3 ways to break the glass ceiling to reach true social innovation – event wrap-up

If you have anything to do with social media, then you know that you are always innovating. If it isn’t the constant evolution of the platforms, the new tools sprouting like weeds across the internet, or the ever-changing trends of users – you need to stay on your toes in social. You need to keep innovating.

But as we have said before social innovation is much more than social media marketing or social business . It is about business innovation that meets the different needs of a collaborative economy. The customer that has been shaped by social media, but also by the credit crunch and the attitudes of generation Y.

With starts-ups like AirBnB and ZipCar racing to capture these social audiences and generating new revenues where does the traditional, established brand fit in?

So we asked a panel of clever folk at our recent social innovation event. Jointly run with the team at Silverbean, over 60 brands came to ask Arif Haq (the man behind PepsiCo’s Gatorade activity in the UK), and Teresa Lee, who heads up Consumer Engagement for Gap Europe. The discussion, sometimes quite heated and controversial, brought three points to light. Three ways to crack the innovation problem and bring new revenues to established brands:

Don’t confuse behaviours with motivations

Without a doubt the way our customers buy has changed. Even without social in the mix, we are in a multichannel, multi-device, mobile world. Customers expect the same experiences wherever they touch the brand.

As panellist Teresa Lee explained, the customer journey is no longer linear. Shoppers are researching online, visiting in-store, snapping photos to share on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and then asking for feedback online from peers before making a decision to purchase. As a guest pointed out, these changes are not confined to a generation – they are not just for gen Y or millennial. Google calls them  Generation C. Not really a generation, but an attitude. People who are constantly connected and care deeply about creation, curation, and community. They are sparking cultural changes, setting trends and engaging in relevant conversations on social.

Brands need to better understand these behaviours if they are to devise new products and services. But don’t be confused by the shiny tech and big data conversations – as one guest stated. Data from these behaviours has value to brands, but only as insights and then from my point of view, only as actionable insights that can be tested. At Gatorade, Arif switched conversation monitoring tools. Working on a more bespoke system that didn’t just collate data, but added valuable insights and meaningful information too.

Arif was quick to highlight that there is a danger in looking at just the changes. It can send you off in the wrong direction. He says that brands should also ask, “what hasn’t changed?” It was agreed across the panel that customer motivations remain unchanged. Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, the desire for a product, service, or experience remains – we are still motivated by desire, social proof, value, etc.

Cultural allergies – watch out for overactive antibodies!

One guest shared a brilliant analogy. The biggest barrier to social innovation is company ‘antibodies’.  The people within a company that usually are the custodians of brand, security and company reputation. The people who are often gatekeepers to risk taking. Normally this is invaluable. When trying to innovate, the antibodies can get out of control. And like allergies can do a lot more than cause a runny nose or wheezy chest.

So how can you create a culture that keeps the allergies in check? We asked the panel…

  1. Break down the silos. An innovation team needs to be cross functional. Arif went one step further and suggested that the lead shouldn’t be digital or social either, but brand focused instead. He suggested that a brand professional is more likely to be able to translate for the board: use traditional language to garner board level buy-in.
  2. Single minded focus. Too often a team focussed on innovation will be asked to share. After all, what they are doing might be interesting to other divisions and departments. Arif suggests that at all costs this must be avoided. Whilst not avoiding reporting upwards, suddenly finding yourself in the role of teacher when a project is not finished or has generated results, is not only distracting, but can give others the wrong picture on ROI.
  3. Champion failure. Fail often, but do it quickly and above all learn from it. Innovation by its nature will bring failure. Recognise this, take a deep breath and use it to uncover the changes that will make a difference.

Get radical if you want to innovate quickly

Brands that innovate most often have innovation led thinking driven from the top. Yet in the room, only 15-20% of brands had marketing professionals on the board. No power? Then how can innovation be taken seriously? Secure shareholder trust and gain support from the finance director.

With innovation at board level, and a culture prepared to take risks and fail a lot, you can begin to create a recipe for business innovation. Business innovation that will sustain the brand into the future as the collaborative economy dominates. Success with new products and services that adapt as the customer purchase pathways multiply exponentially and sustain business revenues until the day they embed a social media chip in our brains – and everything will change again!

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