All posts by inoted

I work for a brand experience agency, Imagination, as the Global Head of Strategy for our Ford work. I am responsible for delivering strategy and constructing narratives for/with brands. And making them happen in an experiential environment - online or offline. I also work with our other clients such as UWSEM and Gypsy Vodka.

Brainstorming – doing it right


There’s a conversation going on at the moment about the value of brainstorming. I think it has arisen because there are a lot of people who are doing it wrong.

Brainstorming is like any other discipline. If you don’t know what you are doing, don’t take it seriously, don’t have the right people running it and don’t plan, then you will fail. Doing it right is not rocket science nor is it revolutionary, contrary to many of the articles circulating right now. Going back to basics will ensure that you get useful and creative ideas to build out.

What are the 10 most important things to remember?

  1. Set a realistic intention – you aren’t going to solve global poverty in a brainstorm. But you can come up with some ideas to get you started. Work out how long you have and prioritize what you want to do in the time. Make sure everyone knows.
  2. Create stimulus material – After you have briefed the team they will need some way of remembering what they were supposed to be solving/creating/doing! Posters, images, quotes anything that reminds people should be put in the room.
  3. Get a mixed group – there is zero point having a group comprised of senior management in a brainstorm. There is also zero point having a group comprised of juniors. The whole point of brainstorming is to open possibilities by creating unusual ‘thinking’ environments. You also need to get different disciplines in the room, UX professionals and 2d designers will approach a problem from different angles. You want that.
  4. Appoint and empower an effective moderator – you need someone who will have the authority to stop the room talking, control an opinionated creative director and empower the quietest person to speak up without scaring them half to death. Make sure everyone knows that they have to listen to everyone else! Make sure everyone knows they have to contribute!
  5. All ideas are good ideas – don’t let anyone close down the ideas that are emerging up. Critiquing can come later. If you find it difficult tell everyone they have to use the phrase ‘Yes, and…’ make them repeat it back to you.
  6. Use an icebreaker – Yes they are cheesy. You hate them. I hate them. We all hate them….until we do them. The point of them is to break us out of our everyday lives and signal that we are in a different space. Don’t skip this.
  7. Set specific exercises – If you simply ask people to solve a problem by spewing out their brains at you, you won’t get effective responses. You have to create exercises of different kinds that allow people’s communication styles to emerge. Some should be verbal, some written, some physical. Need inspiration?There’s a great source  over here at the Game Storming website.
  8. Time it – limited time creates pressure. Pressure is very helpful in stopping people thinking too critically and instead just getting on with it.
  9. Wisdom of crowds – have some way of getting the group to vote on the ideas that are generated. It doesn’t mean that these are the ideas that go forward (see Number 10 below) but it can help to narrow down effective ideas and prevent CD dictatorship. To some extent…
  10. Write everything up – you never know what idea might be useful going forward.

If you approach a brainstorm without going through these steps it won’t work.

That’s why at Imagination we have developed a brainstorming product that uses exactly the techniques I just described (and some more, of course) with clients like Ford, Lincoln, The Body Shop, Canon to name a few.

Fast Strategy, Fast Creative?


Do you remember a while back the selling point of every agency was ‘integrated’? Everyone was promoting the interconnectedness of their business and their ability to be a one stop shop.

Where are we now? We still have specialist agencies with maybe a little more integration but there are few agencies I can think of who are genuinely ‘integrated.’

I believe there are two drivers of this, one positive, one negative.
Postive – There remains true value in expertise and clients know this. They get the best advertising work from advertising agencies, media planning from media agencies, digital from digital agencies etc. You *can* bring them together but…
Negative – …too often agencies either don’t have the will or the respect for other disciplines to really bring the work together. So rather than allowing digital to take the lead on one pitch, experience on the next, media on the next and so on everything focuses around the original money-making discipline of the agency. The answer’s a pop-up, what’s the question?

For these reasons I think ‘integrated’ has fallen out of favor. But something has to take its place, marketing abhors a vacuum. So what’s the latest positioning?

