If I am honest, I don’t think a lot of innovation is done with consumers in mind and I understand why. If we continue to get cheap PR for accepting bitcoin or an ARKit experience, then why would we stop?
If we can “work with startups” and get a nice photo opp for a $25,000 hackathon, then who cares what actually comes of it? I’m worried we’re “innovating” for the wrong reasons; we’re failing to focus on peoples’ lives, on helping them decide, on giving them more, easily and fast and extracting more money in return. We are misunderstanding the real spirit and power of innovation.
We are not an industry flooded with confidence. Clients, Agency Leaders, Strategy Heads, Creatives and more have long been accused of being slow to adopt technology. Rather than confidently saying “no” to new things, we are more keen to show off to industry peers, or assuage our bosses’ fears, than do what actually makes a difference.
Technology is making incredible things possible, it’s making these days the most exciting time to work in marketing and design. We are blessed with some of the greatest levers of ideas we’ve ever known. Yet we continue to work around technology, instead of the client problem, as the stimulus. We pray at the church that is technology, rather than to our customers as god. Every day becomes, “Lets do something in AR, VR, with AI.” “Let’s do bots, apps, something with the blockchain.” “Let’s use influencers or microinfluencers or nanoinfluencers, can we pay them with bitcoin and get them to make an Alexa skill, wait but isn’t Hashgraph the next thing?”
It’s deeply strange because people have never needed more help from marketers. They’ve never had more choices to make, more money at their fingers, more stimulus to distract them and less time to think. Innovation in particular is our savior in this regard. Innovation should be about simplification. How can we help people upgrade, buy more and more often, and how can we extract money from them in the easiest possible way? How can we make buying as simple as looking at your phone? How can we offer them the more premium car they can rent with a swipe? How can we get them on the earlier flight easier so we can sell more seats on the later one? Even the most popular retail websites the in the world are oddly hard to browse, make it simple.
Why and No
I’ve always thought the best innovation directors would be an eight-year-old kid and their mean dad (it’s always the dad’s job to be play bad cop). The eight-year-old would endlessly question, “Why?”, way beyond normal social acceptance, to really understand the problem. The dad would listen lovingly and then generally bark “no”.
“Why” and “No” are the most helpful words in innovation.
Innovation has always been misunderstood to mean more. We thought Nokia was innovative because they made 72 handsets a year, until Apple made one and it changed the world. I’d love to see work on doing less. Remove steps. Automate. Reduce options. Innovation should be a reductive pursuit entirely focussed on creating the best possible experience.
Generally speaking, we like more. Saying yes means we get to show off more work we’ve done. We get paid to say yes and to make more. It’s much more profitable to make a client an entirely futile Apple Watch app, charge them $100,000 to make it, help them invest $10 million on a campaign to promote it, than say no and save them a year of work and a fortune. We can win awards for more, not for removing the unnecessary. We get world firsts by saying yes.
The most innovative things I know have been nearly invisible
JetBlue’s websites for the first 5 years were like every other airline’s – it was the dashboard of what the company wanted to tell us, prioritized by how important the departments were, their org chart and politics in a beautiful visual form. New planes, new routes, new seats, endless drop down menus, “about us”, what charities we support, it was basically a promotional page. That’s what companies did then.
It seems obvious now, but their digital agency did what at the time was rare: They asked the human beings that used the site what they were there for. In 2006 the new JetBlue website was launched and was unlike any other. More like Google than it’s rivals, it focussed on a large search bar asking, “ Where would you like to fly to?”. It changed their future and revenue overnight and the entire industry best practice. All for the cost of listening and making their site more simple.
Simplicity is key. Hotel Tonight realized that few people on a travel website want to know the price of 600 hotels every night of the year. They want to select from four to six hotels that are near them that night and to book by drawing an “H” on the screen.
The insurance app Lemonade exists to make buying their politics incredibly simple; claims are paid out near instantly, and are made by video testimonials on the handset. Try lying on video and you see how smart it is. Yes it uses Chatbots, but the experience is incredible and it’s based around serving you better.
Innovation is about less. It’s Delta removing the need to check in. It’s a retailer auto populating your form and accepting Apple Pay and PayPal. It’s Venmo or Chase Quick Pay making paying money simple.
When Amazon said “subscribe to buy,” it changed many peoples’ shopping habits. It wasn’t an Amazon Dash button or a bloody Alexa Skill. It was a little box that defaulted on items most people like to use regularly.
Empathy and creativity can beat technology.
I would love us to single-mindedly obsess about customers and human beings, not on “the next big thing”. Let’s empathize with people in the shopping aisle, not cram a new feature into their lives. Let’s not be shocked in 2017 that people want to buy things from phones, or email someone in customer service.
It is absolutely all of our jobs and especially mine to understand new technology. I need to understand VR, Machine Learning, 3D printing, the Internet of things, the implications of 5G. It’s vital to understand the decentralization that can come from BlockChain, the knock on effects of Self Driving cars. It’s my job to meet Chatbot vendors, to play with QR codes, but often so that I can be more confident in not doing things. Our whole industry needs to have the courage to say, “No.”
Saying no to chatbots , the latest fast growing platform with the wrong users , or Dynamic Creative, or personalized ads should not be seen as a sign of ignorance. It’s should be considered sign of confidence and a focus on what’s best and right for the consumer.