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Think BR: What brands can learn from start-ups

It's time for brands to embrace the new generation of innovators, writes Ronnie Crosbie, planning director, Outside Line.

Ronnie Crosbie, planning director, Outside Line

Ronnie Crosbie, planning director, Outside Line

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When start-ups like Instagram start selling themselves for $1billion, it’s time to sit up and take note.

We know that technology has had a profound effect on what we can do. The internet and the rise of social has connected 40 million UK computers and turned them into 40 million community centres, market places and creative hubs.

Suddenly, we have an explosion of underground creativity that has access to a massive audience. It’s a perfect storm for grassroots innovation.

There was a time when revolutionary innovation would take decades. Now it lasts months. Just think of the game changing touch screen phone. It’s definitely not an item restricted to technophiles.

Evolution and adoption of the touch screen phone has been so rapid that iPhones and the like have become ubiquitous, even amongst technophobes and less wealthy parts of society. 

The flipside of the internet’s ability to hand power to the masses, however, is that consumers are becoming more demanding and marketers have to respond by staying ahead of the curve.

Everyone in the marketing game now has to be more open-minded in order to survive.

It’s great that savvy marketers can spot a new opportunity and pounce on it ... Pinterest being the latest case in point.

But what savvy marketers really need to do is develop their own Pinterests. And this is where big brands can learn a thing or two from start-ups.

O2 is leading the way, having recently made an incredibly smart move by launching a UK base for its Wayra technology accelerator programme.

The initiative nurtures bright young start-ups but is not a mere act of benevolence. The Wayra programme gives O2 a powerful way of tapping into the mass innovation that is coming from the vibrant field of digital enterprise (alongside a suspected - and cunning - additional revenue stream in the form of partial IP ownership).

Successful start-ups tend to come from young and dynamic talents, people who haven’t yet had their sensibilities moulded by the working practices of established business.

There’s an excitability that goes hand in hand with the enterprising start-up philosophy; an unbridled energy and a risk-taking mindset. And it’s this not-yet-jaded passion that is the key to Instagram-like innovation.

Although most brands don’t even realise it, they have access to a unique and precious resource - their consumers.

In today’s digitally saturated culture, if brands don’t give consumers what they want, consumers will use the internet to find it elsewhere … and perhaps even create their own version.

The shift in power is now tilting in favour of consumers. If brands don’t use social opportunities to get their customers on board, these customers may well turn into competitors.

But this shift in power shouldn’t be seen as a threat; it’s an opportunity.

Socially engaged consumers offer amazing potential for fresh insight and input. This type of consumer-driven leadership adds a very practical dimension to the art of innovation by basing the trigger for that innovation on direct consumer need. 

The world is accelerating and with it, the process of commoditisation. A gap exists between what people have and what they really want.

The more brands can involve people, the more this gap can be closed. People originally bought raw goods, then products, then services.

Now, they want to buy an 'experience' too. A consumer gets a lot more satisfaction, affection and brand connection from making their own shoes - under branded guidance, of course - rather than buying them off the shelf.  

It’s this increased rate of commoditization that is further driving innovation. But, to compete, brands have to be prepared to take risks and act more like start-ups.

Rather than dedicating 100% of resources to tried and tested practices, established brands should put 70% into well rehearsed structures, 20% into experimenting with new opportunities, platforms and partners ... with the last 10% being invested in engaging with consumers to develop their own new opportunities, platforms and partners.

It’s time brands embraced the new and powerful generation of Zuckerberg-shaped CEOs by opening up to their consumers.

Ronnie Crosbie, planning director, Outside Line

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