I climb in. It’s bubbleish, if that’s a word. The windscreen almost touches my face, but the air blowing up from the air con goes right into my mouth and just a light, soft flow over what used to be my forelock, which is now as bald as Uluru.
The turning schtick is soft and flexible and feels like my favorite friend.
I squeeze it and I can hear the heart beat of the engine pick up, the excitement throbbing in the electric rotors. I push forward a little on the schtick. She moves instantly beneath me. Lifts a little into the air, I feel this sense of power rushing through me, like the first time you discovered expresso coffee or took a mouthful of pure oxygen. The Apple Air moves forward, almost pulling me along, a comfortable rider in a plastic Mermaid. I push the schtick, a bit up, a bit to the right and in split seconds we blend seamlessly into the traffic above Toorak Road, just one more commuter rushing to their office to start the day. Oh, riding to work in the Apple Air, it’s so close, isn’t it?
Do you see the future? Can you visualize what could be as much as what is now? Do you hunger for change? For improvement? For efficiency? For diversity and freedom? Want to disrupt the status quo and insert a new being, a cleaner set of values? Find the same just so boring? Want to help the planet and move these doddery humans forward like the sheep they are?
I do. So I’m stuck at a cross-roads in life. One of the big ones when you weigh up the pros and cons of your career, your marriage, your car. Should I get a wanky red sports car, a hair transplant, new teeth and chase women half my age with promises of riches, career advancement and Viagra? Yes, it’s the mid-life crisis. How they can call it mid-life when I’m 50 is beyond me, but it does give me a tiny bit of confidence that somebody somewhere thinks I might reach 100. God knows how you could if you do what I do day in day out. Little exercise, wrong foods. Stressful job. Bad attitude. Must scream heart attack to the average cardio surgeon reading this. Surely there’s at least one who picks up the mag at a newsagency thinking he can slum it with a business read for a few hours? Might get something witty one could say to those handsome young chaps on the golf green this Sunday.
Why am I at a cross roads? Cause I’ve been thinking about Innovation. Do we push the boundaries of the marketing world? Or do we just watch what the greats do and follow meekly behind, emulating every little step the leaders take? Do you?
I’d like to think we are leaders, but I’m not so sure. This very simple thought has rocked my world. I’ve always thought of the Starship’s troop of soldiers, our crew, as a hardy bunch of pirates prepared to scale the world’s battle-ships and take on all comers, but do we really? Or do we just do little things. Then I say to myself, does that matter? Even little innovations are still innovations aren’t they?
I’m also shamed by recent events in the Southern Ocean. Peter Bethune of Sea Shepherd who was Captain of the Ady Gil, rammed and sunk by Japanese Whalers in February, had the guts to try a citizen’s arrest of the opposing Captain and was clapped in irons, taken to Japan and is now being tried for piracy, terrorism and trespass. What a dude. What an innovative, gutsy, bloody stupid thing to do. In comparison, I feel like I do nothing exciting anymore. That we’re a bunch of wimps in Melbourne’s adland. Poofs with pretensions of grandure.
I entered advertising cause I thought it gave me the best opportunity to do wild stuff at work other than being a member of the SAS, but for that you’d have to be talented, disciplined, youngish, fit and prepared to kill whole villages of non-Australians without a second thought, most of which I’m not. So I went into adland, where everything you touch is new and if it isn’t, you get fired by clients. Good creative is by definition, innovative, I think.
Let’s just define innovation. It’s doing things new or differently. That could be anything. It’s not necessarily developing the new i-phone or a square wheel. It can be as basic as a new media plan or a new way of talking to disgruntled customers.
This is relevant in the magazine that leads marketing thought in this country for one very small, ugly fact. Innovation to marketers is not simply a nice idea we can expose on a Sunday to the other chaps on the golf green. (‘Whoops, look, my silly pants have dropped and I’m afraid to say, if you look closely, you’ll see I’m as hard for you Peter as a five iron on a frosty morning. Let’s go over to the rough there and get all rough with each other’.) Surely there are some gay golf-playing Cardiologists?
If we marketers don’t innovate, we die.
We are intensely vulnerable to those who do. The communication landscape, the market place, every-body in marketing land, is violently trying to get the attention of human eye-balls and have them move to their side of the street. To buy from their company. That’s our job. Those of us who regularly innovate and do things differently, hopefully better, typically get more attention than those who follow. Why? Cause they get watched and derr, get eye-balls.
