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The event. Neil Perkin invited seven smart people and me to say something provocative about innovation in agencies. We each had 10 minutes and I was the fourth to speak. The slides that follow are an edited version of thosepresented at the event. I have added extra text to make them easier to understand when read rather than presented.
Provocation #4 Innovation is a bet not an experiment.**Don’t confuse R&D (pure discipline) with innovation (applied discipline).Bets are placed on specific outcomes, based on assessment of risk & reward and an understanding of context & competition. Bets are strategic. By contrast, too much innovation work done by agencies for clients is characterised by an absence of strategy. There are two reasons for this.
Reason 1 Our industry has an unhealthy obsession with means (rather than ends). To this day most of our award schemes celebrate the creation ofintermediate means like TV commercials rather than the successful achievement of specific commercial objectives. Obsessing over means is hard coded into our DNA. Most of us work for “means agencies”.
Means agencies.* Advertising agency. PR agency. Digital agency. Direct marketing agency. Social media agency.*We describe ourselves on the basis of the means in which we specialise.
At our worst, what it means to be a Means Agency is this. (The answer’s) Advertising (now what’s the question) agency. (The answer’s) PR (now what’s the question) agency. (The answer’s) Digital (now what’s the question) agency. (The answer’s) DM (now what’s the question) agency.(The answer’s) Social media (now what’s the question) agency. We put the means horse before the commercial end cart.
Reason 2(Clients have a potentially unhealthy obsession too…) The client innovation agenda is giving us agency folk another means to obsess over.
Innovation is treated as an end in its own right, rather than a means. When our general obsession with means and the client obsession withinnovation collide, the result is that the innovation tail wags the commercial agenda dog.
That’s why too many innovation briefs are what briefs not why briefs. Image borrowed from The PJA Blog - @agencypjaToo many innovation briefs specify a solution rather than share a problem.
It feels like being seen to innovate is moreimportant than having a sound commercial reason to innovate.Clients & complicit agencies collect new ways of doing things like Foursquare badges…
Congratulations! You unlocked theBranded Mobile App That Does The Same Job As An Existing App But Less Well badge.
Congratulations! You unlocked theUnbranded Campaign Hashtag That Trended To No Discernible Benefit Other Than A Nice Warm Feeling For The Brand Team badge.
Provocation #4 Innovation shouldn’t be pointless. It should be done on purpose.And innovation has two broad roles when it is done properly, on purpose…
What is innovation for? (1)A more efficient means of achieving existing commercial ends.
What is innovation for? (2) A means to enable the achievement of new commercial ends.If your innovation project doesn’t play one of these two roles it is probably pointless. These roles can be represented graphically…
Using new means to achieve existing ends is about efficiency.(Like using email instead of paper and cardboard for direct marketing.)
Using existing means to achieve new ends I’ve called Empowerment.(Lots of media innovation and challenger innovation in this area. This is out-thinking rather than out-spending innovation.)
Selling Airbus A380 aircraft is about as far from fmcg as it’s possible to get. It is hardcore b2b. And yet they innovatively used b2c social media to help generate leads. B2c social testimonials were used as part of a case linking customer satisfaction with airline profitability. I love the strong sense of purpose behind this media innovation.
How do we advantageously reframe a competitive, high- value, b2b procurement negotiation away from price? As a planner, how can you not enthuse over a well defined, juicy problem like that?The output may have been a piece of media innovation, but the definition of project purpose was means-neutral as it should be.
New means applied to new ends is disruptive innovation. It is extreme innovation.
Invention?(So extreme that maybe Invention is a better term than innovation).
If you work in a digital agency like I do you probably think about digital technologies wreaking havoc with traditional business models. But disruptive innovation doesn’t have to be digital…
Disruptive innovation can be an ugly piece of plastic sandwiched between two pieces of chocolate.Kinder Eggs are banned in the US because the Food & Drug Administration doesn’t allow a “non-nutritive component” to be fully embedded in piece of confectionery. Choco Surprise got around this with a toy housing that is visible from the outside. They potentially created and cornered the US surprise toy chocolate egg market in one innovative, disruptive move.
The colour scheme for these graphs is deliberate. Green for new stuff, implying good. Red forexisting stuff, implying bad. I did that on purpose to reflect the industry’s unhealthy obsessionwith all things new. But good, powerful things happen in that bottom left corner. Like making brands famous with great TV ads. Like doing the basics of marketing really well. Like just making a great product or service that people want to buy and talk about.
As planners we can’t afford to be afflicted with unhealthy obsessions. All areas on this graph are equally valid if we have properly defined a means-neutral commercial purpose.In fact the bottom left corner is probably where we should focus most of our efforts. Doing the big, basic, simple-but-not-easy things well.
Rowan Atkinson in character as Sir Marcus Browning MP.(The voice of reason when it comes to doing innovation properly, on purpose.) We must have purpose. We mustn’t be purposeless. We mustn’t exhibit purposelessness. We must be purposelessnessless. Sir Marcus Browning MP
The role of planning. In a context of unhealthy obsession withmeans, our role should expand beyond thevoice of the consumer. We should also be the voice of commercial purpose. Planning is about finding ingenioussolutions to problems, but it is also about defining and framing those problems at the outset.