Google Firestarters 8: The Agency Innovation Conundrum

The latest in the series of Firestarters events hosted by Google and curated by Neil Perkin was all about Agency innovation. With 8 speakers each having a 10 minute slot, a great deal of ground was covered. I’ve synthesised my main thoughts and recollections below, but I’d recommend clicking through the links at the bottom of this post in order to get the full goodness of the speakers – particularly since I haven’t attributed specific points to individuals.

Innovation by scriberia

The speakers all had a slightly different perspectives, but there were several common threads running across the talks – notably muppets, memes and motherfather fruity language.

One major question was why we should be innovating at all. Lots of great stuff already exists, so why try and change things just for the sake of it? Well, on one hand, customers are constantly evolving their behaviours so innovation is required just to keep up with them. But also, and quite self-servingly, agencies are employed to be the smartest people in the room and so there is an implicit requirement to innovate in order to justify their hiring.

This can understandably be a problem, because if you are an agency specialising in x, then the answer to the business question will obviously be x, irrespective of what the question is. There can also be a tension between “innovation snobbery” and appreciation of the target audience: people in Cannes and Campaign magazine might appreciate the shiny new idea, but the general public may not.

For innovation to be effective, it needs to be beyond an idea. It should be about ends and not means. Innovations should affect our audience’s behaviours, and to do this we need to influence their motivations and opportunities.

To reflect that, innovation shouldn’t be limited to processes or environments, but to entire business models. It shouldn’t be about answering the how, but the what. And even beyond the what, the why: Why are we in this business? What are we trying to achieve? This requires investment, to fully appraise and understand the situation, and to experiment. Because innovation requires bets – strategic risks that may or may not pay off. But before that can happen, the role of innovation needs to be properly defined.

And coming up with a specific definition can be problematic. Innovation is such a wide and fuzzy topic that the disparity between theory and practice can be wide. Which is apt, as it facilitates creative experimentation to close the gap.

The talks were:

sk

Image credit: Neil Perkin

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Recommended Reading – 10th April 2010

A few things to read over your Saturday morning coffee (or a coffee at another time. Or a different drink. You get the idea)

Chris Heathcote has transcribed a lovely little piece about Londoners queuing, originally written in 1951

Graeme Wood has a thought-provoking piece on artificial scarcity, with regard to both music and the Digital Economy Bill

Scott Anthony uses the example of the MLB At-Bat application to highlight why releasing “good enough” stuff early is the best strategy

The iPad launch has led to a lot of blog commentary. Two of the better ones are Seth Godin’s take on why its launch was successful (I’d say that while the launch was successful, the product at an overall level may still not be) and Dave Winer questioning whether it can be more than just a toy.

And for those that want to exercise their brains, Stowe Boyd outlines his concept of new spatialism with regard to social structures and Tim O’Reilly has a detailed look at the state of internet operating systems and how the move to cloud computing is affecting them.

sk

Links – 31st January 2009

As Des’ree once bemoaned, “Life, oh life, oh life, oh life”. A hectic few weeks are *fingers crossed* finally over. Rather than just watching the evening news and eating toast in that time, I also managed to read and bookmark some interesting things posted on the internet. Here is part 1 of a two-part collection of said stuff.

Insights

I’ve enjoyed the back and forth discussion regarding the nature and usefulness of insights. Richard Huntingdon used Simon Law’s presentation as a basis to provocatively state that insights do not come from the research department but from a combination of within (presumably not from those within the research department though), real life, academia and “weird shit”. This inspired several other posts.

Rory Sutherland sought to distinguish between an idea – creative – and insight – deduction.

Kevin McLean, a Qual researcher, felt that a little humility could have been used in the argument.

Will Humphrey offered a balanced summary, arguing that research findings should promote creativity and lateral thinking, but that planners should be more “ballsy” when pushing for decent research.

In terms of being ballsy and challenging, Dave Trott offers an inspiring story of changing a slender brief to a truly impactful one after going away to research the product

My own thoughts? Bad research, and bad researchers, exist. As do bad planners, creatives, account managers, product directors and so on. A project is more likely to succeed if each stakeholder is capable of implementing the necessary vision. This requires dialogue on each side – utilising specific skills and expertise to challenge, mould, amend and hone a brief. It is a researcher’s duty to provide a bespoke solution that will provide real, accurate, tangible outputs. If they don’t then they have failed. But other people in the chain have just as big an opportunity to succeed or fail.

Marketing and advertising

Rory Sutherland wonder if we can outsource media planning to the public through recommendation mechanisms within social media.

John Willshire followed up on that post with the notion that this removes control on how the message is propagated. He gives a great example of how such a scheme can easily be commoditised.

Ad Week looks at the rising relevance of shopper marketing in times of media fragmentation.

Faris Yakob uses a brilliant (fan-made) Thundercats trailer to illustrate the power and benefits of recombinant marketing

Iain Tait has a minor rant about the trend of using the themes of connection and collaboration within TV advertising

Graeme Wood remarks on ways in which the internet and social media can be used to deepen involvement in a television show

A NY Times article on ways in which the internet is being used to promote new novels

“Trust Me” – a new shot set at an advertising agency has launched in the US (NY Times). Within the show, real life brands and campaigns are placed. Personally, I think this is a great way to involve brands into entertainment in an organic way. However, in the UK product placement is currently illegal and so I wonder whether the show could ever be shown over here. Precedents are mixed e.g. we may get James Bond films with the “kerching” moments uncut but the Coca Cola drinks within American Idol are pixellated.

