Isobar Asia-Pacific’s Chief Strategy Officer discusses the ROI of Innovation

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Following Spikes Asia Festival of Creativity in Singapore last month, we spoke to Sandipan Roy, Chief Strategy Officer, Isobar Asia-Pacific to discuss the ROI of innovation.

You discussed the ROI of innovation at the recent Spikes Asia festival. Can you tell us more about your thinking on that?

There’s sufficient macro-economic and corporate data to indicate that innovation either isn’t working or there’s not enough of it happening. Here are some quick data points:

We are living in an era of economic stagnation. Our productivity rates are just about 1%. If the definition of productivity is maximizing output with minimum input, then the delta has to be innovation. But if productivity is only 1%, obviously innovation isn’t a big part of it.

Companies are sitting on massive cash reserves and distributing huge amounts of dividend every year. Trillions of dollars are trapped in low- to negative-yield financial instruments. And yet innovation is nowhere near getting its fair share of this cash. So, there is a lot of cash out there but it’s not finding its way into innovation.

The start-up failure rate is high. The success rate of new products is abysmally low.

There is a Harvard Business School study that says over 84% of CEOs sees innovation as a board-level agenda but only 6% are satisfied with the success of their companies’ innovation.

So obviously, something is going wrong somewhere.

Why are businesses and brands unhappy with the success of innovation?

Fundamentally, there are a couple of problems with the way innovation is being done. One, innovation is more of a solutions-first approach, which means you build solutions that then have to find problems to solve, as opposed to the other way around. Two, even when big companies are doing innovation on the side i.e. skunkworks, startups, innovation teams, they find it difficult to integrate these outputs with their core business. So, when integration between the core and innovation sides results in failure, innovation is always seen as guilty before being proven innocent and in the core business, it’s exactly the opposite.

In spite of this, the disruption of legacy incumbents is inevitable. It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s a question of ‘when’. It’s not an event called disruption, it’s a process of disruption. Every sector of the economy has already stated getting disrupted, the speed depends on how mature the technology in that sector is — so while technology may impact the speed, it is not the reason for disruption. GPS and mobile has existed for a couple of decades, but that never disrupted anything by itself. Uber had to put a business model around it to disrupt the transportation industry. Streaming has existed for a couple of decades, but Netflix had to put a business model around it to disrupt the entertainment and media business.

So where are companies going wrong?

The thing about disruption is the fact that more often than not, companies are not getting disrupted as much as they are destroying themselves. The crucial factor there is that they aren’t organising themselves around the customers’ needs. When companies are startups, in the stage of disrupting, the focus is always on customer needs for e.g. “how can I meet customer needs?” Once these startups start becoming bigger and better, they remove the focus on customer needs and on to their products instead i.e. “how can I make my product better?” The final nail in the coffin is when they feel their product is better, then they focus on their operations — “how can I make my company more efficient?”

Kodak is the poster child for how a big company got disrupted. But interestingly, they did do a lot of innovation — they improved their print quality, film quality, etc. But they were innovating on the wrong end of the business. They were innovating on their core processes and systems, while the disruption was happening on the consumer side of the business with new developments like Instagram and iPhones.

So, I think there’s a lot of fear amongst legacy incumbents — they dread cannibalization. They think that if they embark on innovation, they would cannibalize their own business. But I don’t believe companies can disrupt themselves. Very few companies have managed to disrupt themselves successfully such as Netflix, Facebook, or General Electric. But by and large, disruptive innovation is best done in another zone of the business and then integrated with the core in a systematic manner.

Is innovation still important to businesses and brands, or should we shift the focus?

Innovation is fundamental not just to success, but to the existence of any business because essentially innovation is about meeting customer needs in a new and different way, and not necessarily a better way. Innovation is fundamental to neutralize risks of disruption to the core business as well as to seek opportunities to be disruptive.

Where do you see the next opportunity for disruption?

I am very hopeful and passionate about healthcare. It contributes to a fifth of every economy’s GDP. Not disrupting healthcare means a big sector of the economy isn’t being impacted. We do see some progress, such as IBM Watson’s AI work with oncologists at Sloan Kettering, but it’s not happening fast enough for a number of reasons — regulatory, safety and security. The other area is education. With increased importance around re-skilling due to unemployment caused by automation, transformation of the education sector is of massive importance.

Finally, what’s your one piece of advice to businesses and brands on innovating?

