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GLOBAL 2016: Winning In a world of nimble disruptors requires innovation by global brands

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today

by Mel Edwards
Wunderman EMEA
Innovation has become one of the marketing industry’s biggest buzzwords. According to an annual study by the Boston Consulting Group, nearly 80 percent of CEOs surveyed say that “innovation” is one of their most important priorities. For those of us optimistic about the future of big businesses, this should sound like a positive.
Moreover, the number of marketing directors who now have the epithets “and innovation” as an addendum to their job title would seem like a good thing too. However this may be a misnomer. In many cases, their idea of innovation isn’t to transform their business in order to compete against a new breed of interlopers. Rather, it is to buy a company or a technical tool they see as “innovative” and somehow bolt it on to their existing operation - hoping for the best.
It is understandable why established companies fear real change. Taking a step into that unknown is unsettling, especially for those organizations that have managed to profitably navigate their more recent corporate history without doing much differently than before.
But, in a world where smaller and more agile disruptive rivals are challenging larger, mostly global, companies, it’s essential that the laudable words of these CEOs be turned into actions. Continuing to do what you have always done – and hoping for the best – is no longer an option.
As Einstein famously said, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. However, in today’s highly competitive environment, I believe the definition of insanity might actually be to do the same things over and over again and expect the same results.
While global corporations may be resistant to change, there is nothing to be afraid of, and there seems to be real opportunity for clients to innovate on a global scale. The sophistication with which we can now analyze data to derive insights that we can then apply creatively means that business transformation can and should become part of forward thinking executives’ approaches to success.
Set ideas loose
An idea can be brilliant, but that does not mean it will work in the real world. It is important to set your idea loose – potentially in an individual market and preferably sooner rather than later – and then refine it through trial and error. Then, it can be rolled out on a global level or used as a transformational best practice within an organization.
For example, by analyzing data from Shell, our London agency was able to create something unique, innovative and transformational for the business. With competition fierce at the pumps, Shell wanted to increase loyalty as well as encourage its existing customers to fill up with a greater volume of fuel. We discovered that one-third of Shell Drivers Club members like to fill up to a round number, such as £30 or £40. By engaging the Shell Drivers Club customer base with an innovative (and fun) proposition, we created a highly successful campaign that resulted in higher sales, greater loyalty and a new way for local drivers to connect with the brand globally.
We have also been working with our client, News UK, to dramatically change their marketing model, beginning with The Sun’s Dream Team product. From digital competitors to traditional publishers, everyone was attracting staggering audience figures. It was clear that thesun.co.uk needed to transform its approach to publishing in order to remain relevant. In just five months, we moved Dream Team from the UK’s biggest fantasy football game to a large-scale producer of football content that resonates with its young, digital-savvy audience.
Dream Team FC (football community) is now the go-to platform for “fueling football banter.” With its unique and engaging tone of voice, we serve cheeky, irreverent, light-hearted and often controversial videos, news and gossip to help fuel Britain’s football conversation. A team of dedicated editors, community managers, content producers and analysts now create best-in-class content, 16-hours a day, 7-days a week to drive the web’s ultimate football destination. As a result, Dream Team FC is able to publish more relevant content that drives a deeper relationship with their target audience and drives greater loyalty and sales.
Transformational innovation is possible for large companies to ensure that they remain not just relevant but also dynamic and industry leading. While it may require significant change across organizations it is a challenge well worth taking because, as history has shown, stasis may be a bigger threat to future success. 

Action Points for business transformation

  1. Don’t wait until a “disruptor” arrives in your market to act. The opportunities to transform your sector already exist. The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.
  2. Ensure that transformation is hardwired within your organization and isn’t just a convenient sound bite.
  3. Clever and creative use of data will ensure that you remain ahead of your competitors. Collect as much data on your customers as you can to analyze and predict future trends.
  4. Embrace new, meaningful partnerships with your agencies that go beyond the traditional agency/client relationships. This may involve staff sharing or embedding clients within agency teams and vice versa.