Cautionary tales and the requisite 2011 roundup

2010 is officially winding down and the predictable ritual of pundit predictions for the coming year has commenced. Depending on what you read you will probably surmise that 2011 is going to be “the” year for a lot of disruptive brand innovations that we started hearing about this year, including these three:

  • Group buying will merge more closely with location-based technologies to create smarter targeting options for businesses of all sizes
  • Gaming will find solid footing and become more pervasive (that is, we’ll see consistent gaming experiences across devices and platforms)
  • Usability will drive functionality – the ability for marketers to leverage the tools unique to a mobile phone, for example, will enable them to provide richer and more engaging functionality than they could on their website (or gasp, their actual products)

One of the best sets of predictions that I have seen comes from Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT’s Sloan School (and brother to Elliot Schrage, who I worked with at Google and is now VP of communications at Facebook). His list of six innovations is refreshingly comprehensive and covers important territory – user design, politics and public affairs, gaming and digital coupons. I agree with just about everything he says, but there is a seventh missing prediction – marketers and will become increasingly savvy about measuring the innovations they’re testing within their brands. That will give all six of Schrage’s predictions some solid footing and ensure that they stick around.

There are also cautionary tales from the year, stories of brands that have tested ideas and executions that either didn’t work as intended or over delivered on their intent. There have been grumblings from some Groupon merchants that they were unable to handle the large volume of new customers that the 50% off deals drove to their business (funny how that happens). That is a kink that will have to work itself out if the trend is to get some wind in its sails for 2011. In other examples, companies have continued finding themselves caught off guard by the connectedness of their consumers, struggling to respond in a timely and/or appropriate manner.

The editors at Fast Company had an interesting overview of their recent social media experiment – dubbed “The Influence Project” – and the lessons they learned. The team hired Mekanism, a digital agency, who promised to make the social media campaign go viral. The campaign was met with some criticism which required both their time and their energy in response and defense, and challenges with the technology powering the campaign’s micro-site led to slow loading times and probably left some would-be participants on the sidelines.

Their take is that earned media is called “earned” for a reason, and that no wise marketer would hand over a campaign to a vendor or service provider and expect hands-free results from their investment. Those are lessons that a lot of brands learned in 2010, some of which resulted in “#fails” and punctuated our year with interesting case studies and lots “thank GOD that wasn’t me” wincing.

Innovation and change isn’t easy, and it’s far from turn-key. Instead of offering predictions for 2011, I’ve chosen to provide three simple bullets of advice.

  • Try small things first versus pushing for major investments. Even better if you can execute your ideas yourself, which will give you key learnings and insights into how your organization adapts to innovation and change that you can leverage in expanding your new program ideas.
  • Measure and be diligent about it. Brands and agencies need to do a better job of storytelling using solid metrics. This will mean different things to different organizations, but set some goals up front and be deliberate about measuring them. Don’t duct tape that piece on after the fact and hope for a good review by your peers.
  • Think outside what you know and what you’re reading. True innovation comes from within, not from reapplying others’ case studies to your particular situation.

That’s it – have a great end to the year and keep these recommendations and predictions top of mind as 2011 encroaches upon us. Happy holidays!