How can innovation help to drive ad agency new business?
How do we bring innovation to clients? We don't. Or at least we try not to. Bear with me.
Over a decade of tech companies like Google and Facebook acquiring companies and churning out features, there seems to be a frenzy around every release. There seems almost to be a fear of missing or even rejecting the latest "innovation" regardless of whether it is worthy of consideration. Agencies, and brands, have taken to requiring this kind of "innovation" or early adoption as a task.
Let's dispel this quickly. Labelling a release a "beta" doesn't excuse design flaws or a lack of commercial relevance, though it tends to accelerate the launch date. Anymore, real innovation rarely appears with bright and colourful logos, semi-amateur demo videos or any number of vague press releases featuring a range of superlatives. The sheer pace of these releases by companies pre-empting each other is a clue. They left the work to us.
More importantly, for brands, this overwhelming bevvy of investment options offers little evidence of any real consideration of potential returns. Yet, the cost is often born by the advertiser. This is where we come in as an agency partner. We've become quite adept at sifting through the detritus of collateral, overpromises and rumours to spot those opportunities with real potential. And we know how to test them too.
This is a new role of the agency in such a diverse and unruly landscape. It is a role which begins by defining innovation not by features but by contribution. Innovation is about finding a better way to do things. It amplifies returns. It reaches audiences in more effective ways. It enables efficiencies. It is a more powerful programming language. It is a more fluid way to share experiences. It is a way to game the system for cheaper rates. Sometimes it's simply a pivot table developed by a clever account executive.
Whatever the case, innovation is what allows us to stay ahead of the pack. This is of course filtered through a few lenses which focus our efforts on finding that balance between tolerances for risk and reward; we become calculated rebels. And often the output is not packaged as innovation or early access to a beta; the output is performance.
At Unique, I would reduce our success to a few key elements:
Good people and good communication. What a bastardised reference, yet how critical it always seems to be. Both internally and externally work at good communication. This doesn't mean publishing a newsletter or a blog, or even using Yammer (long since internally abandoned here). It means real effort matched with a bit of timing and luck. It means not only keeping on top of the innovations and flow of ideas internally at the agency, but appreciating client developments and their business which provides the context and timing in delivering an innovative solution.
Thought leadership. My school gym coach once explained the importance of listening in relation to adapting to your surroundings. "That's why God gave you two ears and one mouth!" Not an innovator. Still, he had a point. For us, the volume of tweets and retweets from a senior management team rarely reflects a proportionate comprehension. At Unique, I expect and make the effort myself to consider carefully what I share. Our jobs are to listen, interpret and only then communicate what's relevant effectively. Our agency's structure is purposefully designed very flat to enable and reward sharing clever thinking.
Adaptation. Much innovation comes as a result of market drivers and shifting user behaviour. Economic crises change consumption and force down costs, tablet usage shifts consumers to browse while watching television, volcanic activity grounds flights forcing crisis management…the sources are endless and the reactions are the basis for great innovations whether we planned and invested the year prior or drove them as a result of unanticipated events.
Planning. Dim conference rooms, long discussions…sounds like innovation's graveyard. But often it is in these seemingly pragmatic compromises, budget sessions and negotiations that new directions are uncovered through investment in the right people and fiscal permissions for experimentation. Syzygy as a group has invested in the exploration and development of a strong understanding of social commerce. It was literally a bet on the future that now is a genuine strategic advantage.
Ultimately, all of these innovations must filter through to clients in context. This is where the rubber meets the road in a measured way and sometimes even as the rejection of an "innovative" idea. Nobody enjoys saying "no" to cool new developments or short term revenues, but if it doesn't fit the brand or simply doesn't work, being "innovative" is the last thing we want to be.
- By Ovie Esiekpe