Contagious: Now / Next / Why Sessions (PART II)

By Digital Strategy — July 1, 2013 - 2:37 pm

Contagious magazine hosted its annual Now / Next / Why session in early May at the New York Academy of Science. The conference brought together a diverse group of opinion leaders, innovators, technology enthusiasts and creators that included exciting guest speakers and Contagious team members alike. Conversations focused on “ideas for the modern person (or ‘consumer’ as many in marketing still insist on using)” and topics ranged from heightened sensitivity to time and timeliness to rapidly changing perceptions of value and currency to fostering innovation while welcoming constraints.  As some of the brightest minds of our industry addressed these thought provoking questions and conundrums, we found ourselves inspired and excited to share the key themes we have heard in two parts.

1. “Adaptive Innovation”, Will Sansom, Contagious & Howard Pyle, IBM

Soundbite: “We should welcome constraints as pragmatism is vital to the future of innovation.”

What They Said: It is a sweeping cliché, but it does not make it any less right: Digital technology forever changed the way we live our lives and raised consumer expectations which in turn increased the pressure on brands and agencies. Fearing change and ignoring innovation is no longer an option and embracing both is the only way for brands to remain relevant. However, organizing a brand to yield innovation is in and of itself a paradox because “by its very nature, innovation cannot be siloed or contained.

Moreover, a major requirement for adaptive innovation is welcoming constraints. While this may not be something routinely mentioned in the same vein as innovation, it is important in differentiating creativity (internal) from innovation (external), which should always be filtered through the lenses of pragmatism, objectivity and iteration.

What We Heard: While planning for innovation is not easy, it remains an absolute business necessity, and the way we go about it partially depends on how innovation is defined: Is it about being 1st to market with a “big bang inspiration”? Or being 2nd and getting it right for consumers? Is it about disruption? Or, is it about refining? Above all, innovation is about being adaptive which is fueled by survival instinct – not just to survive competition, but also not to be left behind by consumers. That is why brands are adopting different approaches, such as innovation labs, open R&D departments, start up accelerators and collaborative techniques in trying to not only answer the elusive question of “what’s next?”, but also to refine existing tools and technologies.

2. “Storytelling Franchise”, Wendy Clark, The Coca Cola Company

Soundbite: “George Bernard Shaw said it best: ‘We don’t stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing,’ and science tells us teens need more play – to learn, grow, contribute and, indeed, reach their potential.”

What They Said: Fanta is immersing teens in its playful, colorful world through a groundbreaking digital storytelling platform called Play Fanta.

The brains behind the brand challenged themselves to make all elements of the new campaign playable across technology platforms, geographies and languages – from TV spots and mobile content, to social interactions and HTML games, to print ads and PDFs. Play Fanta was driven by research that reveals the fundamental and positive role of play in teens’ emotional, social, cognitive and physical development.

What We Heard: The brief was ‘everything needs to be playable,’ so the biggest shift for Fanta was how they explored technology. They did extensive research to identify how to build content that works on every screen, and also created a mechanism where players are part of the content creation as well as content discovery cycle.

3. “Beyond Screens”, Nick Parrish, Contagious & Ivan Poupyrev, Disney Research

Soundbite: “With the rise of global wearable tech market, the key challenge is how to take it from visual spam to contextual branding.”

What They Said: Wearable computers will ultimately disappear as our body itself acts as an interface to relay information. Moving beyond interruptive screen experiences, these new interfaces allow people to reconnect with their environment, and other people, to be more present in the moment.

Gesture, voice and touch offer more natural ways for brands and people to interact, enabling brands to build an emotional bond. But wearable computers and these new interfaces are currently alien to most people. Whether they go from early adopter to novelty to mass market will depend on companies showing the value of these new interfaces to people’s everyday lives.

What We Heard: Technology is allowing millenniums to live in the moment and connect in a human way.  Natural interfaces, freed from the confines of screens, have the potential to make traditional digital marking more emotionally resonant, human, and ultimately more powerful.

It will be more important than ever for brands to engage consumers beyond screens: beyond touch, the physical experience with the brand will be augmented by technology. This will allow for enhancements to the real world with interactivity, functionality, and entertainment. However, one caveat: brands – as well as users – will need to be mindful of privacy concerns and clearly demonstrate the information they are gathering and how it’s useful to users.

The agenda for this year’s Contagious conference was particularly exciting as it touched upon many different topics with every single one of them having a strong focus on the consumer or as they like to say “the modern person.” This made it all very relatable and relevant, and we are looking forward to watching these trends unfold as well as identifying their various applications and evolutions in the upcoming weeks and months.


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