The New Unicorns & The End Of “Innovation” As We Know It


Baldwin Cunningham, Under 30

December 3, 2015

2015 held many important milestones for corporate technology innovation.

The year began with an unparalleled recognition among leaders in marketing, strategy, and sales, that the old way of doing things simply wasn’t going to cut it in a world that changed at an ever increasing rate.

According to a Forbes Insights survey from 2014, 72% of large corporations either had or were planning to create dedicated innovation programs.  What’s more, according to Harris Poll, some 80% of corporate leaders intended to spend more on innovation than they did the previous.

This collective recognition of the importance of emerging tech has been on display throughout the year. More executives than ever come through Silicon Valley, with many like Nestle, AB In Bev, Target and McDonalds setting up permanent outposts here.

This greater closeness to technology has also found its way into the work of marketers. Domino’s (and Crispin Porter & Bogusky) won a Cannes Grand Prix for its campaign that let hungry consumers order pizza with an emoji. Cannes itself launched its first ever festival-within-the-festival specifically focused on tech called Lions Innovation.

What became clear to many execs throughout the year was that what the industry was calling “innovation” wasn’t about technology, per se, but about fundamental shifts in consumer behavior and attention. As noticeable as the new brand innovation initiatives were, they all amounted to an attempt to catch up or keep up with where their customers already were.

Technology has shifted consumer expectation radically. Just a few short years ago, Amazon Prime’s consistent, predictable two day delivery for free with an annual subscription fee was a new revolution in e-commerce. Today, in a post-Uber world, consumers expect that they can get anything they want purchased and delivered to them on demand at the click of a button. This is leading companies like 7-Eleven and Chipotle to find startup partners to bolster their delivery options.

Technology has also shifted who we pay attention to. It’s not just the media landscape, which has shifted from the New York Times & MTV to Buzzfeed and Vice, but also shown in who people admire. In August 2014, Variety released a study that showed that Youtube stars had become more influential among teens than movie stars. All of the top five most influential on the list were Youtubers, totalling 6 spots in the top 10. In a 2015 repeat of the survey, 8 of the 10 were Youtube & social media stars.

Technology also continues to shift what we spend our time on. To take just one example, people watching other people play video games is a thing that seems, to most adults, insane. Yet the world championship of the League of Legends finals is watched by more people each year than major sporting events like the World Series and NBA finals. Game-centric livestreaming platform accounts for more peak internet traffic than any sites except Google, Apple, and Netflix.

The point is that the world consumers live in has changed. For them, each new technology they adopt isn’t “innovation;” it’s the new normal.

As this happens, big brands are realizing that they can’t silo technology off in a small department, but have to find ways to enable their teams to integrate technology across the organization. Havas SVP of Strategy and Innovation Tom Goodwin summarized this succinctly with the title of a piece he wrote for TechCrunch in April: “You Don’t Need A Digital Strategy, You Need A Digitally Transformed Company.”

One of the biggest moments in this evolution came with the major announcement just this past month that PepsiCo had eliminated its procurement department, instead putting the responsibility back on the brand teams. Ultimately, the decision came down to prioritizing dynamic decision making.

An AdAge piece on the decision captured the point perfectly:

“PepsiCo’s goal is to improve speed and flexibility in an era in which brands must pump out marketing content on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, as opposed to the old days of relying mostly on big TV campaigns. PepsiCo in recent years has relied less on agencies of record and more on project work sourced from multiple shops.

Marketing decisions “are being made more often in real time,” said a PepsiCo executive. “You can realize better effectiveness and efficiencies by putting this responsibility on brand teams who are closer to the consumer and allows them to more quickly balance cost value and quality in all of their decisions.””

This pressure is starting to extend far beyond procurement departments and agency allocations. Increasingly every department is impacted by technology. Marketing of course has to wade through new platforms and channels to keep up with consumers. Sales has a whole new set of tools for intelligence, automation, and tracking. Retailers who aren’t looking into proximity marketing, new POS, digital glass and other technology are by definition behind. HR has never had more tools to chose from to find and manage the best policies for their employees. And the list goes on. How could an IT department make all the decisions with any sort of efficiency with this new dynamism in the market of tech solutions?

What happens next is a new era of collaboration, in which business-to-business relationships take an increasingly central role in the day-to-day function of every enterprise.

In this landscape, what will separate the leaders from the left-behinds?

First, the leaders will make technology accessible to their whole organization, giving the people closest to their customers or constituents the ability to be a part of the key decisions.

Second, leaders will treat their business relationships like partners, not vendors. More and more, every B2B relationship is custom. When a marketer works with a new platform like Vice, its going to be a built-from-the-ground up deal designed to align interests. Treating the partner company as an actually collaborator rather than a vendor will mean better results.

Third, they will make sourcing and managing B2B relationships a management discipline, just like communication and team leadership. The importance of these relationships means that it can’t just be a secondary priority. But it is a new challenge and companies have to invest in their people to see the desired results.

In the clip featured at the beginning of this article, Mondelez’ Bonin Bough argues that the new “Unicorns” won’t be more startups with billion dollar valuations, but will be the new digitally transformed companies where traditional businesses & emerging tech come together to create something great.

If that happens, we’ll look back at 2015-2016 as the year when “innovation” ended, and better-business as usual began.

This article was written by Baldwin Cunningham from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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