John Watton leads the global marketing team for Expedia Affiliate Network (EAN), which provides private label solutions to the travel industry.

He is also a member of the judging panel for Econsultancy’s Innovation Awards, choosing from this shortlist

I’ve been asking John about encouraging innovation within companies, and what he will be looking for from awards entries. 

What makes something innovative?

    I sometimes think
    people confuse “innovation” with “invention”, and get hung
    up on creating something completely new.

    Innovation to me is about taking
    something existing and transforming it in a way that radically enhances the
    function or design of that “thing”. It can be an improvement, a new
    twist or the combination of things that were never combined before.

    How do you build an innovative company, or
    foster innovation within your organisation?

      I get frustrated when
      companies start up a separate innovation department. Innovation should be part
      of your operational DNA. It can’t be taught, it has to be experienced. You can
      only build innovation by measuring, experimenting and learning.

      So if you’re
      not measuring the impact of marketing, start. Then encourage experimentation
      and A/B test the hell out of everything. Be positive about mistakes, and
      celebrate successes. Employees will get used to a culture of taking chances,
      thinking differently and ultimately innovating what they do.

      Are most stakeholders happy to go along
      with innovative ideas, or do you have to work hard to persuade them to
      take chances?

        We’re all intrinsically
        conservative. Especially in businesses with shareholder expectations. You have
        to work hard on measurement and ROI. You have to build trust with your key
        stakeholders. Innovation is practically impossible if you have no track record
        to build trust upon.

        In politics, lobbying firms are hired to convince
        stakeholders in advance of a vote of a bill. Do the same in your job! Think
        like a lobbyist. Identify your stakeholders. Understand their concerns and then
        work up to innovation by delivering great results to each and every one of
        them. 

        Get them in a position to be your biggest advocate when you want
        that innovation vote.

        Can any company become innovative? What
        are the barriers to innovation within organisations?

          Of course. In my
          experience it’s harder to get innovation through larger businesses, just
          because you have to convince/get the buy in of more people.

          But you can’t
          generalise. I’ve worked in some innovative small businesses, as well as much
          larger ones. With the proliferation of low cost, open technology the
          traditional barriers of technical, effort & financial issues are no longer
          valid. What remains is personal – job protection, fear of the unknown, comfort
          zones. 

          How do you persuade them to take risks and
          embrace innovative ideas?

          Difficult. It varies,
          but I like to use the old classic of Moore’s “Crossing The Chasm”.
          Think of getting innovation into your business like getting a technology
          solution into market. Group your stakeholders into Moore’s market segments and
          treat them just the same.

          Why is innovation so important in digital? Is there still plenty of scope for new innovation? 

            Innovation is
            important as digital continues to be the new frontier. We can only learn and
            advance by trial and error. No one knows the answers, and it’s all to play
            for.  We need the innovators to help us move forward.

            What will you be looking for when you
            judge entries to this year’s Innovation Awards?

            Measurable results
            linked to definable business objectives. I never lose site of the commercial
            realities of working in marketing.

            That said, I am a sucker for cool creative
            stuff…

            What are your top three innovations for
            2011?

              For how it has transformed my life, Ocado (convenience, service), Naked Wines (for combining
              start-ups and retailing) and Kindle (a lesson in how focussing on doing one
              thing well is no bad thing)!

              What do you see as the major trends in
              digital / multichannel for the next 12 months?

                The combination
                of mobile, social and local in innovating how we shop, search and buy. The
                death of the digital or social media department. The coming together of SEO+SEM
                teams. Why are they separate?!!