We live in a vicious, unforgiving business world where the main game is keeping customers on the tap and everybody is fighting for the same share of credit card. Yes, we are all friendly chaps on the surface, but there’s a dark side of competitiveness that lurks just below the surface, a bit like our cardiologist’s ardent penis. To be a cardiologist you must enjoy seeing people of the verge of death, wavering between a weak light in their eyes and the grey still pallor of it gone out. You must enjoy playing God, bringing them back or sadly, letting them slip from this mortal coil. In the Cardiologist’s world innovation is an OK thing as long as it’s been tried by lots of other Cardiologists, cause one really big innovative leap, that fails, is one really big law suit. And a history of dead people due to experimentation means no Personal Negligence Insurance and thus, no work. No playing God no more.
Innovation must be constant
This is where we are fundamentally different from other professions. Innovation in most professions is a small, well-tested nudge forward, not a bloody necessity. In cardiac medicine, it can lead to disaster. Neither do Lawyers innovate. They prosecute people who do half the time. They use old laws as ‘precedents’ to prove the veracity of the ones they are trying to apply.
In Marketing, everybody is trying new stuff. New media, new creative, new models, new customer groups, new deals with channel partners, new this, new that. It is a constant thing. It’s also usually multi-faceted. If you don’t innovate on several fronts almost at the same time, you get hit by one catastrophe or another. If your competitor innovates in media, they get a real edge on you. If you don’t counter with a new brand promise or a new product or something, they get the sales, the money and you lose your job. Bang goes the Golf Club and/or the red sports car.
Scary for the other professions
This of course flies completely in the face of the accountants and lawyers on your board. They want proven tactics, zero experimentation. They want absolute certainty that every cent they spend will get X result. They are petrified of change, of innovation. They even say things like ‘are you keeping everything on track?’ They are, after all, people who spend their lives looking backwards checking what has happened via the rear view mirror, not driving. The marketers have the wheel. It’s the marketers who have to seek out new customers, new systems for getting to them, new ways to seduce them into buying the widgets of society. It’s just so sad that the accountants also have the accelerator – the money button.
This inherent desire for sameness, reliability, that under-pins most professions, is the reason we are looked upon as charlatans by our professional peers. At the core, they don’t get the most fundamental aspect of business. That business is about markets and business lives or dies on attracting customers and customers are like fickle children in a lolly-shop, always tempted by the next bright thing their eyes land on. So business needs to constantly innovate and change (like an cuttle-fish on the sea-floor – one second clear, the next a mottled weed-like pattern, the next black as coal as it passes a shadow. Cuttlefish can actually work out what you see behind them and blend in so you cannot see them at all except for the ripple in the light as they change. How for fucks sake?)
Innovation is a culture
Good companies who innovate regularly (think Google, Apple, 3M, Ikea, Virgin) have this strong set of values permeating right through their operations. From the kid getting lunches to the CEO, they are encouraged to suggest improvements.
Give your people thinking time
If you keep them stamping out shoes, and not allow them to dream about how things could be done better, you do not innovate/move forward. People only have so many minutes in the day/week and they need free time to consider how to make improvements. The important innovator companies all set aside ‘me-time’ for employees and reap the rewards ten-fold. In Google’s case this is a day a week. I’m not kidding. Do they have innovations happening in Google? Do they have market share? Does it work? You tell me.
Why are people so scared of change?
Change scares the crap out of most people. I think this is something to do with survival. Innovation at grassroots jungle level is fraught with serious danger.
If you try jumping from a big branch to a small branch and the little one breaks, you also break an arm, so you don’t do it twice. This means most humans are happier with routine than constant change. Which is why most people do the same thing year in year out. We are not most people, us marketers. I guess if you’re happy stamping out leather soles in a shoe factory for years on end. Ie. Left arm picks up bit of leather, both arms place it under press, right foot goes down on trigger, leather gets cut, foot is released…Then you probably don’t want to be in Marketing.
It’s not normal
Normal is not innovative. That’s basically the definition of it, put another way. Normal people are not innovators either. Some body I really respect says that if people think you are ‘normal’ when you’ve passed 40, you have failed life. So normally try to be different.
