01 Jul, 2013 – 2 comments
23 months ago I took on the mantle of Director of Invention at a hallowed ad agency here in LA. I assumed a title no one had ever heard of before, took what was my first gig inside an ad agency proper, and set about (with considerable help) to re-engineer a perfectly good, highly successful factory to produce an entirely new kind of output – marketing as product.
Since, rightly or wrongly, I’ve been asked by clients and outsiders how to manifest change within a big organization. My first reaction is that change is innate to any organization that continues to survive (because our job as managers, like our job as a species, is to co-evolve with our environment) – so no single person manifests change, change is something that happens to you whether you’re prepared or not. My job is nothing as profound as manifesting change. My job is to simply help the organization survive change – and for advertising that means surviving a splintering of attention, a more active consumer, more involved clients, the technological means to actively ignore messaging, negative public perception, and increased demand for talent, among a host of other factors. After 23 months, I still feel ignorant, but I cling to the following as a man thrown overboard is wont to do.
Invest in people who can create demand for their own services and can weather the storm.
Change is a numbers game. Some will embrace its nature, some will resist it, but most are waiting for it to be worth their effort. I’ve been fortunate to stumble across a small brilliant team that have been invaluable to me in my efforts and its not only because they are far smarter than I am (which they are) – they have created internal demand for their services and have shown a remarkable persistence in the face of what some days can only be described as organ rejection. They create a welcoming face and calm demeanor for everyone else, which makes them the best proselytizers for our little church of change.
Focus on building the new thing not on destroying the old thing.
When I took the gig, I wanted to burn the building down. Well, not really, but if there were a room with our travel booking and time tracking systems in it, I would have at least set fire to that room. Going from David to Goliath, everything about how we worked seemed inefficient. In a startup, you’re trying to maximize the output of every single square inch of resources. In a big company, you’re trying to intermingle a host of specialists and silos (who are separated by geography and culture) in order to reduce manufacturing errors. Almost by design this is inefficient, but the only recourse is some kind of draconian process (which creative firms tend to reject). Ultimately, my opinions meant very little until I had my own culture and process in place and had demonstrated (over and over) its success. No one is going to help you dismantle the business that’s paying for their mortgage or their kids’ college education – but they will help you build something that they believe can offer them even more advantages.
Hate to lose but don’t count the losses.
When I started this job, I literally marked a calendar with ‘W’s and ‘L’s (wins and losses) based on whether or not I felt I had made headway that day. This turned out to be incredibly de-motivational. Learn from your losses, just don’t carry them too far. Related, don’t draw too big of a conclusion from any single loss (hindsight is rarely 20/20).
Don’t let the bastards get you down.
Change is frightening for most and threatening for some. If you wear the change agent target on your back you’re going to be the object of some hate and fear. It sucks. A lot. And it rarely comes from a personal place, but it sure feels personal. You’ll tell yourself that trying to please everyone is the only sure-fire way to fail, but no one wants to be actively disliked. Within my first week on the job, I was pulled into an EVP’s office and chewed out for an organizational decision of which I had absolutely no role in. I was just the most convenient target at the time. Every member of my team has had a similar experience during their tenure. It’s been inevitable. My best advice is to remember what success is (it isn’t pleasing the un-pleasable) and …
Finally, have a life outside of work.
I’m a person driven by purpose and I seek out accomplishment. I want my efforts to mean something and to produce something meaningful. And I tend to hire a like-minded sort. The challenge is remembering to diversify your efforts outside of your work life. With this job and its lofty purpose, I also was able to rent an apartment on the beach and I’ve worked very hard to be emotionally and physically available to an amazing woman, Britt, and her wonder-dog, Indy. In a big company, working for even bigger clients, there’s so little I have control over and my life outside of work has taught me that control isn’t a path to happiness.
26 Jun, 2013 – leave a comment
In human organizations, individual behavior is tuned and optimized to profit by the most convenient currency. Convenience being the ability to accrue, exchange, and display said currency.
Sometimes that’s simply money, but more often than not in profession-based institutions, money is secondary to something else, whether that’s authority, seniority, resources, office space, parking spots, etc.
If you want to impact individual behavior, look beyond monetary compensation and modify what currency is king in your organization.
29 May, 2013 – leave a comment
Our Invention team headed to CES and SXSW this year to produce our second volume of Emerging Trends at the Intersection of Technology and Culture. Overall, this is the year the hardware startup gained critical attention at both events. In the report, below, we document several trends among the hundreds of startups present at both events.
Give it a read (and a share, if you please).
14 May, 2013 – 2 comments
Google, in all of its lack of wisdom, is shutting down Google Reader on July 1st, obviously to pour its resources into the social blockbuster that is certainly not Google+.
