In marketing, we talk about "convergence" as a consumer story; behaviour has been revolutionised by people’s adoption of technology and the amazing new content it has brought them.
We’re getting good at telling that story, but we’re not great at building the structures necessary to deliver it. I’m not talking about hiring amazing digital people, because we’ve been pretty good at nurturing that kind of expertise. I’m talking about culture. Convergence demands that we rethink organisational culture; in other words, how we hire, retain, and reward our teams.
Convergence has driven all of us to want more stories, told to us whenever we want, however we want. An Aleksandr isn’t enough; we want the whole meerkat brood, each with their own stories. And we want them at exactly the right time, served to us programmatically, with adaptive executions to maximise their relevance.
A TV ad is – quite rightly – increasingly toothless without a social and mobile strategy. The role of Bought Media as a tool to drive Owned and Earned Media has taken root. So much TV advertising today is simply an invitation to a more immersive experience online, at an event or on-pack.
Most of us have had a 'eureka' moment. That approach needs to become part of our everyday lives and part of our talent strategies.
All of that iteration requires more stories, more ideas, delivered in countless inspirational ways. This is what makes marketing such a great place to work today. The only issue is that we’re not delivering enough ideas. We need more.
We won’t get more ideas by hiring or rewarding old models of excellence. I believe that the only way to accelerate the creation of ideas is to listen to, and be inspired by, radically different voices; to make connections between apparently unconnected experiences.
Velcro was inspired by a scientist who was fed up of the burrs on his dog; butterfly wings inspired the display on your kindle; schools of fish influence where we place wind turbines. Most of us have had a "eureka" moment. That approach now needs to be embedded within our sector; it needs to become part of our everyday lives and part of our talent strategies.
I’m not suggesting that we have "innovation meetings" or try to force serendipity; I’m not the only marketer whose heart sinks at the word "brainstorm". What we can do, however, is nurture and reward the art of listening and of connecting.
"Networking" may be an ugly word. It has certainly become associated with industry drinks parties and schmoozing at Soho House. But let’s rethink it. It doesn’t have to mean rubbing shoulders with the great and the good, "working the room" or "marking off prospects".
Essentially, it just means opening yourself to contacts of contacts of contacts; being able to take in stimulus that comes from far beyond our world. It requires really active listening: as far as possible, releasing the internal editor which filters everything according to the next brief. It requires us to become as curious as kids, listening without prejudice.
This presumes, of course, that those sources of inspiration will actually talk to us, but why should they? Unless we have something to offer them, we’re potentially parasites or spammers. So, what can we offer?
We can offer exactly what we’re expecting from them: stories to inspire ideas. We have a wealth of insight and wisdom in our sector. We know more about consumer behaviour than just about anyone else; we craft intricate relationships between people and brands daily; we navigate the sensitive line between business and culture; we are architects of converged media.
All of this is potentially a goldmine to people from distant fields. We have an abundance of stories to exchange with others, which is exactly what the "networked economy" demands.
How many of us has 'emotionally generous curiosity' on our recruitment ads or appraisal forms?
As employers, this perspective changes how we hire and appraise our talent. Yes, we still need to look at performance, but we need increasingly to match that with behaviours.
I’m not talking about adherence to the usual corporate values of "entrepreneurship" or even "respect" and "collaboration". I’m talking about something much richer: creating working cultures where teams are motivated to connect unexpected thoughts, derived from diverse sources, and use them to develop breakthrough ideas. Let’s shift those annual appraisal KPIs; let’s put the right behaviours up there alongside performance and change our cultures.
The idea of innovating by connecting disparate ideas isn’t new. But the behaviours which are necessary to drive it haven’t been adequately embraced by us. The acid test is this: how many of us has "emotionally generous curiosity" on our recruitment ads or appraisal forms? Convergence means that it’s high time we did.