Ultimately, there’s a demand and a supply side to every business and the successful existence of any business is to organise themselves around newer and different ways to meet unmet customer needs. Strategy is about value creation so identifying areas where value can be created or destroyed and then developing frameworks and mechanisms to institutionalize it is key to long-term success.

This piece was originally published on Isobar’s global blog.

Isobar’s innovation experts reveal the deal with Experiential Tech

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Innovation has been a focus for our Singapore team this year, with their most recent innovation being the V-Showroom, a first-of-its-kind mixed reality dealership for our global client General Motors. We spoke with the minds behind this work, Stan Lim, Regional Creative Director and Chye Yong Hock, Innovation Director as they stepped off the stage at Spikes Asia 2017.

[For the people who didn’t make it to Singapore for your presentation]

What were key takeaways from your talk at Spikes Asia?

Stan: The key thing that we wanted people to take away from our session is to think deeper about what you can actually do with experiential tech and not just limit it to consumer-facing implementation. Where innovation started out was really to create nice brand experiences and delight consumers. But there’s so much more to experiential tech than that, and if done right, I believe it can create real business value.

Chye: A lot of people at Spikes were talking about how experiential technology and machine learning have influenced the marketing landscape in general. But fundamentally, we wanted to show people that technological advancements will be more prevalent in the future as long as we focus the end point on delivering something of tangible value to the client. We also shared best practices for Innovation projects, for example how we approach them, and what was the process is for kick-starting these projects with clients based on our past learnings. It’s a very different process from pure-play marketing projects.

[Please can you include the best practices so we can link to them?] — Actually the GM work is probably the only best practice that we can share.

With AI and data advancements dominating industry conversation, does creativity still matter?

Stan: Of course it still matters, but AI & Data has changed the process involved in creativity. AI and data will impact how we have to be creative in order to solve a client’s problem. But AI & Data isn’t the end point — we will still need to create delightful experiences for people.

Chye: These days there are a lot of companies in the tech and innovation space, so it’s creativity that sets an agency apart. If digital agencies didn’t own creativity, we would be just like any other tech solutions provider or vendor, where everyone is selling just one product. But we tell clients “don’t think about the tech you want to use. Rather, think about the problem you want to solve” and from there, we can figure out what we need to create, and what tech we use.

And it’s no longer just about creative marketing alone — we need to blend it together with tech solutions and services in order to be truly effective. But the challenge a lot of agencies face is how much clients are willing to invest — proper implementation of some of these new technologies are big investments. And to use tech for only one campaign is just not worth it. That’s why we are focused on experimenting with technology that has longer-term potential, for example improvements that can be made to the customer service industry just makes more sense. Strategically choosing areas of experimental focus is an agency’s biggest opportunity for delivering great value to clients.

What’s the latest in the digital and creativity in Asia-Pacific?

Chye: It’s shifting; the advertising landscape is changing a lot, and it’s to do with how APAC clients are spending their money. For example, in Asia social has largely become a low investment staple of the marketing mix. Clients have set how much they want to spend and how they want to do it. So, they’re less open to new ideas.

Clients’ investment is slowly diverting to experiential tech to help them retain customers — this client demand has increased a lot more this year. Many companies now have innovation teams, and they are treating it just like a marketing division. So, they are definitely going to spend more on innovation and experiences in the near future.

Stan: Generally, I think APAC clients have matured in their approach to innovation and in some cases the clients are more aware of what technology can do but not how to deliver it. But when you’re facing a client who might be thinking “there’s no use for tech beyond marketing” not many agencies can jump in and leverage the opportunity. In APAC, we still have a lot of catching up to do.

Why should businesses and brands investigate what innovation can do for their business today?

Stan: It’s the risk of being disrupted. Entire categories are getting replaced on a monthly, and sometimes, weekly basis.

Chye: Brands and businesses need to understand that tech and innovation is a part of the working world today, and it is not something you buy off the shelf. They need to understand how it can power their business.

Lots of brands and businesses are already investing in creating an innovative culture. They are rethinking and maturing in the way they approach innovation projects. And companies like Kickstarter have helped foster the start-up culture to make brands and businesses more accepting of trial and error, and the mantra “fail-fast”.

Also, the customer demand is there. Take the car industry for example, people want the latest technology in their cars now, so automakers have put more innovation into producing cars in the last two years than they have in the last twenty. But this takes learning and can’t be completed overnight. So, you need to start the innovation process early.

Stan: Disruption is not an event, it’s an ongoing process. So, the day you realise you are being disrupted is the day it’s too late to do anything — As Chye mentioned, innovation needs to start now to prevent yourself from being disrupted six months down the road.

