market Strategist.
Business acumen. Because innovation is often a long-term, high-risk/high-reward activity, the Market Strategist needs to work with Finance to assess ROI timing and expectations. The Strategist should be comfortable with balance sheets, cash flow and forecasting.
A "passionately dispassionate" mindset. Any activity intended to drive organizational success must be driven by market need and strategic objectives. Not one person's great idea. Hire a Market Strategist who can give you examples of when they threw over their personal "big idea" because the market wasn't excited about it, or it was counter to their organizational strategy.
If ever there were a role for someone who can "connect the dots," it's the Market Strategist.
Who should own innovation? I recommend the role of Market Strategist. It's important that someone – whatever their title – is responsible for executing the activities associated with this role. This person may come from product management or marketing, but not necessarily. Use the criteria above to find and hire your Market Strategist, and jumpstart effective innovation in your organization.
About the Author
Diane Pierson is the Founder and Principal Market Strategist of Innovate on Purpose, a consultancy enabling successful product innovation for tech companies through strategic focus and powerful go-to-market strategies. Diane is also a visiting instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Contact Diane at email@example.com.