We hear a lot about the digital revolution, but we don’t see lot of revolt or even action from brands and agencies. Sure, there are examples from time to time. For instance, Red Bull is a known disruptor – a brand built on taking risks and changing the way people talk about it. But for most brand marketers and their agencies, it is hard to figure out where to start. Here's my suggestion: Take 10% of your digital budget and take a risk with it. Now, let's look at what counts for risk today.
We are not talking about a "new banner ad unit for mobile that we've never tried before" type of risk. For the revolution to take hold, we all must be willing to take an actual risk where there is a real chance of failing. And, we must do so again and again. Depending on your business, risky projects could include:
- Design a proof of concept using unfamiliar and/or new technologies like NFC to see how it can enable quality interactions between your brand and your consumers
- Evaluate the way your product is made so that instead of masking or mitigating effects on the environment it is designed to be eco-effective
- Develop a strategy to engage in dialog with people posting less than glowing comments to your Facebook fan page instead of simply deleting them
- Tackle a long-outstanding internal need like re-building your own website using a new development methodology like Agile
A Rallying Cry to Brand Marketers
Your revolution will not happen overnight. It needs to start with a first step. So take it. And, plan for failures. Then when you fail -- and you will -- fail fast and fail cheaply. Learn something so that you can adjust the next time. Sometimes you need a good partner to help.
At our agency, the revolution is all about a deep appreciation for the power of the emerging consumer voice over long-held brand spin -- and figuring out how to ride that momentum. To that end, our brands must first acknowledge this consumer momentum, then secondly, do something about it, investing in everything from crowd-source research, to broader platform mix, to more provocative messaging and bolder creative executions. That's a challenge we can get behind. What better way to reach a goal than to put real money on the line?
If Revolution is the goal, then innovation is the strategy. Innovation is not a byproduct of spending more money doing the same thing or working harder. It should not be a KPI. It has to be a fostered, cross-functional commitment. It has to be the very act of creation. The best way to innovate is to take a step back, look at the big picture, question long-held assumptions on the way you do business and why, then start to take steps forward as you create.
Responding to a Universal Urge: The Agency's Role
Having just read Cradle-to-cradle, the intersection of eco-effective, corporate transparency, and technology is top of mind for me. If you've read it, you'll know that the topics covered in the book align really well with an increasingly universal quest for transparency and enabling a strong consumer voice. While they are at the forefront, as they certainly are with our client base, this topic isn’t limited to CPG companies. Internally as an agency, we are examining our processes and how we create and plan for clients, and questioning whether things are as they are because they need to be or simply because they always have been.
When you apply this lens to yourself you learn a lot. How do we provide transparency for innovation and disruptive concepts, in servicing accounts without getting line-item vetoed out of business? Why does waterfall still exist when it doesn't work? Why do we have "departments" when technology and creativity are inextricably tied at the hip? Why does it take so long to build a website? Why do we support IE7? Why does the wireless always drop in the middle of a meeting? Why? The more you look, the more questions arise.
Before we get all existential about the identity of the agency -- let's remember this is about taking small steps to operate this way and then, well, starting to operate. So, let's just start with getting started. Let's get tactical. My suggestion is to fund a project that causes questions to be asked about you as a brand or an agency and then generate a list of areas for possible investigation. If you are a small agency, a small team (or the whole company) could be involved. For larger agencies, a task force could be the solution. Then pick the highest priority and figure out what you can affect. Then do something about it. One awesome side effect of this exercise is that it can result in positive conflict among team members in determining whether what matters most to them aligns with what matters most to the company. The next step is to set up an agile process to tackle the project and start scrumming. Certainly not an easy task, but one that everyone will thank you for doing... someday, as you see a more progressive body of work emerging over time.
As you develop as an agency, it's worth noting that you may wish to outsource or partner on key aspects of innovation and development. The chance of failure is inherent in the project since you've committed to take a risk. But, you've decided you are OK with that. We've found the key to using partners is that some of their knowledge needs to be assimilated into the brand or agency as learnings. If everything gets handed off and comes back done, then the risk is (potentially and unfortunately) eliminated along with the chance to improve your internal competencies and figure some things out for yourself.
So, this is a call to move innovation discussions beyond a discussion about rich media. It's bigger than that. It's a mindset and a commitment to risk taking. It's a willingness to earmark for innovation across research, creative and media -- and experiment with team collaboration and with the way you engage the client. It's living the revolution every day. Viva la revolution!