It seems these days most of my posts are inspired by little thoughts I leave on Twitter and which make and impression. A few days ago I wrote this
and got quite a few likes and comments. Lots of people seem to agree and lots of people shared thoughts about their own struggles with this tension.
So I thought it might be useful to explain two things: what I think about when I speak about an organisation’s ability to deliver on an Idea and what one should have in mind when pushing bold Ideas through.
To kick off, I have to say this is not about that time when a creative team has a Reddit/Snapchat idea and the Brand Manager says “this is not on brand and we can’t do it”. It’s also not about persuading that one unicorn Digital Manager to approve budget for a one-off mini-website with parallax scroll. This should not be about making one offs, things that are cool for the sake of coolness, things that don’t fit within the wider business and brand goals. So, if your concern is that your Cannes ideas are not signed off immediately, this is not a post for you.
What is The Idea?
So what do I mean when I refer to the Idea, capital I? I mean a progressive, sometimes technically complex project that is likely to result in visible business impact but also very likely to put pressure on the organisation to change at a pace matching that of consumers. Because, let’s face it, it’s rather seldom that we see organisations these days keeping up or being ahead of their consumers. People have a way of navigating life decisions that often stumps marketing organisations, and this, I believe, comes from the often conflicting objectives between consumers and the brands that want to sell to them. People want to buy what they need/like, whereas brands want them to buy what the brands have to sell. So, the question really is “Is your organisation ready to push through projects which are closer to the needs and motivations of consumers rather than the rules you’ve set yourselves up in order to structure and organise your own marketing efforts?”
Obstacles to the Idea
Now, what types of things get in the way of the ability to make this type of Ideas happen? There’s lots but generally they fall into three categories:
Capabilities and skills
Technical and physical endowments of the organisation
When I say “capabilities and skills” what I mean is the learned and native abilities of the people involved in delivering the Idea, both client and partner agency side. These also fall into a number of categories:
- General understanding of key concepts → e.g. I used the term parallax scroll above; do you know what that is without Googling it? Do you understand what it’s for? Another simpler example is creating an experience map. Or simply the word “experience”. Have they seen an experience map before? Do they know what it’s for? Do they know how to break it down into “impacts” and how to work with those?
- Specific knowledge of specs/terms and methods → e.g. when writing a Facebook post for promotion, do they know how many characters to use? Do they know the size of the image and how many words can be on the image vs the copy? Do they know where the link goes and what link to provide? Of course this can be more complicated knowledge which refers to an ability to combine key Concepts presented at a) above and specs. So for instance, when creating a web page, have they worked with modular page builds before but also, more widely, do they understand how to assign an objective to the page and create a journey through the scroll?
- Support and information → is there a network of support and information inside or outside the organisation to help them deliver the idea? Meaning, do they know who to call to ask questions or are they just googling everything? Do they have the appropriate contacts inside the organisation or outside (for instance with the key platforms involved in delivering)
- Templates and forms → does the organisation have formalised templates to fill in to describe the Idea and delivery of it or are these being created bespoke for this project? Remember, they should have them, not make them up every time there’s a new idea.
- Experience :) → this is a simple one, have they in the past delivered similar ideas? How many times? What was learnt? What processes were developed as part of that delivery? This is key, because if you don’t create a process following the delivery of a new Idea then every new Idea will require a reinvention of the wheel and that generates delays and raised the cost for delivery.
Here’s a tangible example of this first point (but which also ties into the third and fourth). I was working in an agency trying to become more digital and we had committed to delivering a social project for one of our ATL clients. This was way back when social was not 1/3 of every digital budget, and we were working with copywriters and designers who were used to delivering TVCs. To make one Facebook post, the copy-art team would behave the way they would making a TVC, they’d sit and think about 2–3 concepts and make scamps and then submit them to the CD and then present them to the client. The client would provide feedback and tweaks would be made. Then, the approved concept would get written with support from someone who knew the formats on FB and could advise on length of copy, specs of different promoted formats etc. The art director would sketch out an idea for the photo and then we’d either search data basis for images or take a photo. The final thing would be assembled, QAd and then submitted to the client for approval. This took between 4–7 working days and over 8 people involved in the process. I believe that adding those hours up would have resulted in the world’s most expensive FB post. I also know there are lots of agencies out there who still do this :)
Now, if we speak about “technical and physical endowments”, this refers mainly to having access either in house or somewhere quite close to the basics of delivering the idea. This can be as big as having a studio to test out concepts and as small as having the spaces that allow you to sketch out thoughts in a collaborative manner. For more complicated examples you can think of having your own software to iterate executions quickly, having automated versioning of basic deliveries or simply having access to someone who can show you what the thing looks like “in situ”. The most basic example of this if you’re in a digital/ creative agency is the difference between having access to Facebook’s Creative Hub which allows you to pre-visualise creative in situ and doing it with a designer in Photoshop. Nothing beats the former and you’re ready to deliver on a new idea when you have basic or advanced prototyping capabilities at your fingertips. This means software, hardware and people with the necessary skills to manage them.
Internal processes. Ah, yes. This is my favorite because it’s a more organised way of thinking about culture which is the last point we’ll tackle. Having internal processes that enable progressive ideas to happen doesn’t just mean having people who are responsive to new ideas. It’s not enough for you to get lucky to be working for a smart CMO. Any organisation should be adult enough to formalise a process of getting “uncomfortable” ideas through without it depending on the subjective evaluation of anyone. If you’re relying on people’s native risk-tolerance to push ideas through then you’re leaving success to chance. But before I get carried away, when I say process I mean two things really:
- A “new venture” process → this allows a formalised way for new Ideas to be put on the table and assessed before being formally pushed to delivery. It can be anything from a quarterly “Dragon’s Den” type of meeting where teams can submit ideas in a given template with some form of business validation done or an iterative flow, which allows for teams to build on top of existing ideas and asks just for the business casing part to be formalised.
- A “process-making” process → now I know I’ve ruined this by putting in the word process, which nobody likes anyway, twice but we MUST formalise learnings into something that will make the next iteration or the next Idea easier to deliver! If we don’t we risk undermining our own projects by incurring additional costs, making the same mistakes and creating more aggravation than value.
Finally, onto culture. This is the one most people think of when they talk about what it takes to make an Idea happen. Culture, in this context, is described as an individual or communal appetite for new Ideas and for taking risks. It also speaks about different types of people working together to deliver new Ideas. It’s a mishmash of many things. I would argue that the “ready culture” we might need to deliver new Ideas is one that is defined by a proactive learning loop, assigned responsibilities related to progressive ideas, constant and transparent sharing, clear Job Descriptions and, most importantly, a solid tie between acceptance of new ideas and financial incentives. What do I mean specifically? Well, while I believe in the serendipity of smart and interesting people coming together to make shit happen, I also think that, if you don’t get that lucky, you should make it part of people’s JDs and of their bonuses to push through meaningful progressive projects. You should also “enforce” information sharing and ensure that information cannot be “hoarded” by one department or individual.
So, to close on this too long post, what are the things you can do to prep? I’ll do a more organised post on that next, but some basic ones are:
- do a quick scan of existing processes by figuring out who does what
- if you can ask to be allowed to deliver a readiness questionnaire and make it anonymous (Google has an incredible on for digital maturity HERE; it’s skewed towards digital media as you might expect but you can use it as a model to make your own)
- ask to review any “innovation” processes and also the JDs of people involved
- play a simple game with your key contacts and ask them to list the top 10 apps they use on a daily basis :)
I’ll try to structure some of these into a more coherent “readiness assessment” post later next week. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear more thoughts on the topic from everyone reading this to tweet me or leave me a reply here.