Honest experimentation is the key to success

This article is reproduced from The Drum magazine.  To read the original go here.

The older ones among you who, like me, were creating digital experiences and marketing campaigns in the late 90s will remember the animosity technology-based thinking used to receive.

As a fresh faced 24-year-old, I recall a grizzled advertising type asking the client why the “web monkey intern” had turned up to an all agency creative meeting. Feel the burn, as the kids would say.

Those words represented the contemporary sentiment around digital agencies and startups like Google – I’m old so bear with me – that we/they were overreaching themselves. The crash in the early 00s was evidence – apparently – that the normal service of tried and tested marketing had resumed.

Normal service – quite obviously – hadn’t resumed and never has. We’re now confronted by a communications landscape that’s fractured into hundreds of rapidly rising and falling channels, technologies and resultant behaviours.

While that fracturing has created a lot of excitement and possibility, one thing it has definitely created a lot less of is true expertise. In his book 'The Inevitable', Kevin Kelly says we are all forever condemned to be newbies – never mastering a technology before another comes along to usurp it.

Both as people and marketing professionals – the two aren’t always mutually exclusive – we’re often not very comfortable with admitting we don’t know everything. We are sometimes guilty of hiding our luddite lights under bullshit bushels and hoping that the person next to us knows less, and still asks for our opinion anyway.

The problem is that as the world and technology gets more complex, it becomes less credible to claim expertise over everything. Despite sometimes trying, agencies can’t actually do everything, ECDs can’t understand every place they need to put work, media agencies can’t find a data and ROI model for every channel they buy in. And clients? Well, like P&G’s Marc Pritchard, they are starting to think some honesty about how much we collectively do and don’t know might not be a bad thing either.

There isn’t one solution to this problem. Partly it’s about accepting that technology changes so fast that we need to operate with some agreed best principles rather than trying to be 100% sure of everything.

Equally important is remembering that technology is just one part of a holistic connected human experience and not the only way we have to interact with and influence consumers.

The other thing that wouldn’t go amiss is more honest experimentation with technology and its place in those connected experiences. More innovation perhaps?

I can feel you recoiling from the baggage-laden word 'innovation' already.However, an innovation mindset allows us to openly experiment with and learn about new things and to create real, tested, sharable knowledge. Expertise, if you like. In the process, we’ll find routes to business success for our clients and us, not just to win at Cannes. Although that’s nice too.

In a small way, the IPA Brand Tech group, a collection of individuals from creative and media agencies, is hoping to make a contribution to that shared pool of knowledge. First up will be some real hands on advice on how to work brilliantly and ethically with the startup community, and in the coming year we’re meeting true experts in their field – AI, for instance – to help create training and white papers that everyone in the industry can benefit from.

Meeting experts doesn’t make you one, or necessarily make the pace and complexity of change go away of course. Sticking your hand up to say you need some more help understanding something is, however, very, very liberating.

Lawrence Weber is managing partner of innovation at Karmarama, Director of Innovation Social and chair of the IPA's Brand Tech Group which provides an industry view on the impact technology is having on brands, consumers and agencies