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Adam Smith

Managing Director

Strategy & Innovation World Forum London 2017

Over the last 2 days, we’ve been at the Strategy & Innovation World Forum. An extremely thought provoking line up of speakers, taking the audience through how they are keeping ahead of the game through a culture of digital innovation.

Being brutally honest, most ‘Disruption in Digital’ events usually don’t get my attention. It usually consists of some FMCG Marketing Manager delivering a talk best suited in 2014, about how they’re now ‘digital first’ because they have a shit app no one cares about.

This event however was a totally refreshing look from some really credible speakers that have their outlook towards 2017 nailed - it was so encouraging to hear so many thoughts aligned to our approach and I see it only as a matter of time before the true value of opportunity hits the mainstream, and not just ideas thrown back and forth among those who live and breath the future of business on a daily basis.

If I had to pick a main theme that ran throughout the individual presentations, from companies such as Twitter, The Economist, Google, Racing Post, AXA, Santander, and Vodafone, it was ‘digital for the sake of digital’ has come to an end. Yay! This was a turning point in which I felt a real sense that brands, big and small, now have some seriously clever people heading up their Strategy and Innovation departments, full digital natives that can see through the bullshit and know how to deliver.

Actually, the word ‘Digital’ wasn’t actually used that much, a positive sign that it’s no longer a department or a separate initiative, but now a term starting to fade as it becomes the norm.

In loosening the semantics for the word Digital, we’re also opening up the possibilities of discussion beyond marketing, brand awareness, ‘social’ and engagement rates, but now having more serious conversations around service design, customer expectations and product innovation.

Our struggle has always been that historically, digital has solely equated to digital marketing, or even commoditized into services such as web design. But with the term now fading, and people are now widening their horizons to consider the impact new technology has on the likes of service design, customer expectations and product innovation.

Let’s start with Jamie Credland @jcredland, SVP of Strategy at The Economist. His talk was entitled “What Does A 173 Year Old Publisher Look Like On Snapchat?” and it took the audience on a journey through The Economist’s brand values around authoritative insight and what role that actually plays in a world where all news breaks on social first. His job isn’t just to make The Economist relevant to a younger audience by making it available on their prefered channels (perhaps a strategy most publishers took a few years back with limited success), but more to better understand how and why a new generation of subscribers interact and engage with content, so that he can test and develop new products to meet that need.

We also heard a little from the other side of the coin, companies that struggle to innovate themselves, leaving a massive opportunity for disruption from smaller, more agile players. Parul Kaul-Green @parulgreen, head of M&A & Innovation at AXA explained the cost of maintaining legacy systems leaves little time for fresh thinking, and has quickly recognised the looming threat of innovation from smaller players in Insuretech. This theory was backed up by (in my opinion the best speaker of the event) Bertrand Hassani, Global Head of Innovation at Santander, who continued to highlight that Banks simply don’t have the culture to harvest innovation. Old style thinking wants instant results, and reams of data compiled by men in suits to back up every decision. The thought of experimentation on products, that haven’t been done before is such a far flung concept, that it’s easier just to fall back in line, maintain and improve, rather than completely innovate. He was keen to promote that innovation isn’t catching up, and how industries such as finance still see innovation as keeping up with the market. Which is the wrong way to look at it, and why there is such a great threat from newer players in FinTech who are prepared to build fast, test and adapt.

This brings me nicely to Francine Stevens @innovationkiwi, Director of Innovation at Vodafone. Her talk, offered a strategy for defence against slow, big corporation thinking. She explained how Vodafone have a separate Innovation initiative, leveraging the motivational drive from ‘Intrapreneurs’ at Vodafone - and how it’s important to give them space to innovate ideas that are ring-fenced from the middle management KPIs of the daily operation of the business - fostering innovation within. Again, 2 years ago, this ‘digital’ team would be brainstorming how to best use digital markets and platforms to engage users, but now, have realized the game has moved forward and service design to meet rising customer expectations is far more valuable. Which is great news for us, and everyone for that matter!