This entry was originally published on Isobar’s blog.

Isobar’s Academy Programme, BeNeLux edition

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The Brussels and Amsterdam offices of Isobar are co-organizing the September edition of the event, just one of Isobar Academy’s many global program packages that all have a common aim of exchanging experiences, knowledge sharing and encouraging cooperation within the network. This edition will be held in Amsterdam, an ever-inspiring city.

Flying in from several EMEA markets; multiple talents from the agency’s network (among them Strategists, Creatives, Art Directors, Copywriters, Accounts and Creative Directors) will work on a real-life Cubanisto (AB InBev) brief together with the client.

The workshops will be on Experience Design and based around building optimal experiences for brand activations, customer service, brand’s digital destinations, mixing digital and the physical world.

The Programme starts today September 27th and will last until Friday 29th, 48hrs and then some of intense and exiting creative work from 25 people.

 

We’ll update the blog as the event goes on, along with a summary next week.

A Kindle kind of life

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Illustration by Augusto Jacquier

In the mid 1990’s, neuroscientist Vilyanur S Ramachandran conducted a series of experiments on patients with phantom limbs. One of such patients felt as if his phantom fingernails were digging into his clenched fist, an agonising sensation that had no apparent cure. Ramachandran placed a mirror between the patient’s arms and asked him to open and close both his hands (his healthy one, and his phantom one) simultaneously whilst looking at the reflection of the healthy limb. The patient’s brain, fooled by the trick, released the phantom limb’s clenched fist almost immediately.

Though I don’t know enough about the brain to even attempt to understand the importance of such a discovery in the field of neuroscience, one thing is evident: tricking the brain can be easier than we think.

It’s a statement that seems to become truer with every new, incremental advancement in the field of Virtual Reality. Initially pitched to (and quickly adopted by) gamers, VR is making itself known to a host of different and very diverse domains: surgeons are learning to operate on virtual patients, clinicians are treating phobias with headsets, athletes are training better and quicker in simulated worlds. You can get better at public speakingovercome your fears before a job interviewbe prepared for when the next tsunami hits and, of course, go shopping.

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Dr. Christopher Duma uses VR prior to brain surgery.

Yet for every piece of VR promise, there seems to be a never-ending list of hurdles to overcome, aspects that are stopping most virtual reality explorations from becoming truly realised, comprehensive and, most of all, convincing experiences.

For one, there’s the physicality of it: you can move to a moderate degree, but unless you’re willing to strap yourself to a cumbersome, expensive and awkward circular treadmill, that’s about it. Then there’s touch: haptic feedback is a very rudimentary attempt to bridge this gap, but it doesn’t come close to the nuances of our somatosensory system. Smelling, a sense that seems to have proven too difficult to emulate in any other media, is also absent from most conversations around VR.

So, if VR’s intent is to trick our brains, how far can it go before revealing itself as prisoner to its own limitations?

Walking loose

If you go to Zero Latency, in North Melbourne, you might find yourself at odds with what’s on display: a huge, empty warehouse, nothing but black walls and concrete floors, framed by a network of cameras. In the middle, a group of people, each strapped to a VR headset and armed with a two-handed gun, walk around in apparent disarray. They talk to each other, and yell, and laugh, and unless you’re experiencing what they are, act in a manner that seems to make no sense. For outsiders, it likely reads as an episode from Black Mirror.

Places like Zero Latency continue to trend around the world, spaces where people have the opportunity to step into a different reality. Whether you’re in it for the thrills or the exploration, for shooting at robots or walking on walls, they offer experiences unlike any other. These establishments are working towards what is arguably the very first significant step since the re-birth of VR: free-roaming worlds.

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Free-roaming players likely shooting zombies at Zero Latency.

It isn’t until you feel like you’re about to fall down a 20-story building, or your sense of balance goes off-charts when walking upside down, that you truly realise the potential that VR has in the way we can perceive, create and modify the reality around us.

With more tinkerers willing to invest in the technology, and more people being welcomed to make use of it, it’s not hard to imagine the shape of (some of the) things to come.

The Kindle of reality

In 2007, after a decade of other companies’ failed attempts at making e-books “a thing”, Amazon launched their Kindle e-reader to tepid reviews and skeptical appraisals. Today, ten years later, many consider paper books a romantic notion, much like vinyl records. Kindles didn’t kill the book the same way video didn’t kill cinema: they just offered people a different vehicle to access and consume the same content.

