The Secret Innovation Budget

Research & Development and Marketing traditionally lived in different worlds. R&D for innovation purpose happened in secret, in the lab, while Marketing was mostly just advertising. The advertising itself? Well, that was generally about convincing people to buy what the company could already make. It was rarely about the future and what the brand might become. Smart companies however, have merged these two disciplines. It’s a ‘trick’ any firm big enough to have a marketing budget might want to embrace. Yes, the marketing budget should really be an innovation fund, and vice versa.

In times of great change we idolise the new. The wonder created by what was once the realm of science fiction, are todays most shareable artefacts online. Cool stuff we see for the first time like an Amazon drone delivery, a Google driverless car, or an Uber air taxi get viewed millions of times, voluntarily, without media expense. These companies are telling the market, we are inventing the future. If you’re a large corporation today, and you’re not inventing the future, during such a revolutionary time, then you just might be inventing your own demise.

But here’s a few questions worth asking:

  • When was the last time you had something delivered via drone?
  • When was the last time you took a ride in a driverless vehicle?
  • When did you last hover above traffic in your air taxi?

If you’re like most people, you haven’t, yet. That’s not to say that these things aren’t on the way – they certainly are, but in truth these companies have purposely talked up the technology many years before any of them were actually functional, let alone a commercial reality. This is where the trick part comes in. The time lag between the concept phase and the reality of these innovations being in market is a great brand building exercise for the firms smart enough to do it. Cleverly, their R&D has become their advertising. They’ve earned free global media attention and further ensconced themselves as innovators.

The perception this creates in the market isn’t just nice to have. It can also have a massive economic impact on the firms financially. Just compare the unit sales, price earnings ratios and valuations of firms serving the same set of customers:

Automobiles:

  • Tesla makes 245k cars per year, and has a PE ratio of infinity (no dividends yet), and a market cap of $48 billion.
  • Ford makes a 7.9m cars per year (one per 4 seconds) and has a PE ratio of 9.3x, and a market cap of $34 billion.

The market has clearly voted on how it values innovation.

So could an old world industrial company use innovation as a brand communication tool? Could they be seen as on the cutting edge of technology and reap the valuation benefits? Of course.

But it requires some shifts in attitude.

It requires the firm to set lofty goals in their innovation efforts, it can’t be incremental. They also need the courage to share these innovation dreams with the market and own them publicly. It also requires the vision to shift investment from traditional marketing and advertising budgets into innovation arenas and moonshot product developments. All of which can not only become an exponential product improvement, but be an effective form of advertising in the interim. But mostly, it will send a strong message and provide a new confidence to the firms customers, employees and investors that they have a chance at inventing the future too.

What data doesn’t understand

It’s true data, and our new found ability to sift through large volumes of it, has come with many benefits: fraud detection, genomics, natural language processing to name a few. But, data doesn’t get humanity. It’s just a reflector, not the director. As a tool it has certain biasses built into it. One of which is its ability to take the wide, and make it narrow. It’s also great at finding correlation between the disparate. You know data what it isn’t good at? Detecting boredom.

We humans are weird beings and right at the point when data might tell us something is heading a certain way, we about face, and go in the exact opposite direction, often quicker than anyone expects. Probably because we love variety, nuance and something a little different.

It turns out that computers don’t actually understand – they calculate. The word computer itself used to be a job title of people who literally added things up. The large majority of algorithms we employ calculate the probability of something. That probability calculation will be based on the stack of code it feeds from. And the larger that stack, the deeper and more hidden the bias will be inside it. What this means for us, is that when we change our mind, on a whim, ‘the system’ won’t see it coming.

The stimulus we get as humans comes from the real and messy world we we live in. So much of which still sits outside of the data economy, even with all the tracking we do these days. So what does this mean for us? It means that unexpected change is inevitable, and the data wont tells us it’s coming. We need to look for it ourselves and measure it from personal human experience. Variety is one of the great human desires, and just when something is peaking in popularity, we decide to leave the building for no real reason other than the fact we are human.

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This will change your perception of brand loyalty forever

Loyal dog

Brand loyalty is a strange thing, it seems like it is a bit back to front to me. Powerful and large corporations expect you to be loyal to them. But ‘we’ are the one’s who feed them with our money. If a dog should be loyal to it’s owner – those that feed it – then surely brands should be loyal to us?

Here’s another error companies make when it comes to loyalty. They are loyal to marketing methods, social forums and their infrastructure. If there is anything a brand should have total disloyalty to it’s the methods in which they go to market. They are just tools. And tools should always be replaced when a better method arrives. Especially when the objective is serving others.

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Is this the worst product innovation ever?

