Y&R’s five secrets of innovation success

Published 27 May 2014 10:15, Updated 28 May 2014 10:15

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Y&R’s five secrets of innovation success

Ripcurl discovered surfers’ desire to substantiate the otherwise tall tales of surfing. Kelly Cestari, ASP

There is a lot of hot air in our industry about innovation. Claims of world firsts, media firsts, technology firsts. Designed-for-creative-award-show-circuit firsts.

But to my mind, there’s an important distinction between being the first to do something and executing an idea that genuinely changes the way we meet customers’ needs.

True innovations may leverage tactics that have never been used before, but that alone is not what should define the quality of an innovation. It’s the impact on the customer and their relationship with the brand. That’s how you become a client’s most important partner.

We had the honour last year of being identified by BRW as a Top 10 Innovation Company in Australia, but we’ve had to learn the hard way over the years. Through some initial successes in changing clients’ business, we were emboldened to make permanent change in our approach to thinking about clients’ businesses and live by the few principles below to create the right environment for genuine innovation.

1. Meet the Wants and the Needs

Advertising today is seen as a service business, set up to meet what a marketing team wants. We’re instructed (and often incentivised) to efficiently answer briefs exactly as asked. And the bigger agencies in town do this brilliantly. But the focus wasn’t always so narrow.

In decades past, advertisers sat side-by-side with the leaders of business exploring untapped opportunities for business growth. We kept our finger on the pulse of the marketplace and connected brands with previously unmet customer needs. Needs the customer may never have articulated. Needs that require unearthing. Needs that do not yet sit on an existing brief.

The idea for Rip Curl’s Search GPS came from discovering surfers’ desire to substantiate the otherwise tall tales of surfing. To be able to document their experience out on the water and relive it with fellow surfers. So we came up with an idea to meet the need and connected it with the right brand to deliver. Of course Rip Curl want more people in their stores, but that’s achieved by first meeting the innate need.

2. Be Obsessed with Aussies

Discovering insights into customer needs comes about via obsession with what we think and how we behave. There’s an avalanche of global data and trends - good in context, but without investment in local market quantitative and qualitative understanding we can’t excel at our job.

While we’re fortunate to have access to excellent tools like Brand Asset Valuator to understand Australian’s relationships with over 1,350 brands, it is also critical that we get away from desktop research, and actually go out and talk to people.

Real Australians, from all walks of life, from all regions of the country. We talk to them in their environment to explore how they think, relate and assess value. It’s been a critical shift but we’ve had to budget for this type of research not as a “nice to have”, but as a “must have”.

It has been one of the keys to creating relevant differentiation in crowded categories and inspiring innovative product ideas for our clients. But it’s all fuelled by an obsession with what Aussies are thinking and doing.

3. Invest in the Doers, as well as the Thinkers

Of equal importance though is not just the creative thinking to get to the idea, but true creativity in how to get it made. From everyone. Finance to producers to designers to coders to builders all valued for their ability to buck convention, find a new way of doing things, and make it happen. Quickly.

I’m not sure of the actual statistic, but it certainly feels in business like the ratio of innovative ideas to executed innovate ideas must be a million to one. With better doers though, at least we’re able to test more of our ideas and see them happen.

With Move for Dick Smith, we discovered a unique opportunity to meet the needs of an underserviced segment in the marketplace with an entirely new store concept. But, if we’d taken the typical year or more to further conceptualise, design and build, the opportunity would evaporate. We invested in brilliant doers, and were cutting the ribbon at Bondi Junction in less than four months and giving innovation a better chance of success.

4. Flow Like Water

In advertising agency world, it’s easy to get swept up in set models and particular ways of doing things. But truthfully innovation requires nimbleness, openness to finding a new way of doing things. We certainly build on past successes, but acknowledge there’s no one size fits all approach to executing ideas and aren’t afraid to deviate to better react to the marketplace.

Last year we supported the NRL State of Origin, in their desire to leverage fans, sport stars, politicians, and commentators to amplify real-time social media commentary literally at the site of the game. Honestly, it was a herculean effort and much of it had to be made up on the fly.

To create a fertile environment for innovation we try to give the team latitude real time to flow like water. Not the quiet babbling brook type. The mountainous waterfall type.

5. Nothing Like a Deadline to Focus the Mind

And finally, the old adage - there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind - rings truest in innovation projects. Often we’re working on a proactive idea, not being driven by existing commitments and expectations. Which is liberating, and paralysing, at the same time. We can over polish. Get distracted. Watch the window of opportunity slowly close on our fingers.

So when deadlines don’t exist, we turn up the heat to innovate. Hold ourselves to account and pressure cook to get to outcomes.

We certainly don’t claim to get it right 100 per cent of the time, but by re-framing how we view innovation we’ve re-set our priorities to increase our odds. Having a technology first, or media first, may incidentally be part of the solution but not the innovation in itself. Advertising needs more investing in and support of meaningful firsts that change the way businesses meet customers’ needs, not just firsts for firsts’ sake. Just ask Jeeves and the Winklevoss twins

Andrew Dowling is the managing director of Y&R Group.

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