OPINION : What does innovation really mean to you?

By John Steedman | 19 September 2014

We talk a lot about innovation in our industry, but the reality is it can mean different things to different people and different clients.
In the media agency game, innovation means world firsts, new ideas or technology; something that will inspire consumers and push the boundaries of what has been possible until now.
For clients, innovation can be more category-specific. So for a retailer, innovation can be about a new whiz-bang high-tech point-of-sale solution or simply product placement or the store atmosphere; in out-of-home, it may be the latest interactive screen; and in the pizza category innovation might be all about new toppings or apps that track your pizza’s journey as it makes its way to you.
Now, more than ever, innovation is a business imperative. With today’s tools and the greater insights they afford us, transformative innovation is within reach of those brands and companies that identify and grab the opportunity.
The great thing about innovation today is that it can come from anywhere – from two guys working in a garage in western Sydney or a lab in Silicon Valley.
Take the case of the British teenager who created an app that summarises news stories from across the web, which Yahoo bought last year for reportedly between £20 million and £40 million. The app, Summly, is exactly the type of innovation we need in a world of non-stop news and a lack of time.
In fact, like all the best innovations, Summly provides a very tangible benefit to the consumer. The same can be said of Uber – anyone who has ever tackled the nightmare of finding a reliable taxi service at home or abroad understands why this app-operated driver service has taken off around the world. And the same goes for pizza ordering apps: time and convenience are two of the of the most sought-after 21st century luxuries.
In short, innovation for innovation’s sake is pointless. There must be a consumer benefit.
The best thing about technology, for me, is when you can interact with it, touch it and feel it. This year, I was blown away by the innovations at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, including the “connected home” – communicating with our home appliances via text messages to check if there is any milk left or if the roast is done, for example – and in-car electronics with dashboard apps and navigation tools that can be modified through cloud services. Again, the practical consumer benefit was paramount.
Innovation must also have an inherent shareability. Whether you like it or not, social media has revolutionised the way people relate, and the way and speed by which trends spread.
Innovation has become a way of life – the fast pace of technology and constant change has led people to expect constant innovation. Whatever category you operate in, and whether you are a market leader, an established brand or a newcomer, It’s about continuous improvement and brand leadership.
That is why events such as CES, local IAB events, Ad:Tech and GroupM’s own M:Lab tech showcase event are so important. You can interact with the latest technological innovations and gain insights on how to respond to competition and trends. Now is not the time to be left behind.

John Steedman is Chairman & CEO of GroupM

This story first appeared in the AdNews print edition on the 19 September 2014.
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