A similar parallel can be established between virtual reality and actual reality. In its current form, the technology can photo-replicate simple locations, giving us the opportunity to explore certain places that would otherwise require us to travel halfway around the world to reach. Imagine visiting the Louvre without having to deal with long flights and jet lag, price tags and nosy tourists: all you have to do is drive to your local VR shop and strap on a headset for a few hours. In essence, VR could do just as good a job as going to the real place, if not better. And so, inaudibly, the question sets in: is this virtual reality any less real to our brains?

It’s a fascinating premise, one that will most likely divide opinion: if you could live in a lucid dream, would you choose that instead of reality? For the outsiders, the unsleeping audience, it’s a no-brainer: that’s not reality per sebut a weird simulation that your brain likes to create when you’re unaware. But for those inside of it, for the dreamers, it’s as real as it gets, only better: you can fly, and any one thing can be multiple things at once, and it’s all so bright and vivid and brimming with feelings. Your brain considers that to be as real as this, your own physical reality.

Will there ever be such a tipping point for VR? Will it ever be able to replace, or rather, mimic, reality in a way our brains cannot distinguish? The short term answer, the one that our current technological limitations dictate, is rather simple: no. All of those things we still haven’t figured out about VR are expensive and difficult to solve, and might never be fully cracked. And yet, if Moore’s Law is anything to go by, we might get there after all, and quicker than we imagine. Solutions to the “simple” problems are on their way: better screens, wider depths of view, lower latency rates, smaller, less cumbersome headsets, wireless technology. And then there’s the rest: graphics are improving by the minute, we’re getting better at synthesising smells, we’re exploring ways in which we can touch what’s not really there, AI is becoming more conversational and quickly learning how to sound like us.

When (if) these reach moderate success and make their way into our headsets, what will then be the difference between walking through a realmarket in Bali, and going to a warehouse somewhere in your own town where you can strap a headset on and have a near-identical experience, one where your senses can be stimulated in the right ways? Because when what you see looks like the real thing, and the conversations you can have with AI beings are indistinguishable from those with friends, and the smells imbue your surroundings, then that reality, that complex combination of astounding technical prowess and our brains’ disposition to be tricked, will be just as real as anything else. And then, maybe, some kinds of physical reality might become a romantic notion, much like paper books are after Kindle.

Augusto Jacquier, Studio Lead & VR Enthusiast

This article was originally published on Isobar Australia’s blog.

Text credits to Augusto Jacquier, Senior Designer – Studio Lead, Isobar Melbourne.

A Developer’s Guide to Empathy

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UX. User Experience. Usability. These terms keep popping up in all the product development meetings I attend, and I’m told it’s the key to success in the world of technology design and development. Jeff Bezos (you know, the guy behind Amazon, the Washington Post, and other great hits) seemed to agree when he said

Above all else, align with customers. Win when they win. Win only when they win.

But as a front-end developer, I don’t need to worry about it — I work on a team with a UX designer, so they’ll have it covered. I’ll take care of the codebase, the user is their responsibility. Right?

Who is in charge of the user’s experience?

Traditionally, the web and software development cycle has been broken up into silos, with experts in charge of all the deliverables in their fields of work. Business analysts, for example, extract and document business requirements; visual designers create the visual designs for the product, and developers, well, develop the final working product. Looking at it this way, it makes sense that our UX designers would be responsible for all aspects of the user’s experience. It’s right there in the name!

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Siloed teams rarely work well together (image sourced from Thomaslarock.com)

One problem with this siloed approach is that it takes the user out of the equation for everyone but the UX designer. Inevitably, situations come up where we have to deviate from the proposed design or solution — because of time, technical constraints, or otherwise. As a developer, If I’m not focused on the user’s needs, I am more likely to choose the option that keeps my code looking pretty, or the easier option to develop.

A better perspective is to understand the role each team member plays in the final product, and therefore in the user’s experience. For instance, my decisions as a front-end developer can impact the time it takes for a page to load, or how performant a given piece of functionality is, which will have an impact on the user.

Ultimately, it’s about understanding, and building empathy for, your users. If you understand the user’s needs (and care about them!), you’re more likely to try find a solution that helps the user achieve their task with less fuss. This is a win for your users, and ultimately a win for your business too!

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Meeting often with users will help to build empathy within your team

How do you make your team care about users?

So obviously, if your team cares about your users you’re more likely to come out with a good user experience. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to care about someone you don’t know — especially when their needs make your job difficult! Luckily, there are a few ways to build empathy for your users, even when you’re not meeting with them daily.