Be prepared to fail
Get over it. Some of the time you’ll fuck up and look like a turkey. This is why it’s good to try major innovations in test marketing scenarios, rather than ruin the entire year’s turnover. The likes of Coles have ‘concept stores’ – they can get it wrong and it doesn’t affect the main cash-flow generating businesses. Nobody who achieves anything can do so with a perfect track-record. All science is based on experimentation, which means they try 50 ways of doing something and 49 of them don’t work.
I know this doesn’t sound as romantic the stuff I said above, (or for that matter the two doctors now humping in the metre high grass on the edge of the 14th fairway) but it’s best try to innovate or experiment with a minimum of factors changed. If you can get the innovations down to one or two at a time, you can really see how they impacted on sales/the brand. It’s actually your job to experiment effectively, not recklessly. What works on a small scale can be easily run out on a larger one. One good reason why most web banners or even old direct mail usually has several executions in early phases, or why most players try several bits of creative in research before launching into a mainstream campaign.
Sexy innovation areas
Get the buggers talking to you and you can seduce them, you wicked heart-doctor you. This of course requires different subjects, different media, different promises, different budgets.
Giving them more exciting dreams. Gen Y, Gen Y not, Gen X all the bloody Gens and the thousands of occupations/psychographics have different hot buttons and they are usually not yours. Certainly not the dreams of some corporate whacker who might control your budget from Munich or London. Get their dreams right and you own their hearts.
Combine things you wouldn’t normally, like Readers Digest with Girlfriend. Say on the theory that Granny talks with Grandchild about Xmas presents?
Brands with attitude/quality copy
Read the ‘Guarantee’ copy that comes with your Crumpler Bag, if you want to know how to do attitude. Note: We did not write it, I’m sad to admit. (Scan and run in article?)
So many ways to say ‘thing you want to buy’. Often real operators are running several front ends, many ways to find the sting at the end of the long tail.
Competitions, but interesting
How to make winning something emotionally compelling.
Joint partnerships with other cos
Maccas are in bed with Bega Cheese, Ingham Chicken. You could be in bed with half the companies you compete with for share of wallet, if you plan it carefully. Sexy way to save on media costs and get wider distribution.
iTune Apps to Changed realities
Heaps of Australian businesses are adding to the iTunes app store in the hope that some of the iPhone’s marketing magic rubs off on their brand.
Bigger opportunities may exist in location-based marketing, mobile coupons, barcodes and augmented reality.
This is a naked way of thinking, not taking off your pants and running down the corridor at work. Gillette launches a new product each year that does the same thing but eats the last innovation.
Successful innovation is also about fit. Everything still needs to fit with your brand. When Apple has launched things that weren’t Applish, they’ve invariably failed. Would my Apple Air fit?
How to sell Innovations best
Innovations are power. But can blow up in your face. Done as an ‘exciting idea I had last night’ will get you derision and no money.
It needs to be sold through well. And this means you have to be sneaky. The best thing to do is use it as a motherhood philosophy in corporate mission statements and raise it in meetings as a regular subject.
After a few weeks of feeling like they are being persecuted for not being risk-takers, the operations or accounts department will turn on you and say ‘well what’s marketing doing that’s innovative?’
You now have control. You can get up and write on the white board what it is you’ve been wanting to do. If you can fake fear, seem reluctant to spend, build in tests etc. (they’ll smell potential disaster and in an effort to undermine you, will approve the idea) you’ll get the money and off you can go, to ride the thrilling, experimental Marketing roller-coaster once again.
Nine practices with the potential to produce a new idea: (stolen out of the Australian 22.6.09)
- Build Scenarios: use diverse perspectives to create complex scenarios of what future markets may look like.
- Spin the web: Web = a marketplace of ideas.
- Enlist lead users: Ideas and insights from lead users can be the starting point for new markets, products and services.
- Deep dive: describes the approach of market research that uses detailed, first hand observation to learn more about consumers’ needs or wants.
- Probe and learn: study opportunities in segments of markets the company is not active or strong in.
- Mobilize staff: engaging more staff in the search for innovation broadens a company’s vision.
- Cater to entrepreneurs: Employ practices that favor innovation development. Ie: reserve blocks of time for engineers to explore their own ideas, establish pathways to make sure the best ideas get taken forward.
- Start a conversation: Get different departments talking, encourage employees to share knowledge and skills.
- Breed diversity: seek innovative partners with whom you wouldn’t normally work, recruit staff with different perspectives.