Rohit Bhargava on how advertisers can use consumers to help promote them

Ad Rants takes a look at Bob Garfield’s overview of the widget economy. I’m now locked out of the original article, so if anyone has access I would appreciate it if a copy could be sent my way 🙂

Claire Beale on Walker’s campaign to crowdsource a new flavour of crisp

Online video

Jim Louderback makes an excellent point in that, online, the third dimension of depth – or engagement – is far more important than reach and frequency

Mark Cuban believes online video is overhyped because the technology isn’t stable enough for mass simultaneous viewing. I would argue that this is what TV is for; online video is not TV and its benefits are different, but complementary.

And to highlight that difference, because the web is much more about discovery and experimentation, we see a huge drop off in viewing between episode 1 and episode 2 of a web series. Newteevee has a great overview of a recent report

Music

A Freakytrigger post shows that the number of new entries in the UK charts has dropped off a cliff in recent years. A negative effect of the long tail?

A very interesting Music Think Tank post on a pull music paradigm shift. There is some dissension in the comments but I found it fascinating

Tomorrow’s update will feature articles on social media, technology and the internet, and business and ideas

sk

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Links – 17th January 2009

Aside from links, this blog probably won’t be updated for a week or so. I’m trying to stick to my quality over quantity aim, and my schedule is pretty full at the moment.

Marketing

Paul Isakson posits that weird and wonderful advertising works because of the prompt that our brain receives, irrespective of what the actual message is

Advertising has been about persuading people to purchase things they don’t need. So, with overconsumption being scaled back, Brian Morrissey wonders how the industry will react

Demanding a read/write city – why interactions such as graffiti should be encouraged (Anti-Advertising Agency)

The best and worst logo redesigns of 2008 (Brand New)

Fred Wilson predicts that display advertising will become so cheap that it will outperform search. I somewhat disagree – prices may fall, and effectiveness may improve but publishers can justify premiums due to the surrounding content and context. Network display is more likely to be filtered out. However, the piece is worth reading

Technology

The Feltron 2008 Annual Report – Nicholas Felton has collated a huge amount of data about his life, and published it.Are the benefits of this self-analysis worth the expended effort? I’m not convinced but the report is fascinating, and his interest has led to the development of daytum

CJR has a fascinating two part interview with Clay Shirky

Russell Davies has some excellent ideas in his new schtick

Graeme Wood’s post on the future of television and TV advertising dovetails nicely with my post on targeted TV ads

Business

Umair Haque has a brilliant guide to 21st century economics – he argues that we have to reinvent the global economy

The mistakes that are made in the hiring of NFL coaches (via Ben)

Music

Do the BBC’s Sound of 2009 and other such polls encourage a narrow and homogenised outlook on upcoming music? (Sweeping the Nation)

Interesting look at the remuneration (or lack of) with perceived promotions e.g. I didn’t know that US radio didn’t pay royalties as it claims it is free marketing

Websites

Stack – a great idea for magazine subscriptions – a pick and mix from leading independent titles

I Wear Your Shirt – another social media get-sort-of-rich quick scheme. Pay (fee rises at $1 per transaction) for a guy to wear your t-shirt and promote it online

For the time-pressed, particular recommendation goes to Clay, Russell, Umair and Graeme

sk

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Links – 22nd December 2008

This post is part 1 of 2, and they will effectively be my only link updates for December. A shame considering I kept the updates fairly consistent beforehand, but December isn’t the easiest month to keep on top of things – particularly with ATP and illness.

Anyway…

Social media

  • I’ve been using Twitter a lot more recently – I think the main reason is the use of Tweetdeck, which has useful filter features within a great interface. This has allowed me to distinguish signal from noise to a greater degree – something that concerns me with social media. Two posts on the subject resonated with me – Inquisitr’s “Is Social Media Becoming A Social Mess” and The Tumbling Cod’s “I’m Pretty Sure Tumblr Makes You Stupid
  • Most people reading will be familiar with the furore over Chris Brogan’s sponsored post. For those unaware, Jeremiah Owyang has a comprehensive overview of the situation. I think Chris Brogan defended his position well (for the record, I have no problem with it so long as it is disclosed. If it happens more frequently than I’d like, like others I would unsubscribe) while Dirk Singer wrote the best opinion piece on the matter that I read.
  • E-Consultancy looks at social media’s metric problems. A while back, I wondered how best to measure the online sphere in general. I don’t envisage a universal answer being forthcoming anytime soon.
  • JP Rangaswami has a thought-provoking post on the nature of asymmetric networks and conversations within the social media sphere, while James Governor also gives his thoughts on the asymmetric follow
  • Paul Carr has a typically humorous post on his experiences at LeWeb, and the fallout from the less than perfect proceedings
  • Bubble Comment is  a new tool that lets you overlay video comments onto websites. I’m not sure whether this constitutes fair use, so it may not be around for all that long in its current form, but worth a look.

The Internet

  • Merlin Mann responds to the productivity/advice blog genre that has eaten itself. His contention is that it is wrong for people to look for quick tips and lifehacks – the best way to improve is to follow a cohesive and comprehensive plan. We should concentrate on doing, rather than living vicariously.
  • Cory Doctorow puts forward a persuasive argument for not extending the copyright privileges of recording artists

Research and data

  • The latest Trend Blend map is available. Download it along with previous editions here
  • Dataopedia is a brilliant, free resource pulling together all the publicly available stats for different websites.

A pretty huge list. So, for those that don’t have a lot of spare time over the Xmas period I would particularly recommend Jeremiah on the Izea brouhaha, JP on asymmetric networks,  Hugh on why social objects are the future of marketing, Guardian’s top 100 websites and the latest trend blend map

sk

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