It’s hard to innovate from the inside

Christian Finucane
By Christian Finucane | 27 August 2020

Christian Finucane is founder and creative partner at The Core Agency.

It’s almost impossible to imagine, but perhaps Taxis Combined could have become Uber? With the emergence of smartphones, satnav and a huge fleet of vehicles their category was ripe for revolution.

But then again, perhaps it was impossible for them to realise or acknowledge the future threats to their business? Maybe the status quo suited them or perhaps they just needed some unincumbered external thinking?

One thing is for certain, when you are in the middle of a forest it’s bloody hard to see the wood for the trees…

When I discovered an old FCUK t-shirt during a recent COVID-19 clean out at home I was reminded of the brilliance of another great idea.

At the time, the French Connection brand was dull and its sales in the UK were plummeting. The client wanted a new campaign to cut through in the fickle world of fashion. What they got back was a ballsy ‘fashion’ idea that sent their sales through the roof. The idea was on pretty much everything they produced for years and solved their sales problem overnight. Their brand, bottom line and business were completely transformed.

It was a game-changing idea that came from their agency creative department, rather than the brand’s in-house creative team as is common in that category. It also represented amazing value from what was apparently a very small monthly agency retainer.

For the most part, our industry’s agency folk spend their hours creating campaigns for paid channels, chiseling out clever strategies and ideas that jag in the defined parameters of bought media. And that’s great, but there are ways other than advertising that can deliver step-change results for clients.

From my experience, the earlier we get involved in a project, the greater value we can provide by challenging the usual innovation process and how marketing aligns with it. Surely, it’s far better to have fresh and appealing products than merely fresh and appealing advertising for them? Of course, there will always be the need for new campaigns for old products – the bread and butter of our industry – and we’ll happily take those opportunities too!

Though, just imagine if more client fee agreements mandated that agencies spent 5% of their time (that’s just one day per month) thinking outside of the usual marketing requirements - how much additional value could be created?

With the creative and strategic talent we have in this country, there’s a big opportunity to solve some really meaty issues to genuinely give brands a new angle or even turn around their fortunes. Plenty of advertising people are naturally entrepreneurial, successfully running a side hustle or two of their own to prove the point.

History is littered with great examples of how a bit of outside thinking had the power to lift brands out of commercial challenges. Like when it dawned on Ford executives that cars were becoming parity products and they needed to find new ways to add value.

One idea was to partner with a national car park operator and offer free parking for Ford drivers. A brilliant way to differentiate - you buy a Ford and get much-prized access to parking spots in busy cities. Genius.

Unfortunately, Ford didn’t take up the concept, but years later in Japan Honda did. They bought up prime car parks in Tokyo’s city centre and rolled it out, proving a great idea is only great if you actually do it.

Imagine the increased value our creative industry would provide to the corporate world if our natural curiosity and non-linear ways of thinking were let loose. There is no doubt our collective external grey matter would lead to a greater diversity of innovation. Our working relationships would become deeper and more trusting. Client-side marketers would be seen in a new light, with more CEOs elevating the often-undervalued role of marketing in the boardroom, reappraising it from delivering brand growth to enabling business transformation.

In today’s digital world there are even more opportunities to think this way. Like when we helped our client QBE drive step-change growth in new policy sales by collaborating with their sales director and the marketing team. Instead of presenting advertising scripts, our idea was to simply ask people to use their smartphone to photograph their existing competitor insurance policy and email it to QBE. They did all the data entry work in the background and contacted the consumer within 24 hours with their best deal.

The idea magicked away all the hassle, time and frustration with getting a competitive quote and switching insurers. New policy sales smashed targets because it turned out people also emailed QBE their home, contents, landlord and boat insurance from other brands looking for a better deal.

To pull off these kinds of ideas you need to work closely with clients and everyone involved needs to be prepared to take a chance, but the rewards are so much greater.

So clients, next time you need some help solving a tricky business issue, FCUK the idea that agencies can only do advertising, and give one a call!

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