Framing is everything

When we develop user-centred products, we break up tasks into user stories, but not all are created equal. Compare these two stories:

  1. As a user, I want to open a product detail modal so that I can see the details of a product
  2. As a researching customer, I want to see detailed photos of a product so that I can make an informed purchasing decision

Both aim to present the functionality from the user’s perspective, but which one tells you the most about the user’s problems, and how the solution will solve it?

It seems simple, but thinking a bit deeper about how you write your user story names will go a long way to putting your team in the user’s shoes.

Ask for context

Developers already know that more information makes for better products, but we often only ask for technical details. Some other helpful questions include:

  • What is the user hoping to achieve with this functionality?
  • How does this fit with the user’s overall journey?
  • How do we think this functionality will help the user achieve their goals?

In general, the more you know about the user’s context, the better.

Designers, the more context you provide upfront, the easier it is to build empathy into each piece of functionality, so help your team by providing answers to these questions with each design.

Meet your users (or develop personas)

Even if you’re not a UX designer or researcher, you can benefit from sitting in on a user research session. As a developer, I’ve found that participating in user testing sessions, for example, gave me a better understanding of the real user problems we were trying to solve. And if you can’t participate, a summary of the results can be super helpful too, so go ahead and ask your designers and researchers for this kind of information.

If you don’t have the time or budget to meet with real people (or even if you have already participated in a handful of user testing sessions), personas can be a great tool to help enrich your understanding of your users. They represent core aspects, demographics, needs and pain points of your users. They help to keep your team focused on your users, and can be a valuable compass when making design or development decisions.

How do I start?

If you’re currently locked into a siloed workflow, it can be hard to make changes to your team’s processes or attitudes. However if you look at the benefits to your product, your users and your business, it’s clear that it’s worth the effort. Start your next development task by getting to know your users and their needs, and soon enough these steps will become second nature.

Juan Ojeda, Front End Developer (UX Enthusiast) @ Isobar Australia

Originally published on Isobar Australia’s blog.

Why major US movie studios are pulling off from Netflix.

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Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

In case you missed it, it’s been a long time since Netflix was just a streaming service.

Founded in 1997, its business model was mainly focused on DVD sales and rental, but a year later Reed Hastings (Netflix’s founder) dropped DVD sales to focus on the DVD rental by mail business. In 2007 the streaming service was launched and it rolled out to 160 countries as of January 2016.

One of Netflix’s key moments takes place in February 2013, when they debuted their first original series. 13 episodes long, starring acclaimed actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, produced (and partially directed) by renowned filmmaker David Fincher, House of Cards quickly became an international sensation and the first of a long series of “Netflix Original” content.

And although there are some turds in their original catalog (see the recent War Machine starring Brad Pitt), there is a very long list of critical and commercial successes (series such as Orange is the new Black, Sense8, Narcos, Black Mirror, Stranger Things, Marvel’s DareDevil and Jessica Jones; feature films like Beasts of No Nation and Okja to name a few).

Recent productions have attracted major talents such as Will Smith, Robert Redford, Tilda Swinton, Jennifer Jason Leigh or Jake Gyllenhaal.

Last week, Disney announced their intent to launch their own streaming service in 2019 (à la HBO Go). This means that the current deal with Netflix that allows the platform to stream hit franchises such as Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbeans, but also the whole Marvel MCU catalog (Iron Man, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.), is coming to an end.

A few days later, 20th Century Fox revealed they were considering a similar move.

It’s evident that studios are looking to cut off the middle man and make a bigger profit by distributing content themselves. However, the biggest development is the fact that Netflix is not just a partner anymore.

They are competitors.

And as always, consumers will have to chip in, waiting for the dust to settle while retaining access to their favorite content. Or revert back to downloading for some.

 

Edit August 18th, 2017

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple will invest approximately $1 billion in acquiring and producing original TV shows over the next year. The investment could result in as many as 10 new shows, a source told the publication, with the iPhone-maker looking to match the high-quality output of networks like HBO.

Why Isobar Greece Started Selling Its Own Sunglasses.

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Our colleagues from Isobar Greece have decided to jump the fence and see what really happens on the advertisers’ side.

Wanting to have a better understanding (albeit on a smaller scale) of the challenges clients are facing, they have created, produced and marketed a sunglasses brand called We Are Eyes.

In a market challenged by the aftermath of the economical crisis, they decided to dive in a real-life situation so that they can be closer to clients.

This is not about bringing in alternative revenue streams (their goal is to break-even). This is about empathy.

Read the full story originally published on Ad Age.