ImageThe complaint I hear most often from my peers is that they simply don’t have time to think anything through. Shorter deadlines, smaller staffs and endless emails leave limited minutes for quiet contemplation, let alone inspired creativity. Yet despite these obstacles, some marketing leaders have managed to put the proverbial pedal to the metal and leave their competitors in the dust. 

After chatting with several award-winning CMOs about how they stay ahead of the pack, what stuck with me most was the diversity of their approaches. Each brand's challenges are different, to be sure, but that alone doesn’t explain it. In truth, there are just a lot of ways to warm up your innovation engine, as long as you are committed to doing so. Here are six to rev you up:

1. Build a Great Team—Rose Hamilton, CMO of Pet360.com:

“Now more than ever, it’s important to have a team in place that’s focused on monitoring, optimizing and growing your marketing programs. With complexity comes opportunity, and opportunity can be turned into innovation if you have a team that embraces technology, data, customer centricity and is not afraid to try new things.” 

2. Think Beyond Incremental Improvements—Jonathan Becher, CMO of SAP:

“For all good business leaders, there comes a day when you realize, ‘What got us here won’t get us where we need to go.’ We all know that the way customers consume information, products, and services has completely changed. It follows that the way we need to engage with customers must also change. However, incremental changes will not be sufficient: we need to innovate the discipline of marketing.”

3. Don’t Follow Trends—Do Right by Your Customers—John Hayes, CMO, American Express

“What’s really important is that we don’t do things just because they’re a trend—we do things because we think it’s the right thing to do for our customers. In 1971, we started a publishing group called American Express Publishing. Wow, what a concept! Who was talking about content in 1971? But this company has the foresight to understand that if you’re going to be a lifestyle services company, you’re going to serve businesses and people. You need to talk to them about their life, not what they’re going to use to pay for something.” 

4. Look Beyond Your Internal Team—Marty St. George, CMO, JetBlue:

“We deal with [increasing complexity] by keeping up with technology, and by finding partners in that space who can help keep us current. In fact, a few times per year we hold a "Digital Day," where we invite current and potential marketing partners in to pitch our entire team. We've found several exciting new technologies and channels that way, just through an open ‘casting call.’”

5. Budget for Risk Taking—Beth Comstock, CMO, GE:

“I’m a big believer in carving out a percentage of your budget to develop new models. We have an awesome media team that identifies themselves as digital explorers. We also take risks with new ideas and small companies as a way to learn and augment more traditional plays.”

6. Tap into All Available Resources—Raj Rao, VP of Global Transformation, 3M:

“The diversity of brands, customer touchpoints and technology platforms is a tremendous source of strength for 3M. It drives our competitiveness and provides an endless stream of innovation outcomes.”