Technology moves at record speeds. And the advertising industry, much like the printing industry I work in, must remain innovative. If not, it risks the disruption which technology has brought to so many other industries.
From the outside looking in, advertising seems different than other industries because there is no tangible product. Advertising is "creative" and "artistic". So how can advertising, or an advertising agency, be innovative? To find out, I asked Tim McMullen, founder & the CEO of redpepper - the marketing and innovation lab with offices in Nashville and Atlanta.
Tim would know. redpepper has been ranked on Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest growing private companies for 6 years and has been recognized in the advertising industry with many local, regional and national ADDY Awards. McMullen was named the 2010 Agency Marketer of the year by the American Marketing Association Nashville chapter and is a past president of the American Advertising Federation Nashville.
What is the most important factor for creativity?
People are a product of their environment. We think about environment in two ways - the cultural environment and the physical environment.
We are a culture first company. We actively support personal growth (one of our core values) by allowing people to follow their strengths and passions instead of giving them a predetermined corporate ladder to climb. Culture, people, clients, in that order, is the only way to ensure lasting happiness for clients.
In order for creativity to thrive, the physical environment has to be as dynamic as the people inside of it. We intentionally created a space that leads to run-ins and collaboration, but also provides areas for uninterrupted, heads-down zone time. People are able to work where and how they will be most productive. This setup allows us to engage with one another and push great ideas along quickly.
Why does your advertising agency provide innovation services?
Marketing is moving at the speed of technology. An agency that is just doing agency work and ignoring innovation is going to be disrupted by its competitors. We tinker and explore new things to help us gain a deeper understanding of today and tomorrow’s marketing challenges. We bring practical applications back to our clients, which in turn makes us a better agency.
Take There’s Waldo, for instance. This was a project our Creative Technologist, Matt Reed, worked on that recently went viral. It was a robot that used Google’s AutoML software to find Waldo on a page in under five seconds. It was a product of our desire to get smart on Google’s AutoML software. There’s Waldo has opened up the conversation for us as to the retail, CPG, and other applications of this technology for our clients.
What is the ideal innovation portfolio?
- Rapid evolution -- This goes a step beyond R&D to find ways your current products or other assets can leap you forward. Prototyping is a key factor of rapid evolution that pushes ideas to sink or swim, while freeing up resources for continued exploration.
- Acquisition -- Purchasing a strategically necessary company (one that would be cost prohibitive to build from the ground up) can help you leapfrog ahead of competition that is starting from scratch. First, take a fresh look at your owned assets and make sure innovation isn’t hiding in plain sight.
- Invention -- This is creating something from nothing often using existing assets as a foundation. It’s important to be patient during the invention process. Rapid prototyping can ensure your ideas match consumers’ desires.
What is your recommended process for innovation?
At redpepper we implement a Hybrid Innovation Model. The first step is to pair your internal task force with outside subject-matter experts to create interdisciplinary teams. This unlocks the expertise within your company in an environment where it can be quickly implemented with the help of outside Innovation partners. We follow this up by taking a look at the anatomy of the portfolio and making sure all three strategies -- rapid evolution, acquisition, and invention -- are present.
Why do companies tend to struggle with innovation?
- Innovation isn’t a side project. In order to embrace innovation you need to have a culture that is comfortable with failing and embracing change. If a company is engineered to drive profit and scale, then too many constraints will be put on innovation. We can’t expect innovation to play by the same rules and measurements as corporate discipline. In order to innovate, companies need to change the way they look at their own assets and be comfortable creating a new environment for innovative ideas to be born.