We’ve been discussing a vision for a connected world for some years now. A world where consumers enjoy brand experiences that are personalized in real time and contextual, and brands collect and apply data creating more value and efficiency. While "The Internet of Things" has already become "The Internet of Everything", why is it that this vision so far away from being normalized and just how we build brands?
Innovation for awards
Don’t get me wrong - innovative solutions do appear from time to time – smart products, quirky communications and interesting executions which are both products and communications. But how many of these are core business drivers and how many are created for the awards shows as the conspicuously different idea, which everyone wished they’d produced?
In corporate organisations operating with strong processes there’s an overarching need to proof everything until the very last detail, due to the risk and cost of innovation in industrial production
Why, then, is it that companies and agencies have been so slow on the uptake of creative technology innovation in how brands are built?
The barrier is corporate business’ typical (and necessary) approach around risk, creating success through optimisation rather than innovation. This mismatch was highlighted by Alper Eroglu, Unilever Global Media Director, at the launch of the MAA’s Creative Technology Initiative. He reminded us that in corporate organisations operating with strong processes there’s an overarching need to proof everything until the very last detail, due to the risk and cost of innovation in industrial production. This conflicts completely with the live beta and iterative prototyping approach required to deliver relevant and powerful creative technology innovation.
New wave of brands
Clearly this is not an issue with the new wave of technology based service brands who started life as prototypes and therefore have this culture at the core of how they do business.
Coke’s solution has been to embrace a 70-20-10 culture: with 70% of their effort focused on delivering quality BAU communications, 20% on pushing the boundaries of normal and 10% on ideas and approaches which are unproven but could transform the marketplace
What should companies who have this culture clash do? Coke’s solution has been to embrace a 70-20-10 culture: with 70% of their effort focused on delivering quality BAU communications, 20% on pushing the boundaries of normal and 10% on ideas and approaches which are unproven but could transform the marketplace. This has resulted in ideas like "Small World Machines", a vending machine bringing India & Pakistan together through a shared experience and Coke Dance vending machine in Korea, where consumers who do a choreographed dance are rewarded with a Coke. These solutions are produced with creative or digital agencies and in partnership with technology partners.
Unilever’s approach sits under the The Foundry banner and operates a hybrid model of being both a technology incubator and a crowdsourcing platform. They issue briefs to a community of tech start-ups, hackers, students and agencies, vet responses and pick the solution with the most potential to develop into a prototype. The creative agency is added to the team to guarantee that the developed idea fits elegantly in to the brand landscape and advances the brand narrative appropriately. Thus far Unilever has received over 1000 applicants to those briefs issued through The Unilever Foundry https://twitter.com/UnileverFoundry. It has now launched, or committed to launching, over 65 pilots with 50 different start-ups. Central to their approach is their alignment with start-up networks that allow them to pull on talent from over 40,000 start-ups.
It’s a robust and scalable approach, and because it’s under that specific banner, enables them to ‘fail fast’ when necessary, take learnings, and move onto the next possible solution. A great example is their Knorr activation for Africa and Asia where most mobile interaction is through feature phones using SMS. They partnered artificial intelligence based tech start-up Digital Genius to answer the question "What’s for dinner tonight?". The natural language algorithm answered people’s questions and quizzed them about preferences and ingredients and then suggested recipes, using Knorr of course!
These initiatives are transforming how we build brands in the era of the Internet of Everything, and creating an advantage for those brands and companies that embrace them. This will transform the whole of marketing.
Why, then are these projects and initiatives still locked up in an innovation ghetto? Why are they the exception rather than the rule when marketers make their plans? What needs to happen for Creative Technology innovation to cease from being a side project or ‘nice to have’ and become the core of how we do business?
The MAA’s Creative Technology Initiative was founded to address this. Our goal will be achieved through the sharing of best practice around three key pillars. Firstly funding models, to navigate how projects like this should be financed. Are they opex or capex? Over what time frame should they pay back? Secondly how to measure the effect, and establish which KPIs should be put in place. It requires building frameworks precedents as the measures are likely to be a mixture of those conventionally used for marcomms and product engagement. Finally building operational structure and process, how to work in multi-discipline, multi-partner teams and efficiently test and iterate solutions. Only then will organisations understand how they have to be organised to be able to deliver the next era of marketing.