The term "innovation" is thrown around a lot -- often times, it is used in a way that does not fit the actual definition of the word. Marketing and advertising professionals are particularly guilty of this frivolous use of the word. The inextricable link between technology and communications induces a fixation amongst advertising and marketing professionals on new ways to communicate and the technology that powers these new communication vehicles.
This phenomenon seems natural and fairly innocuous. However, complication does arise when industry professionals draw a direct line between technology and marketing innovation and bypass the necessary components of effective communications: creativity, problem solving, and storytelling, to name a few.
This year, the organizers of ad:tech have decided to reorganize the format of this iconic event. One may call the new conference format innovative. Instead of the typical back-patting, navel-gazing panels that exist at trade shows across all industries, the ad:tech organizers have decided to make a concerted effort to thwart conference norms and provide real value to industry professionals. A variety of tracks have been programmed, with each one concentrating on different areas of the digital advertising industry. Each track will be spearheaded by an industry leader who was been given a very strict directive: to provide a greater level of value through case studies and learning's from the trenches, as opposed to mere high-level pontification. Amen!
I have been given the honor of chairing the track entitled "The Bleeding Edge of Advertising Innovation." The focus of this track may be slightly different than what some may expect.
This track is not about technology, as innovation does not equal technology.
Many professionals in our industry equate innovation with technology. The misunderstanding of the word "innovation" makes this track especially important. My hope is that, with other industry experts, the notion that innovation requires new technology can be dispelled. At the same time, our goal will be to create a framework for thinking about innovation in the modern marketing world and how technology fits in this framework.
Now that we have discussed what innovation isn't, perhaps we can look at what it is.
My favorite definition of innovation is John Emmerling's definition: "creativity with a job to do." It is fair to say that as digital marketers, it is our job to experiment with new platforms, but the true strategic mind does not start with technology -- true innovation originates with creative ideas. At its core, innovation is about ideas.
The Bleeding Edge of Innovation will focus on three overarching trends in the digital advertising space -- trends that begin with ways of thinking, not new technology. Each trend encompasses myriad tactical flavors. This track will do a deep dive into the higher level trends in order to shed more meaningful light on the popular tactics of the day. The three trends I have defined as most important in the ideation of innovative advertising concepts are:
- Platform thinking
- Brand utility
- Participatory culture
There is no question that the notion of "media as a social affair" has caused one of the most profound climate changes for marketers in the last 50 years. Despite social media's weighty impact, one could make the argument that it is part of a larger trend that has existed long before the coining of the term "social media" (or more specifically, its use in common parlance).
In 2006, Henry Jenkins co-authored a white paper entitled "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century." Many marketers pay lip service to Jenkins' work, but when you see the initiatives that some deploy, it becomes obvious that many have not bothered to actually read it. Toward the beginning of the white paper, Jenkins gives a definition of participatory culture. It is defined as a culture:
- With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
- With strong support for creating and sharing one's creations with others
- With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
- Where members believe that their contributions matter
- Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, they care what other people think about what they have created).
As marketers strive to reap the benefits of the viral nature of content that is produced within a participatory culture, they tend to forget many of the ideas laid out above. Marketers seem to continuously fall short on the following points:
- Participatory culture is about social connections with people. The definition above says nothing about brands. I don't believe people can have a social connection with a brand; they can either have a more general connection with a brand or a social connection with someone working at the brand, but a brand is an abstract concept, one that is not capable of a social life.
- Prizes are not the only way to make people feel their contributions matter. Point four in the definition above talks about people's incentives for being active in a participatory culture. Many brand marketers feel that cash and prizes are the only reward for participation. Still, organic participatory culture is not driven by economic gain, per se.
- Participation should be valuable for everyone. One of the beautiful things that happens in participatory culture is co-creation, or the bringing together of ideas between brand and consumer. When attempting to leverage participation for marketing, brands should look at co-creation as the key ingredient in activation
There was a time, not too long ago, when the word fragmentation conjured up feelings of terror in seasoned marketers everywhere. For those marketers who continue to fight to maintain their old ways of doing things, may I present Bob Dylan:
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.
-Bob Dylan, 1963
As a new generation of marketers takes the strategic reins, fragmentation is becoming less of a hot topic, but why? This new generation of marketers is used to living in a world where media is consumed in numerous ways, through numerous devices, whenever it is convenient. Although fragmented media consumption has become the rule, not the exception, many marketers still struggle with the ability to tell effective stories across platforms. Channel integration and transmedia storytelling are no longer just interesting concepts for marketers to consider. Distributed storytelling across various channels is absolutely essential in creating effective communications strategies in today's media landscape. The age of platform thinking is here.
As defined in this forum, platform thinking refers to a non-linear but holistic approach to storytelling. This approach differs from integrated marketing in that, traditionally, integrated marketing refers to a holistic approach where consistency of message is of the utmost importance. The platform approach differs in that elements are delivered at different times and in different places, each in service of a larger story arc.
When assessing the importance of platform thinking, one must consider that the internet is now everywhere. The current media landscape is experiencing a rapid divergence in the types of devices we use, but the content spread across these devices is similar, yet packaged differently. The day will soon come when our devices will be smart enough to detect content and automatically fit it for the particular device it is being accessed from. But we are at a crossroads, a challenging time in which it is the marketer's job to ensure that all communications can be accessed everywhere, in a way that makes sense for the way in which it is being accessed, and increasingly, at the time and place it is accessed.
A concept near and dear to my heart, branded utility is, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects of advertising and marketing innovation. In a world of infinite alternatives, even quality can become a commodity. Brands that push out products of similar quality to their competition need to find new ways to differentiate. This fact challenges marketers to ask the question, "What more can I do to add value?"
Given the weight of this concept, it is not easy to achieve. It is also not possible to create branded utility all the time without becoming redundant. While all marketing initiatives cannot be branded utility (you actually see very few examples in the market that truly fit the definition), the idea behind this trend is incredibly powerful and possesses an unparalleled ability to create strong ties with consumers. The core tenets behind branded utility should be considered in every marketing effort.
As a concept, branded utility is possibly the closest of the three trends discussed in this article to the idea of innovation because both branded utility and innovation require creativity and have the mandate of using this creativity to serve a purpose (other than simply being creative).
Who is joining me at ad:tech and what you will hear
One of the best parts of this ad:tech experience is meeting new, really smart people. While the details are subject to change, you can plan on hearing from the following industry rock stars, among others:
Obi Felten, head of consumer marketing, Google UK
Ben Malbon, executive director of innovation, BBH New York
Jerome Austria, interactive creative director, Wieden+Kennedy NYC
Jason Clement, director of digital strategy, Wieden+Kennedy NYC
Ivan Askwith, director of strategy, Big Spaceship
If that is not enough to whet your appetite, here are a few of the case studies you will hear about:
Watch video here.
I look forward to seeing you at this groundbreaking event. Keep in mind, this track is not just about people speaking at you. There will be a conversational portion. Furthermore, I will be sure to set up necessary back channels to start the dialog before the event, and continue it afterwards.
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