NOV 30, 2015

What Modern Strategists Can Learn from Start-ups

Whether it’s Facebook new 360-video feature or Instagram’s freshly-launched Boomerang app, marketers have become infatuated with the latest bells and whistles in digital advertising. And while it’s certainly important to experiment with new creative formats and capture consumers’ attention in interesting and unexpected ways, all too often newness becomes synonymous with innovation. The reality is that true innovation should solve problems, and in this age of accelerated change, our clients have more fundamental business problems than ever. So why are so many strategists focused on the shiny new objects and clunky decks? More importantly – how can we evolve to meet our clients’ needs?

To truly create innovative work, perhaps today’s strategist should look not to innovators in marketing but to innovators in business – startups. By definition, startups are challenging the status quo and creating the future for consumers by solving their real world problems and needs in new ways. Here are a few key ways that strategists can start to think less like advertisers and more like an entrepreneurs:

Test and validate. The entrepreneur’s process for developing and testing a business model is eerily similar to the way creative briefs, and we can learn from their techniques. For instance, Lean Startup Machine created a validation board: a dynamic tool to map out iterations of testing against a hypothesis and to track new theories. You can download a free one to map your thoughts dynamically and free briefs from the shackles of a stagnant PDF file.

Be scrappy. It’s easy to lean on market research, but the most powerful creative inspiration can originate from the most unlikely places. Entrepreneurs will often look at search traffic data to examine the phrasing people use to describe their problems. Context like that can offer color, truth and sometimes even a little humor to creative briefings.

Own your outcome. Entrepreneurs have much more skin in the game than conventional agency folks, but if we start to take ownership of the business outcome for campaigns, it’ll ultimately lead to better, more meaningful work — not to mention happier clients. Strategists can more effectively predict, track and articulate business needs by staying on the pulse of start-up and tech news via sources like TechCrunch and Mashable.

Plan for the future. By looking further ahead and considering long-term business trends, we can develop a more thorough understanding of a brand and create more effective campaigns. Entrepreneurs and VCs leverage the latest data aggregation tools to uncover trends before they gain traction, and strategists should take note. For example, a tool called Bottlenose allows users to discover, analyze and visualize trends in stream data to illuminate trends with astonishing speed.

By arming ourselves with fresh perspective, new knowledge and unconventional tools, agency folks can break out from outdated models and more effectively partner with clients to reimagine the future of their businesses. While it may not be as sexy, this approach will allow us to create work that touches consumers’ lives in real, impactful way.

So move over, Mark Cuban. You have company in this shark tank.

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