‘We do things fast’ ‘We turn around creative in 2 weeks’ ‘We’ll give you a brand strategy in 3 days’

I find it a little boring. Both because that’s just how I have always had to work at Imagination and because I don’t think this is a selling point. Why?

If you know your client you damn well should be able to turn around both strategy and creative fast. And if you have good strategists and creatives you damn well should be able to turn around *good* strategy and *good* creative fast. And frankly even if it is a new client agencies shouldn’t be taking 2 months to come back with something, 2 weeks is what a client would accept in my experience. So no revolution here.

I do acknowledge that if the problem is a knotty one, eg a brand repositioning, revisiting a campaign to drive greater sales or a new account win then you aren’t going to get much worth looking at in 2 weeks. It’s not impossible, but you need more thinking and creative time than that to solve business and communications issues. So you shouldn’t be promising the world but you also should be getting off your backside and doing your job.

There are times we can be guilty of ‘busy work’, particularly as strategists, testing hypotheses we are 99% there on with the data we already have as an example. Don’t get me wrong, I would love more time for thinking, researching, talking to the audience to make sure my ideas are right, I’ve sometimes been told to put together strategies in 24 hours from scratch – not my favorite and not necessarily my best ever work – but in our new world, where data-hounds are popping out ideas without insights at top speed we need to up our game and work faster and smarter.

I believe both are possible.

And I’m looking forward to seeing how long this particular positioning approach lasts.

Clever Clogs


DSW March On USA

Well done to DSW. They have created a great mailer which will please you whether you are red or blue. Because when you see it you automatically assume they are talking to you and your point of view.  That’s USA done well. Clever clogs.

Imagination at Cannes


Imagination team are off to Cannes with  very exciting presentation about the future of experiences. I’m not going. Come on, I get to go to SXSW, you have to choose your battles!

If you’re going to Cannes then do look out for the talk. You won’t be disappointed and you might get a chance to play with some very cool new tech.

SXSW 17 Part 2 – Tech Trends


This is the second of two posts about SXSW. The previous one looked at the experiential trends, you can read it here.  This post is focused on the key tech trends.  And there are 3 topics that kept coming up time and again:-

  • the implications of cars that can store and process information within the IoT,
  • the possibilities and the possible horrors of robot takeover
  • and VR’s move from fad to function.
Nio EP9 autonomous race car
Nio EP9 – autonomous race car, proved out on Californian test track. Beautiful!

Trend 1 – Smart cities, autonomous cars

Imagine driving to work and catching up on your latest book, or if you have kids catching up on sleep! And the ride is smooth, because there’s no stop/start, no congestion, instead you arrive on time, because the city you are driving through is smart and is managing the traffic.

Beyond that, you might have been slowed down at any point to avoid skidding on wet roads because other cars have been sending micro-weather reports to the Federal Government or to the Met Office.

Great, right? But cities and cars and governments are directly in relationship. And that relationship is raising questions.

For instance, if your car can send micro-reports about weather, it can send reports about how your car is driving. Or is that about how you are driving? And what does that mean for your privacy?

And how do you manage relationships between cars that are driving together on the same road? Do you trust them to give you the right information?

And what if a criminal decides to hack the stop signs that talk to your car and regulate city traffic stopping you from getting to vote?

What’s driving all this? IoT is established and becoming embedded in our environments way beyond tools like Nest. Manufacturers are pushing ahead, investing in AI and testing and selling autonomous vehicles. Cities see all kinds of benefits in cost reduction via things like lighting management and congestion or pollution management and government is playing catch up on policy and regulation.

No one had all the answers but the interest was intense.

Trend 2 – AI/Robot takeover

When you consider that Ford has just announced a $1bn investment in AI over the next 5 years and hotel chains like Crowne Plaza are testing a delivery robot you can see the AI and robotic services are a mainstream proposition.