That means if you’re reading this post right now in Google Reader, come July 1st you won’t be getting updates from WhatConsumesMe anymore. Epic sad face.
Here are some ways to get your WCM fix when Reader goes bye-bye:
03 Apr, 2013 – leave a comment
Challenger brands provoke culture into making a choice. They recognize that indifference is failure.
They find an enemy and they pick a fight. Over and over.
The best ones zero in on a single truth (e.g. Redbull, Nike) or dedicate themselves to fixing what’s broken (e.g. Zappos, Simple).
They’re also fun as hell to build.
01 Apr, 2013 – leave a comment
Classically, the marketing department’s role within the larger organization has been to spread value. To take the raw product of the organization and to distribute a product or message across geographical boundaries and into the hearts and minds of a target market. Today, more and more, the role of the marketing department has become one of creating value (from entertainment to service). Market shares have solidified, mediums have matured, attention spans have shortened – and novelty and utility, in one form or another, are the antidote du jour to consumer apathy.
My team helps marketing departments develop digital products and services to solve their business problems. Until recently in my career, that battle was mostly fought to produce a single new product or service for a client. Lately, however, we’ve been confronting a new problem – scale. Clients are hungry for more innovative ways to reach and engage people, but the marketing department was never designed to scale in terms of Invention. Invention simply requires new processes and paradigms beyond the purchase and production of media vehicles.
As we have approached this problem with existing clients, I’ve been slowly cataloging behaviors and traits required to achieve scale of Invention within an organization and humbly submit these conditions for your review and dissection.
define the purpose
Modern organizations need to shift from an obsession with growth to a pursuit of fitness with their current environment. Growth is merely one strategy within seeking fitness – one that if followed too passionately can have dramatic negative consequences. On a smaller scale, organizations should seek Invention for a variety of reasons: strategic advantages, press, intellectual property, and long term fitness. Invention, however, is a poor short-term bet. Organizations need to expand their time horizons when pursuing such novel opportunities (let’s not forget that it took over 70 years for the telephone to reach 50% household adoption in the U.S. from its first emergence as a commercial product).
Speaking of purpose, organizations with a mission beyond profits have a conceptual advantage beyond their bottom-line driven counterparts. Purpose makes a blue sky easier to navigate. One of our clients approached us with the organizational purpose of “helping people make smarter decisions through data,” which immediately gave our Invention team fertile ground to plow for new product and service ideas. The best Invention concepts prove the organization’s mission – and, not surprisingly, are less likely to be culled at the next budget meeting.
prepare the environment
You can’t drop a seed on a linoleum floor and expect it to grow.
Invention is not possible, at scale, without say-so from the C-suite. Inventions require considerable internal resources and may expose the organization to unexplored legal risk. In my experience, the timeline of inventing in seclusion is finite and once the veil is pierced, work is delayed or halted entirely. Invention ideas and passion often come from the bottom, but, in large organizations, resources come from above. With that reality in mind, I’ve found the following critically important:
Related to purpose, successful organizations work from the same set of guiding principles which exist in harmony with one another. Harmonized goals require an organization to truly face the realities of their strengths and weaknesses within the current market.
It’s one thing to require approval from the C-suite, it’s quite another to have to seek that approval with regularity. Leaders should empower their Invention subordinates with implicit permission for sustained periods of time (at least 6 months) so they can direct their efforts toward fulfilling their goals, not retailing their efforts.
Plenty of studies have shown that physical distance from the C-suite actually benefits innovation; it’s pretty simple to understand why: Invention requires longer time horizons and protection from day-to-day fire drills and political whims. These groups are typically labeled as labs, skunk works, or R&D groups. Of course, there are political consequences to creating a special group within a larger organism. It’s critical to not entirely firewall this group from its peers and it can be beneficial to use other groups to feed problems or ideas into the Invention process.
The only way you can achieve implicit permission and geographic distance is with a charismatic and competent leader who takes ownership and responsibility for Invention. The right candidate for this type of position is typically someone who is practiced at an organization’s internal politics yet is comfortable working outside of that structure to get things done.
As critical as distance, Invention requires a defined budget, one that cannot be decimated at the first sign of trouble. We typically instruct our clients to set aside 10% of their marketing budget (production + media) for this effort.
We operate as a partner to our existing Fortune 500 clients, so our structure might be different than if wholly executed within an organization. In comparison, we operate at a price premium, but we offer technological knowledge and experience along with the benefit of geographic distance. At the end of the day, a lean cross-functional team that has proven chemistry is ideal, but the ideal team is rarely available.
