How we can adapt to thrive through technology - IPA's consultant head of digital Nigel Gwilliam

The great and the good of the advertising industry gathered on Monday evening to hear IPA President Ian Priest kick off the second ‘Adaptathon’ of his groundbreaking ADAPT agenda.

Nigel Gwilliam, IPA digital consultant

The ‘D’ strand focuses on Diversification – how we can explore the way forward for branded content and innovation strategy. Strategies are key to shaping the future of commercial creativity, and having set the scene at Altitude on Monday, focus on Tuesday morning shifted to the first AdaptLab hosted by tech accelerator, The Bakery.

“Agencies can survive and thrive by partnering with existing tech companies rather than trying to build the technology themselves,” Alex Dunsdon, co-founder of The Bakery told delegates, and indeed Ian Priest’s agenda is all about adapting to survive, and adapting to thrive.

The mission at The Bakery was simple: inspire, provoke and drive trial of a new model for brands, agencies and tech start-ups to partner each other, in turn ensuring we diversify and adapt. A new model where the focus of responding to client briefs shifts from communications solutions to product and service solutions:

“Making things people want > making people want things”

The need for new models is clear. Technological progress continues to drive accelerated change and disruption. The Bakery co-founder, Alex Dunsdon, highlighted three key areas: society (abundant information), talent (the rise of open innovation) and technology itself (software eating the world).

This presents both a threat and an opportunity to agencies. It is increasingly self-evident existing approaches to delivering (and prospering from) commercial creativity are less than perfect. It’s also becoming increasingly clear agencies must work collaboratively rather than attempting to solve every client challenge single-handedly.

This was brought into sharp relief by Jeremy Bassett, Strategy & New Ventures Director of Unilever who stated “partnering tech start-ups will be how we will pioneer future of marketing”.

The second largest global advertiser is seeking out start-ups not just to source new technology but also because they provide affordable experimentation (or affordable failure!) and a transformational mindset - I’m not allowed to share the sheer scale of Unilever’s plans in this space.

In fact, perhaps the key phrase of the whole morning was “affordable failure”. Classic communications strategies predicated on bought media, that pretty much guarantee an audience, minimise the scale of failure - at least relatively.

In contrast, as highlighted at the AdaptLab, one of single greatest barriers to delivering product and service solutions is the high cost, high risk nature of building them bespoke.

Rather, it would be better for agencies to adopt a high-value intermediary role, matching client needs to start-ups and their products, and thus shift to a low cost, low risk environment where success can arise amid instances of affordable failure.

How agencies can practically work with innovative technology, of which there is now no shortage, was wonderfully brought to life by Piers Taylor and Sam Battams from Vizeum. The essential positioning for an agency is in the potentially tense space between vast, often publicly listed, clients - rightly obsessed with their brand, and rather tiny, young but dynamic start-ups desperate to survive and prosper.

Imagine bringing together the world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, with a social gifting start-up – Vizeum’s description of managing both side’s expectations as “interesting” was in all likelihood the height of understatement.

They went on to describe their experiences pairing BMW and Panasonic with Digital Genius, provider of AI Virtual Assistants that answer human questions with virtual, natural language answers. The founder of Digital Genius’s parent company is 21.

Agencies add value by speaking the language of each side, providing access to required skillsets and delivering commercialisation. In return for this, a whole new world of idea-based opportunity arises, with access to new revenue streams via a licensing plus model. In the process they can upstream their client relationship, gaining consideration for problems way beyond their traditional remit.

This is hugely significant for agencies: a new remuneration model for high value, future-proofed service delivery to their clients from smart partnering with tech start-ups.

I would usually leave it there, but with SXSW Interactive around the corner, I think it’s necessary to reference the selection of hugely exciting, London-based tech start-ups on show at The Bakery. To me, the common theme between the most compelling, were their understanding that the world is now about making the digital real, and the real digital.

Let me end with my take on some of their missions:

Everything: “Imagine all products have a digital life. Connecting products to the internet to people.”

IDx: “Quantified self and wearable technology.”

Ensygnia: “Frictionless commerce via your smartphone as remote control.”

Provenance: “Demonstrate product authenticity and responsibility via transparent supply chain told as a product story.”

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.