There were 2 different strands to the discussion. The first was largely positive:

  • Amazon delivery drones on the street
  • Bill Ford talking about drones being released from F150s for search and delivery
  • Discussion of how to create sound for robots
  • A plea for school kids to be taught how to develop AI so that they will be able to come and study it and improve at a later date (Carnegie Mellon)
  • Conversations with robots in the Japan House

The second was way more cautious, almost fearful:

  • There are 2 other things we do not currently teach those developing AI systems – Ethics and Problem Solving. Yet they are essential to developing AI responsibly.
  • Implications of robotics and AI for the workforce are that ‘47% of total US employment is in the high-risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over…the [next] decade or two’ Fray and Osborne 2017
  • Likely to hit service and white collar workers – how do we conceive of what it means to be employed, have a job, to have self-respect and self-value etc?
  • The scenario that arises when an autonomous car has to choose between the safety of a crowd and the safety of its passengers
The definition of me according to IBM’s Watson.

There were some great installations to explore the possibilities. IBM was there in force demonstrating the abilities of its Watson AI. I got a very wearable t-shirt based on a ‘conversation’ with Watson. There was also a system for monitoring the homes of the elderly so that they can live more independently. There was also an application that used AI to create new music based on your choice of mood or mix of styles.

There were also some ‘realistic’ robots you could have a conversation with, sort of and some creative projects exploring the use of  AI in product design.

Undoubtedly the rise of robots is going to change our world. The creative classes and white collar workers have been safely  insulated from the drive to automation that has decimated the blue collar workforce.  The drive at SXSW was around both how that is managed and how we push towards a positive future.

Trend 3 – VR/AR/MR

It’s the cool new kid on the block and last year it was a strong emerging strand. But this year there was a whole room dedicated to VR experiences.Someone described it to me as VR finding it’s level, beginning to move from fad to function.

Many different players were there from NASA to Creative Industries Funding NL showcasing pro-social, creative and art projects in VR.  There were also art installations in conjunction with for example the New Museum in New York using VR to immerse you in a different cultural experience.

And there was a lot of discussion about how it can work best. For instance, VR can be an isolating medium and we are innately social animals, so how can we best create social experiences with VR? Sony’s WoW Factory had a game played alongside/against 3 other players including motion, wind and digital interaction in the space. It was great fun and engaging to watch as well as play.

The key driver this year was the way that we may start to integrate technology into our lives far beyond looking at a screen. It is moving into a space where our life and our technology are almost inseparable. There are ethical and emotional consequences for that, but the SXSW crowd will certainly be there to explore and expose those way before the rest of us. That’s a comforting thought.

 

SXSW 17 Part 1 – Top 3 Experience Trends


How much do you notice your environment? As a strategist at an experiential agency visiting a conference like SXSW is a busman’s holiday for me.  Alongside all the talks and tech trends I am constantly observing experiential trends. This post is part 1 of a two part post on my experiences at SXSW 2017. Part 2 will focus on Top 3 Tech Trends at the conference.

Trend 1 – Colour me happy

Last year there was a strong trend for natural textures combined with high tech elements that were very often silvery or metallic. This year the naturals are still there but there was more colour everywhere. From post-it notes to displays, from lampshades to billiard tables brands were activating spaces with more attention to diverse colour palettes.

A great example was the Sony experience. The whole space was an owned temporary structure, designed to showcase tech.  The build was very functional – lots of chip board and exposed scaffold. However, via clever use of coloured decals across dividing walls they brought a more structured and warm feeling to the space.

Great British House is another interesting example, coming from a different place. The UKDTI took over a bar called the Speakeasy on Congress and so they had to work within an existing aesthetic. The overall feeling was dark and traditional with lots of natural wood. So it was individual elements which lifted the space such as bright neon lights and  spray painted lampshades in red,white and blue. The billiard table took the flag theme, and the walls were lifted with colourful participatory post-it notes.

The effect is informal, warm and unpretentious. It’s a development of the appeal to Millennials who love authenticity and the idea of being involved with brands at a more fundamental level.