Wetsuit business suit

If the Quiksilver bedding wasn’t enough, Quiksilver have done it again and introduced possibly the worst, most ill conceived product in surfing history.

The Wetsuit Suit. Yes you read that right, a wetsuit designed in the shape of a business suit. I can only hope that this is some kinda hoax – and even if it is, it surely isn’t worth the effort and ridicule?

The first question that comes to mind is why? Did someone not get the memo that the water is a place we escape the corporate grind.

The second question that comes to mind is why? It would simply never perform as well as a skin hugging wetsuit designed specifically for surfing, or a fitted Hugo Boss.

The third question that comes to mind is why? It takes all of 5 minutes to change out of a wetsuit…. but that’s right, Joey Corporate Surfer must too important to waste even 5 minutes.

The fourth question also happens to be why?  I imagine it will be super comfortable wearing a wetsuit as the salt dries and itches your skin and you’ve got sand up your bum during a power meeting with your boss in your Quiksilver work wetsuit….

Why, why, why? It is incomprehensible. Maybe the Private Equity firm Oaktree Capital  Management who took over the company this year knows why? They’d want to, or the $600 they invested to take the company out of bankruptcy (it still has $300m debt) might be kinda hard to recoup.

This folly was best summarised by Surfer Magazine:

Don’t you just wish you never had to change in and out of that stinky old wetsuit of yours? Well consider your prayers answered! Presenting the oh-so-literal wet suit by Quiksilver. Because how many times have you wished you could just live in one outfit for the entire day? And seriously, who wouldn’t want a soggy crotch while sitting though a budget meeting? Well, logistics aside, this is happening. Quiksilver Japan is apparently onto a market that the majority of us had no idea existed – which consists of businessmen who wish they could just go straight from the water to the conference room all while looking like colossal tools? Sure!

With all the incredulity aside, it shows a company who doesn’t know their customers at all. A company out of touch with why they originally succeeded. A company which is focused on the wrong side of where work society and technology is taking us.

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Social Media hidden truths

Here’s an interesting presentation by Prof Mark Ritson which Nic pointed me to. A compelling talk in which Mark debunks some of the commercial numbers of social media, especially as a channel with organic reach. The basic premise is simple – you want reach, you’re gonna have to pay for it. That said, while he talks up the hours people watch TV, he fails to break down the attention given in those hours – are people really watching? My advice is to watch this with an open mind and investigate his premise. It’s a great starting point to demystify the fragmented media world we are now living in. Enjoy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCAEbirIByc

The problem with 'How To' advice

How to Advice

The internet is filled with How To advice. Which proves how important it is in building the life you want. But it has a simple flaw we ought remember:

How to advice is disposable.

How to’s are a set of tactics which need to change as the world around us changes. This means we need to constantly re-assess what we know, and ask if it is still relevant. With the pace of technological change today, this is a question we need at the top of our list.

This is why philosophy is always greater than tactics. Philosophy is enduring, and tactics and temporary. If we have a guiding philosophy on what we are doing and why, finding the best tactic for the day becomes infinitely easier.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

Why experiences are the new consumerism

The Experience Economy

It’s not surprising that ‘consumerism‘ emerged as a thing in the post World War 2 era. The last 50 years of the 20th century was a time when we quickly homogenised under the influence of the TV Industrial Complex. We all drifted into a suburban symmetry with little variety in the western world. People had to find a way to display their worth to their tribes and wider community. As many of us entered administrative jobs (think white collar clerk work) which literally looked like we were doing the same things, we needed to find a way to show our position in the hierarchy. And boom – hello consumer land. The more people had, a better car, better clothing, more expensive toys, better furniture, the more successful people would think we were. It was an unwritten ground rule we all abided by. And it was a very effective way to show people that we were creating ‘economic value’. Someone’s consumption patterns told the story of where they sat in society.

I’m starting to wonder if the ‘experience economy’ has the same underlying driver. Sure, we all claim that we’ve moved beyond shallow consumerism, that experiences are more valuable and worthy, but it could be that they provide the same emotional benefit and are just different tactic.

For me it’s more than a coincidence that the experience economy is emerging at a time when people now have the tools to show off their experiences. In the past, our experiences were invisible to all but those who viewed a photo album in our home or heard our story first hand, face to face. Now our experiences are only matched by our desire to share them on every social tool we use. The shift to the experience economy has come at a time when it’s finally possible to share what we do, in ways we never could. Just like conspicuous consumption, experiences can now be shared with strangers, loose associates and colleagues. Even the profile pic is best suited to a tropical locale, or the burning man festival. It sends a message just like a fancy automobile can.

I don’t know if this idea resonates with anyone else, but I do now that a great deal of our human drivers have not changed in 200,000 years – just the ways we express them does.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.