Absolute and Relative Innovation

“What is more interactive: a coloring-in sheet on a McDonald’s tray table or a Web banner?” That was the (rhetorical) question a planner I used to work with once posed and it really stuck with me, especially when looking at the utterly dismal portfolio of online creative back in the day.

I took that statement and riffed off it when giving keynote presentations on “Life after the 30-second spot” with the following points: You can be “nontraditional” with traditional media, and you can most certainly be “traditional” with nontraditional media. In this case, “nontraditional” in the former would be synonymous with bold, creative, original, unique, disruptive or innovative, while “traditional” would be akin to boring, predictable, uninspiring, bland and mediocre.
As an aside: if you could only pick one of the categories to describe your digital investment, which would most accurately represent your story and body of work?

When it comes to partnering with startups, big brands really have two choices: limp in with incremental tweaks or “tests” designed to emulate or replicate traditional paid media campaigns, or attempt to “test” a hypothesis designed around something unprecedented for the brand, company or even industry.

Clearly there’s a little bias in my phraseology, but before I expand on the fork in the road, I think it’s important to make a distinction on absolute versus relative innovation. We’re all too familiar with the bright and shiny object syndrome (BSOS), and for some reason, we’ll turn our backs on something that could be extremely meaningful based on the fact it’s not the next big thing as defined by a social media expert, ad trade or conference.

In other words, a platform or sector that’s old-hat to a fickle and faddish industry could be new and potentially disruptive to you.  This category probably covers yesterday’s news like blogs, podcasts or even virtual worlds. In some cases, it could even include email or search marketing. This is your opportunity to apply “nontraditional” rigor to “traditional” platforms.
On the flipside, when it comes to emerging platforms, apps or startups that are bringing exciting new business models or revenue streams to the table, challenge yourselves to bring the same level of risk, exponential thinking and “non-traditional” ideas to the table. For example, if you were Ford and you were partnering with Uber, instead of sponsoring the app or buying an iAd, why not plug your new Ford Fiestas into the ecosystem and provide subsidized rides to users.
A hypothesis is typically attached to an experiment and the ability to prove or refute it represents two different sides of the same coin of success. Perhaps the proof positive is a Win with a capital “W”, whereas the refuting of the hypothesis AKA failure is actually positioned (and rightly so) as a win with a lower case “w”.

In my book “Join the Conversation,” I wrote, “marketing is not a campaign; it’s a commitment.” I believe we can use this same philosophy when evaluating partnering with startups. Are we in it for the long haul, or just to mark another tactic off our short-term checklist?  Are we experimenting or testing? Are we managing risk or mitigating it? Are we winning to fail or failing to win?

Provided our motives or motivations are prioritized appropriately, either absolute (doing something that has never been done before — by anyone — and by definition, attached to a hypothesis that has a 50/50 chance of working) or relative (less grand, but equally potent insofar that “new to the brand” or “new to its customer base” brings another set of benefits and upside) innovation may hold the key to your brand’s evolution.

By Joseph Jaffe
Joseph Jaffe is founder and CEO of Evol8tion, an innovation agency that matches early stage start-ups with blue-chip brands. He has written three books, including “Flip the Funnel.”
Courtesy of MediaPost

Skip to content