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Op-Ed: Bring on the Disruption

Yes, ladies and gents, Simon Mathews, currently chief strategy officer at West Coast shop, Extractable, and who’ s also worked at the likes of Isobar as well as Molecular on the strategy side during his career, is back with his monthly contribution to this here site. Let it roll, Simon.

I was having a flashback.

Last week I was on a stage in front of around five hundred financial advisors at a large resort hotel in Orlando.  The flashback was of a similar room at the NEC in Birmingham (in the UK, not Alabama) filled with professional photographers back in 1994.

Back in 1994 I was part of a panel on trends in photography and my role (I was a PR flak for Kodak at the time) was to promote how digital cameras would be the future of photography.  This was just months after Apple had launched the QuickTake 100 digital camera with a stellar 640×480 resolution.  It was a tough sell, and understandably, I was pretty much laughed off stage.

The trigger for my flashback, besides the similar setting, was Mike Walsh, the keynote speaker on stage before me today. Mike, an author and speaker on the digital future and emerging markets focused his speech on how embracing disruptive technologies and behaviors will drive success in the future.

As an aside, Mike may have the best email signature ever.  His company is called ‘Tomorrow’, so of course his email sign-off reads “Mike, CEO, Tomorrow”.

At the conference in Orlando last week I was much better received than the debacle back in Birmingham.  My presentation shared the research we undertook and trends we identified that were manifested in the design of a new logged-in financial management tool our client was previewing at the conference.

But the moment got me thinking more about disruption and whether my team and the marketing / digital agency world as a whole embraces disruption.

Clearly we are working in the digital space so are not at the trailing edge of change.  But, do we clearly understand the field of possible disruptive forces out there? Are we, day-to-day, seeing disruption and helping clients navigate the change successfully? Are we maybe even driving disruption?

Let’s look at a few of the bigger, recent disruptive forces out there.

Mobile. We are all building mobile sites, apps and campaigns. Yet, when we look at how mobile devices are driving more intimacy (hence any opportunities for personalization) are we creating new types of experiences for all of our clients?
-   Workplace change. Ways of working have changed, physical office environments have changed, and enterprise social networks are evolving internal communications. But, when we are advising our B2B clients, who need to sell into these changed workplaces, have we evolved the stories or the methods we use to tell those stories?
- Big data. Big data may be one of the hottest and most profound disruptive changes affecting the marketing world.  Mining data can produce insights we could never even imagine a few years ago, yet, do we day-to-day ask the right questions of the data and let the data really drive our strategies?

If we can answer yes to these three, and other similar questions, then I believe we are playing our part in helping our clients with their future success.

I’m a pragmatist, so of course I realize that our day-to-day efforts are somewhat more mundane, and the chance to be part of disruptive change does not occur every day. But when it does, we need to drive it.  We also need to be aware that often we will encounter resistance, individual clients that are threatened by change, and sometimes butt up against our own fears of embracing change.

Whenever we do face such resistance I find data is our best argument.  During one client engagement last year the executives of the B2B enterprise said that their biggest customers used their sales team as a source of information and did not visit the website. They claimed that the site was for smaller customers only. That may have been the scenario they wanted to believe, but digging into the data found that those large customers not only visited the site regularly, but did so more frequently than their smaller customers. This data allowed us to propose a new (and dare I say, disruptive) strategy that focused on creating more of a three-way relationship between the sales team, the web and their customers, enabling the sales team to focus on higher-value interactions.

After my presentation in Orlando, a number of the financial advisors came over and were keen to see how they could leverage the ideas we were showing in their own businesses. Unlike the professional photographers from 20 years they understood that change was affecting their industry today. They understood they could potentially be dis-intermediated by technology and needed to continually and incrementally add value for their clients every day.

I say, bring on the disruption, we are ready.

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