This is a term plucked from the study of complex systems; generative relationships are an approach to relationship building which asks participants to build connections within organizations and beyond before there is a clear motive for it. At any time, a successful Invention practice should be cultivating a host of relationships beyond the walls of the organization that don’t necessarily fit today’s strategy. When I worked on the original Fiesta Movement, many of our never-been-done-before media executions were a result of generative relationships which had been established far before our need for them.
develop a pipeline
Finally, in order to juggle multiple Inventions at once, organizations are benefitted from adopting a pipeline structure similar to the methodology used in the pharmaceutical industry. For example, in pharma, new drugs move through a 3-stage process that validates and prepares the drug for widespread use. In Stage One, early-stage drugs are tested simply for efficacy; does the solution demonstrate some level of impact on the problem? Stage Two is where dosage is defined. How much of the solution is required to have maximum impact with minimal side-effects? Stage Three is when scale is finally tested to uncover unforeseen side-effects or unintended consequences. Admittedly, this is an over-simplification of the drug process in order to demonstrate its application to marketing Invention. In my experience, though, this has been a fruitful model to mimic in our practices. But beware, as has been said, “all models fail, some are simply more useful than others.” Most important of all to remember, the goal of the pipeline is to fail/iterate early and cheaply in the service of retaining more resources to scale any successful bets.
Stage One – The Pitch/Prototype
- Goal: to cheaply determine if an Invention is capable of solving the problem for which it is designed
- Form: Minimum Viable Concept – whenever possible, a pitch (video, Launchrock page, Adwords campaign, etc.) or prototype that lands the overall idea
- Feedback: if desired groups engage/spread pitch, feedback from user-testing of prototype
- Threshold Consideration: best if determined by a scale goal (e.g. move the 3 best performing Stage One concepts to Stage Two every six-months)
Stage Two – The Safe-Fail Pilot
- Goal: go-to market with a safe-fail pilot program to test user acquisition, engagement, and sharing
- Form: Minimum Viable Product (for sake of complexity and development, restrict A/B testing of functionality at this stage but explore A/B testing of user acquisition strategies), limit pilot by quantity of users or size of geographic area
- Feedback: Analytics and feedback from a select group of users within a qualitative program
- Threshold Consideration: best if determined by budget and resources compared to cost-projection of entering Stage Three
Stage Three – Scale and ROI
- Goal: to uncover/overcome the risks and opportunities of incrementally scaling the product
- Form: Feature-complete Beta, which is slowly opened to a wider user base
- Feedback: Analytics, bug reporting, and qualitative feedback
- Threshold Consideration: ROI projections
Stage Four – Osmosis
- Goal: to bring the product into the offering and support of the larger organization
- Form: Release candidate, vetted and approved version 1.0
- Feedback: Analytics, bug reporting, and feature request
- Threshold Consideration: from here, products can evolve or they can be sun-setted
As in the pharma world, organizations should pay attention to the distribution of Inventions throughout the pipeline and their overall hit-rate vs cost-to-bring-to-market. Again, the goal is to maximize the organization’s hit rate while minimizing the cost-to-bring-to-market. Over time, any organization will find that this involves a careful balance of efficiency versus adaptability.
So, that’s our learning to date. As we continue to advise clients in scaling Invention, I plan to impart more of our learning and our failings here.
20 Mar, 2013 – 2 comments
Oh, recruiters … why are you still a thing?
26 Feb, 2013 – leave a comment
The network assimilates faster than the institution aka marketing fads age inexorably faster on the web.
21 Feb, 2013 – leave a comment
I had the pleasure of talking with some UCLA ad students tonight. I walked them through our Invention Filter and how we use it in our process.
A student asked (I’m paraphrasing, emphasis mine), “Most of what you do is look at what’s wrong with the organization or business, how do you get away with that? In our program, we’re taught to treat the client like God.”
Dear ad schools, you’re doing it so wrong. On too many levels to even know where to start …
21 Feb, 2013 – leave a comment
When we launched Inventioni.st we had our fair share of haters. It made sense, honestly. We put out a vision lean on results. And we’ve still got plenty of work to do to prove that big ol’ agencies can learn new tricks and do the hard work of developing and maintaining digital products.
But as a former Chicagoan, I subscribe to Daniel Burnham’s maxim, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
Whether you’re a hater or not, if you want to learn more about our work and our mindset I highly recommend a recent HBR piece by my boss, Winston Binch, on why advertisers must become inventors. Here’s an excerpt:
One of our clients, Pop Secret, doesn’t have the luxury of big TV budgets. We worked with them to define a new approach. Instead of putting the majority of the dollars into paid media, we put it into the production of ten lightweight digital experiments designed to connect the brand with home movie watching in pop culture. The campaign is only two months old, and we’ve only released a couple of experiments, but we’ve received $322 million of mostly earned impressions and 1 out of 10 mentions of the brand online are connected to movies. Previously it was 1 and 100. Additionally, we hit a 12-month organic search high in January. We’ve already seen that there’s power in small, PR-worthy, experimental utilities and content.