Innovation with a side of fries, please

Talk of innovation is sweeping our business like the fast burning buzzword stars of the recent past, synergy and convergence. Sadly, innovation sits poised like a precooked burger under the heat lamp ready to be served up as the solution du jour.

Talk of innovation is sweeping our business like the fast burning buzzword stars of the recent past, synergy and convergence. Sadly, innovation sits poised like a precooked burger under the heat lamp ready to be served up as the solution du jour.

It is ironic that as the digital age increasingly shifts power to consumers, the ingenuity required to access and engage them has never been more important. Allow me to submit a personal theory on innovation – the amount of true innovation diminishes in direct proportion to the amount that the word is used.

Two fundamental concerns dog me when I hear or slip up and glibly toss out the ‘I’ word.

Too frequently innovation is considered the outcome rather than the means to deliver results for advertisers. I see this issue manifested in different ways. Having reviewed hundreds of award submissions it is amazing how often the innovative idea seemed to be completely unrelated to business issues, consumer insights or strategy. Like spontaneous combustion, lots of fire and smoke and no apparent cause.

Another variation is where media innovation is substituted for business results as an objective. Finally, the ‘one-offs’ in a single market that are not scalable to influence business have to be viewed with some suspicion. My view is that this is the slippery slope where awards become more important than results for clients.

I give our MediaCom network team credit for putting the focus of our internal awards on results. In fact, they are called The Results Awards. The Cassies also share this focus. While much inspiring innovation can be found in the submissions, the winners must prove how their work contributed to client success.

My second area of concern is the self-congratulatory way that innovation is touted in our business. By choosing to focus on changing technology we can claim great innovations by simply dealing with a new environment. I could argue that the work of media or communications planners has not fundamentally changed in decades: Understand consumer behavior and devise the most effective and efficient means to deliver the advertiser’s message. How much should we really celebrate overcoming essentially self-imposed structural impediments of agencies or media owners that are not relevant to the consumer?

This is in no way meant to dismiss the challenges facing all stakeholders in the communications arena, nor is it meant to diminish the groundbreaking work that is being done. With the risk of sounding like the Zen media instructor, my advice is to resist the desire to focus on the innovative outcome and concentrate on allowing innovative genius to bubble to the surface.

It starts by ignoring the distractions of what seems like daily changes to the consumer communications market. Clarity is essential. First, understand how the money being invested is going to influence the advertiser’s business results. The depth of understanding of the communications role will dramatically expand the palette of solutions.

The next essential element is insight into how the consumer interacts with the communications channels. This is more than PMB analysis. You are looking for those magic moments when the consumer is more likely to be engaged in the advertiser’s message.

Sweat the strategy. More than ever, strategy must be the beacon that guides the increasing number of agency specialists and media and agency partners to a winning outcome. A clear and compelling strategy that combines the business and consumer insights will keep everyone focused on most productively influencing consumers to drive results, instead of being confounded by the dizzying array of communication channels and choices.

Measure, measure, measure and apply the knowledge to optimize future campaigns. We will have to develop new tools that go well beyond the traditional media measurement. We recently developed measurement for product integration activity that shows how these campaigns perform versus traditional media on a number of qualitative criteria.

Genius lives in these rather unassuming steps. The process is important to ensure that media innovation is not dazzled by technology, but rather, inspired by an understanding of the consumer. I know we can save innovation from burnout – if we just try.

Doug Checkeris is president/CEO of The Media Company, based in Toronto, and a recent judge at the Cannes Lions and Media Innovation Awards. He can be reached at dougc@themediacompany.com.