Moving at the Speed of Innovation

Since transitioning from traditional to digital advertising, one thing that’s been bugging me is the speed at which projects move.

In the traditional world, we’d spend months honing and testing concepts to find the idea that resonated best with consumers.   But it’s not the speed of the digital world that’s bothering me; rather, it’s the lack of it.

The traditional world spends months honing concepts largely because it can.  Certainly, from time to time ads are expedited or the process is cut short, but most of the time media is planned well in advance and months can be spent getting the concepts ready for launch.  And, by and large, that works pretty well.

Digital, however, is a different story.  Digital is an innovation driven medium.  Brands and individuals who create something new and unique get valuable attention, PR and buzz.  That often leads to a rat race to take advantage of new technologies and opportunities in the space.  Time becomes essential.  Certainly there is always room to do things better or more innovatively, but that first mover advantage is quite dramatic (if short lived).

Malcolm Gladwell published a piece last year titled “In the Air,” arguing that scientific discoveries are not the result of transcendent genius, rather, they become inevitable once the social and technological groundwork is laid.  The same might be said of digital creativity.  How often have you seen an abundance of similar ideas hit the landscape all at once?  A bunch of Twitter analyzers or streaming music apps.   Maybe the overuse of a particular design style or effect.  Sometimes its a rush to take advantage of a new technology like Papervision or augmented reality.  Maybe some digital ideas are just “in the air.”

This effect is less pronounced for equity based work, but is particularly frustrating when trying to produce utility based ideas.  Brands aren’t just competing with other brands anymore; they’re competing with independent designers, artists and programmers all of whom are searching for problems and challenges to solve with the latest slew of digital tools available to them.

Unfortunately, while digital agencies are loaded with innovative minds equally good at identifying these opportunities, more often than not, the necessary bureaucracy of brand management just isn’t equipped with the speed to take advantage of them.  By the time the conference calls, loop-ins, budget allocation, legal reviews, handwringing, and build-out finally occurs, some nimble programmer has already buzzed the Twitter-sphere or hit the iTunes top 10 list.

Here’s my solution: brands should allocate money for rapid deployment projects (projects not tied to a specific campaign initiative or media, but instead designed to keep the brand relevant to consumer’s lifestyles).  This money would be allocated at the beginning of the fiscal year.  Their digital AOR would be responsible for allocating that money and producing several innovative digital projects that drive the brand forward.  A designated brand manager would be in charge of ensuring the projects were on equity (and a legal review should ensure compliance with any necessary laws or liabilities), but the approval process would be expedited:  no running it up the ladder to five decision makers or scraping last minute funding together from eight other projects.

Obviously, my idea is pretty preliminary.  I’d be interested to hear from other agencies or brands who have found ways to expedite their approval process.

What’s clear is that the speed of digital is ever increasing.  Our business practices will need to evolve to keep pace.