Cary Tilds, Chief Innovation Officer, GroupM
Cary Tilds, Chief Innovation Officer, GroupM
A view from Cary Tilds, Chief Innovation Officer, GroupM

Scale vs scrappy: how brands can learn to ride the tidal wave of technology innovation

Marketers will have to absorb the habits and advantages of both big and small organisations if they want to reap the benefits of technology innovation, writes Cary Tilds, chief innovation officer at GroupM

If you think that the current tech revolution is hard to handle, get ready for more. According to the most recent edition of the National Venture Capital Yearbook, approximately 35% of the total venture capital dollars in the United States in 2012 was directed to the technology (including software, semiconductors and  networking) sector. This is the largest venture capital investment in any industry, by far.

With money pouring in, and open source code and cloud-based network and stage options, founding a technology-based business that develops "killer apps" or on-the-fly software is easier than ever, wherever you live. The next business-changing innovation can come from anywhere or anyone: including a high school whiz kid in India or a factory worker on the graveyard shift.

One thing is certain: the era of companies lumbering along, relying on the benefits of scale, is over.

Companies have to learn to live with this and find ways to handle the tidal wave of innovation in the technology space. The toughest decisions for many marketers and CEOs will be which ideas do they embrace and which do they ignore?

Solid framework

Having a solid framework for testing various tools and platforms will be critical to identifying and rapidly deploying those that can drive real revenue.

One thing is certain: the era of companies lumbering along, relying on the benefits of scale, is over. The influx of new technological possibilities will no longer allow for multi-year development cycles; brands are going to have to adapt a "start-up approach" to analyzing and then embracing or discarding ideas that come their way.

At GroupM, we have tried and tested a number of different models, some of which may be appropriate for brands. Each has its own characteristics as to relative time commitment required, the type of project to be considered and, sometimes, which individuals would need to lead. These approaches include:

  • Incubators: longer term, more significant investment, leadership team
  • Accelerators: shorter, can be brief-focused, small investment, mentorship team
  • Speed Dating: short burst meet-and greet sessions to generate ideas
  • Idea-Sharing Sessions: often against a specific brief, but not always
  • Webinar Sharing: when dealing with multiple locations, leverage webinars to share widely

Underlying all these techniques is the need to learn what works and what does not. This is where the concept of "Scale and Scrappy" comes in. Scale is about rolling out business changing ideas across an enterprise, while scrappy creates an environment where failure is acceptable.

Faster innovation

Tolerating failure is difficult in today’s world, but acknowledging the possibility of failure helps teams innovate faster. Scrappy represents what is new. Scale represents what’s productive. Scrappy uses some of the processes above (as well as some more outlined below) to generate ideas, while scale is more structured and mindful of the realities of how a company operates. Brands must be scrappy, developing novel ideas that can fill inevitable opportunity gaps.

Tolerating failure is difficult in today’s world, but acknowledging the possibility of failure helps teams innovate faster.

It’s important to get beyond the incorrect point of view that a "new" idea has to be "brand new." That’s invention. Innovation embraces adapted ideas that provide more productive solutions to current and future problems. Being scrappy isn’t a one-stop process. Brands need to continue to create and participate in speed dating sessions, industry events and even focused accelerators.

Keeping up with what’s new is what it will take to survive. This includes initiatives such as structured reviews with technology leaders, speaking and planning at focused industry events and monitoring media content and technology players. Once an opportunity has passed the scrappy phase, brands can then roll it out at scale and take advantage of its benefits across the business.

Focusing on both scale and scrappy is critical to the successful media strategies. Brands and their agency partners will have to be more rigorous than ever at testing existing boundaries, and implementing ways to find, test and roll-out ideas that can produce positive change. Start-up behaviour isn’t just for start-ups anymore.

This article will appear in the next issue of MediaCom’s Blink magazine due to be published in March.