Why agencies shouldn't overlook invisible innovation

We only recognise one, very specific type of innovation: the sexy technology stunt. This is a problem, says AnalogFolk's chief strategy officer.

As an industry, we have an innovation problem. 

It’s not that we don’t talk about it. In fact, there’s never been better coverage of the new technologies and new approaches available for us to create powerful stories and experiences. It’s not that innovation isn’t happening; many clients and agencies are working hard to find new, exciting ways to solve their biggest business challenges. The problem is that we only recognise one, very specific type of innovation: the sexy technology stunt. 

You know the ones. A new type of technology is very visibly used to deliver an entertaining or surprising one-off experience or experiment. Then the video of that experience becomes a piece of online content to reach a wider audience. 

At AnalogFolk we love a technology stunt, both as consumers of those campaigns and as a brilliant way to hit short-term communication objectives. We’re proud of this work when we make it. The problem? This is the only sort of innovation our industry celebrates. And the inconvenient truth for us "creatives" is that the other type of innovation – transformative innovation – isn’t always as instantly sexy or visible. This broader more valuable type of innovation is concerned with doing things, in new ways, to create new value for brands and businesses. Not just doing new things to drive impressions and views.

It means looking at problems to solve (isn’t that what every agency wants to be doing?), rather than messages to communicate. Real business problems, rather than made-up marketing ones. Removing friction, rather than adding more. It means finding ways to use digital to make the analogue world better. 

It often requires a series of iterations, rather than one big "ta-dah" moment. Even when done rapidly, this takes longer than you think. As such, it lends itself more towards product roadmaps than campaign life-cycles. 

Here at AnalogFolk it’s been a learning curve over the past few years. We have had to skill up in a number of areas, not normally associated with an independent digital creative shop – from change management capabilities to data architecture and digging into the maths behind AI. But doing this has meant we’re able to design and deliver fundamental tech, data and organisational changes. Which in turn then provide the platform for truly new solutions to our client’s problems. 

This type of thinking has enabled us to apply our creativity to bigger problems. We’re re-designing the paint buying process, including the supply chain and organisational change required to actually deliver it. We’re changing the ownership experience of a premium technology company. We are in the process of re-thinking the way a restaurant brand delivers the same quality of experience no-matter the way the customer orders. We’re helping a bank drastically reduce the time it takes to answer its customer queries.

Don’t get me wrong. The most remarkable brand experiences all deliver some magic, which may indeed come from using sexy technology in an exciting way. But this is the cherry on the icing on the cake. It must be delivered alongside the unsexy side of innovation, otherwise the experience is in danger of coming unstuck and doing more damage than good. After all, an experience is only as strong as its weakest connection.

There is fun to be had with technology stunts and short term gains, so we shouldn’t stop doing them. But if we are serious about being strategic partners for our clients, if we want to help them transform, then we have to get better at recognising and celebrating the transformative innovation happening within our industry. Either that, or we let the consultancies seize this exciting, profitable world for themselves. 

Matt Dyke is the founder and chief strategy officer of AnalogFolk.

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