Trend 2 – Keep it simple 
If I asked you to predict future trends for next year how long would it take to answer? How much space would you need? What if I asked you how a brand experience made you feel? Most people find it easier to share short form emotional responses than dig deep into information and opinion. Trend 2 centred around finding creative ways to engage users directly, using analogue mediums. Post-it notes, flower markers in sand pits, writing directly onto walls and so on appeared in spaces as diverse as IBM, Dell and Fast Company.

The sense of something being crafted by a group, something less digital being therefore more personal seems to be what is driving this. The question stimulus was always around memory and  emotion. That’s  partly because it is much easier to respond to this than to have to give an expert opinion. But it’s also because it creates an emotional connection that drives a memory and above all brands at SXSW need to create a memory of relevance and modernity.

As a whole there was a sense of simplicity and analogue engagement across brand spaces which emerged out of these types of installation.

Trend 3 – Personalize
What do you take home from every conference? Swag! SXSW is no different. I got some very nice CNN shades for instance. But the main problem with swag is that it ends usually ends up in the bin or at the gym – or maybe on your kids. It’s not valued or valuable. This year brands addressed that by looking at ways to make their swag work harder through personal relevance.

Let’s start with IBM. Watson is an AI product IBM are pushing hard. It is an artificial intelligence combining data analysis with intelligent outputs to help with almost anything you can image. The IBM house this year was packed with partnerships from music creation software to home safety monitoring for the elderly and weather pattern analysis. This year’s swag was, like last year’s a t-shirt. Unlike last year’s this year’s had personal relevance, a pattern that expressed your personality as determined by Watson. After answering some questions the engine buckets you into one of 5 types I was a Mentor (most people at the conference were Mavericks or Dynamos with Mentors coming a close 3rd). As a result  of engaging with Watson and IBM I have a t-shirt that is both meaningful and attractive. I might actually wear it outside the gym!

Less attractive but no less personally meaningful is this digital give aways from Great British House. A  dress-up booth and some props combined with some fools produced the masterpiece you see here. A digital memento that I treasure…

Similar things were happening at CNN which took pics of you on a swing and created a gif in much the same way. And at Fast Company Ford were offering a digital selfie that showed you what an autonomous car sees when it sees you.

These gizzits are personal, more relevant than a key ring or waterbottle and of course fittingly digital.

Next week – Trends in tech

Experience International Women’s Day #beboldforchange


It’s International Women’s Day and I thought a positive story about great women I know  would be a good way to mark that. Compiling my list I realized I know some amazing women. Writers, teachers and academics, mums, nurses, project managers, bankers, real-estate agents, HR professionals and the rest! This can’t be an exhaustive list and I can’t name all the fantastic women I know around the world – you know who you are! – so I will keep my focus on creative, comms and marketing and women who are #boldforchange.

Kristen Streten – Yes I am biased, spoiler alert, she is my sister. But she has created a really great creative agency, Design Culture,  ‘Doing good things for good people’ together with her partner Steve Wilkins.  Clients such as The Foundling Museum and Payroll Giving demonstrate her quality as a Creative Director and Managing Director. (And I’m very proud of her.)

Lara Groves – Content creative at Imagination in London. Super talented and full of ideas – that she can actually make happen. Plus she gives back. She is a mentor with She Says. What more do you want?

 

Rachel Wakefield – Comms Manager of @greenbelt festival. Music teacher extraordinaire. Lay Reader. Is there nothing this woman can’t do? Full of life and energy and faith.

 

Nicky Old – Deputy Director, Partnerships for Schools

Nicky has an impressive CV in comms for government and public service organizations. She works hard on behalf of all UK Universities and I’d know I was in  safe and creative hands if I had her on my brand. Plus she always wears the best fashion. In envy…

Nichola Scola – Communications at Janssen Inc

For someone so skilled Nichi is lovely to be around. She was an Executive Director at Nomura before running her own consultancy (and family) and came up with a brilliant solution to make career and family work together by carefully targeting the company she now works for not simply waiting to be invited to apply. Big brains, big smile. Bold for Change!

We all know amazing women at all levels – we are lucky to be in a culture which – at its best – celebrates our achievements and doesn’t take us for granted.

#beboldforchange