Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Chaos: The catalyst for innovation we needed

These articles have been written by the second cohort of the Practice Makes Unperfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Katie Millington, Sales Director, Permutive

Data privacy litigation, major media mergers and acquisitions, a video streaming app that cost nearly $2 billion only to disappear in a few months, and, but not limited to, a global pandemic where humans can’t interact with one another in person. Is this real life?

This year felt like one disaster after another, whether inside our media & marketing bubble or within the wider global community. Each challenge was often met with reactivity: for example, the government’s slow response to the pandemic or the digital media industry’s lack of alignment around solving the cookie-pocalypse.

To ensure businesses are equipped to deal with the constant cycle of change, they must commit to the idea that innovation must always occur. How do organizations remain committed to this when resources must constantly be allocated to the challenges at hand? Digital media realised it had to change in 2020 when Google made its fateful announcement early last year. This forced the industry to think about rearchitecting the way the web is currently constructed, but only when a looming deadline was issued.

The only way we’ll continue to make progress is if the industry makes innovation a priority. To do this, we’ll need to make it an area of focus within our own organisations. How do we commit to this challenge amid an increasingly complex, and chaotic ecosystem?

Commit to the idea that change is the only constant

Innovation shouldn’t be reactive. The digital media industry is in its current state because consumer data was exploited for years, which had both economic and social consequences. The industry then reacted to a decision made by one company, versus taking proactive steps to create a better way of marketing. As organisations, we can take lessons from this by committing to innovating.

Last year Boston Consulting Group surveyed a group of the ‘most innovative companies’ and 45% fell into the “committed innovators” category, citing that “innovation and change must be a constant, one that is not forced by external factors.”

Unsurprisingly, the companies within the committed innovators category include tech giants like Apple, but also those who have embraced technological advancements, like VW. It invested in autonomous and clean energy technology with the idea that one day these technologies will become essential to our society. 60% of the companies in the committed innovators category also report “generating a rising proportion of sales from products and services launched in the past three years”.

Nike is also a great example of this. They continue to drive innovation of their products by tackling another one of the great challenges of our time: sustainability. As of last year, Forbes reported that 71% of materials used in Nike products now come from recycled material. It’s managed to completely change what its products were made from while steadily increasing its stock price over the last decade.

Who approaches the problem differently?

When seeking a way to innovate inside your organisation, survey your existing partners, but also the unsuspecting players. In an article Harvard Business Review published titled ‘Bringing your breakthrough ideas to life’ they suggest that we “approach unconventional partners” and that it is possible to “observe reality through the distorting lens of one’s job or training”, meaning that driving breakthrough change is more difficult when shrouded by one’s day-to-day view and by engaging with the typical partners.

Identify companies that approach a problem differently, not the ones that recreate a way to solve the existing one. Take the juxtaposition of luxury retail with fast fashion. The challenge? Luxury brands needed a way to appeal to masses of potential new customers, and keep up with changing direct to consumer spending habits.

Though the partnership seemed unlikely, many luxury brands have partnered with H&M to create new lines of clothing, driving affinity for the luxury brand and reaching a new audience in parallel. Most, if not all of these partnerships have been incredibly successful, Refinery 29 citing that the collection H&M created with Alexander Wang completely sold out within a few days.

If you don’t have the authority to make the change, ask for it

If within your current role you don’t have the authority to make decisions relating to driving innovation or growing the business, make a case for it!

The most valuable experience I’ve had in my career came from recognizing a trend, validating its need for the future of the business and planning to take action against it. This led me to gain exposure to new types of technology and industry leaders I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

During my tenure at media organisations prior to joining Permutive, revenue was often tethered to the rigid processes and support structures of our vendors. I spent a lot of time chasing partners for answers and watched as forces beyond my control cut our revenue significantly. Our partners weren’t committed to helping my company drive value to the market, and our bottom line suffered as a result.

Rather than accepting this, I acted to alter my role to focus on emerging technology partnerships that could position the business for the future.

If 2020 taught us anything, change is the only thing we can predict: As much as we can try to prepare for a world health disaster or a sudden CPM decline, we don’t have a crystal ball. What we can control are the steps our organisation takes today to better prepare for the change that will inevitably come.


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