What’s the big idea? Razorfish hosts annual Client Summit

The 9th Annual Razorfish Client Summit, held April 21-23 in Las Vegas, asked a simple question: how do great ideas flourish?

In context of the summit’s theme — “Art of the Idea” — companies like Mattel discussed how they’re working with Razorfish to devise innovative marketing ideas and launch new products right in the middle of a recession.  Keynotes like Dave Stewart and Matthew Weiner gave us a peek inside the often chaotic (and very nonlinear) process of creating brilliant, commercially successful ideas.  And Razorfish thought leaders such as Strategy Executive Andrea Harrison and Royce Lee showed us “big ideas” for approaching digital marketing in a different way, whether you’re researching consumer behavior or preparing to launch a product in China.

So what did I get out of the experience?  Three themes stand out:

Innovation is a social act

Shiv Singh, Social Influence Marketing Lead at Razorfish, put it best: “innovate with others or die a slow death.”  Shiv was among the speakers who discussed the relationship between collaboration and innovation.  Shiv went so far as to suggest that employees need to collaborate more aggressively with thinkers outside their organizations (not just with each other) in developing new products and services.   Meantime Andrea Harrison provided a different take on the social nature of ideation when she unveiled a new Razorfish consumer research approach: Social Graph Analysis.  Andrea contended that to really understand one’s customers, you need to research their behaviors in social settings to see who informs their decision making and how.  And yet, many companies remain stuck in the mindset of creating user personas in isolation.  Andrea delivered a compelling case for reinventing consumer insight.

Shiv Singh looking dapper and sounding smart

All photos courtesy of Ray Velez, Razorfish

And then there was keynote Dave Stewart.

In an unbelievably mind-blowing presentation that had the audience gasping at times, Dave helped us understand where he finds ideas and how he develops them into profitable ventures.  And given that he’s a successful musician and counselor to Nokia, he knows what he’s talking about.  The highlight of his appearance occurred when, joined by a singer onstage, he collaborated with the Client Summit audience to write a song in real time.  He asked the audience to shout lyrics and phrases, which he either rejected outright or turned into melodies.  In other words, he didn’t tell us about collaboration — he got us involved.  And he pushed us beyond our comfort zones, just as creative collaboration can do in real life.  Some audience members volunteered ham-handed lyrics while others were too shy to try.  But eventually we got better at working with Dave.  After he left the Client Summit, he flew back to Los Angeles, mixed the song, “500 Minds,” and made it available on his website, davestewart.com.

Collaboration: sometimes ugly, sometimes awkward, but ultimately fascinating and (I think with Dave Stewart’s song) successful.

I can truly say I’ve never done that before.

Dave Stewart rocks the house

Big ideas deliver value.  Now.

We’ve been hearing a lot about how innovating during a recession helps prepare you for an economic turnaround.  But the Client Summit client case studies showed that a big idea can deliver business value now, smack dab in the middle of a bruising recession.  For instance, Chuck Scothon and Betsy Burkett of Mattel, and Jill Druschke of Razorfish, discussed how Mattel has worked with Razorfish to celebrate Barbie’s 50th anniversary through a digital experience that encompasses a Twitter identity, Barbie blog, content posted on YouTube, a microsite, and a successful Facebook page.  The big idea: instead of doing a massive TV buy, create a digital lifestyle for Barbie to reposition her with grown-up women.  According to Mattel, the Barbie brand has enjoyed 18 percent domestic sales growth (reversing a decline in sales) since undertaking the effort.

Barbie: All Doll’d Up

Matthieu de Lesseux of Duke Razorfish shared a witty case study about how McDonald’s France wanted to make 66 million French food lovers also love fast food at McDonald’s.  The big idea: create a series of viral videos in which a self-appointed official hassles unsuspecting diners attempting to enter a McDonald’s restaurant (and rejecting them for a variety of ridiculous reasons). The “punk’d” style video series was not only hilarious but rewarding: McDonald’s France has realized a 7.7 percent increase in sales during the launch of the campaign.

Those are just two obvious examples.  There were many more.

Fernando Madeira of Terra Latin America: “the reinvention of our web presences is synonymous with reinventing our company”

The experience is the big idea

Porter Gale, vice president of marketing for Virgin America, shared how Virgin has completely reinvented the meaning of an airline as an experience, not just a company that transports you from one place to another.  From providing one-of-a-kind mood lighting to on-demand movies, Virgin has done the inconceivable: made flying fun again.  Even the in-flight safety film is amusing.  She also shared the astounding details of how Virgin monitors Twitter traffic from its customers (she calls them guests).  If a guest tweets negatively about a Virgin experience while in-flight, he or she might find a company greeter waiting at the arrival gate prepared to respond.

Client Summit attendees also demonstrated the importance of the experience as and end unto itself — in their case, by inserting themselves more actively into the Client Summit through their use of Twitter.  Attendees used Twitter to share ideas, critique the presentations, and basically provide a real-time attendee feedback mechanism for the Client Summit team.  They became active content creators and in doing so became unofficial speakers on the agenda through their customer experience.  Throughout the event, the 475 attendees posted nearly 2,300 tweets and retweets using the event hashtag (#rzcs).  At one point, the Client Summit was trending as high as Number 5 in the Twitter universe.

Event emcee Iain McDonald of Amnesia Razorfish engaged the audience in a series of exercises to generate enthusiasm for Twitter, including promising to drop his pants if he could get MC Hammer to return a tweet.  Hammer did reply, and Iain fulfilled his promise — sort of.

In one fascinating exercise, event attendees were challenged to use Twitter to raise awareness for a nonsensical word created on the spot, “Razorfunfish.”  By tweeting the term “Razorfunfish,” attendees managed to generate about 18 pages of “Razorfunfish” results on Google.  We even saw paid search ads on Google.  As one client wrote, “This conference was the tweetiest.”

Razorfish CEO Bob Lord closes the 2009 Client Summit

Statements that resonated

Here are some especially pithy remarks from Client Summit speakers (you can find many more by searching for #rzcs on Twitter):

  • “My life is made out of cocktail napkins.  Got an idea?  Write it down before you forget it.” — Matthew Weiner, the genius behind Mad Men
  • “Don’t waste a good crisis.  Embrace a crisis — it can make you stronger.” — Fernando Madeira, CEO, Terra Latin America
  • “Who owns the Virgin Brand?  Richard Branson, our employees, and our guests.” — Porter Gale, marketing vice president, Virgin America
  • “The future is less about saying things to people and more about building experiences that are relevant.” — Clark Kokich, Razorfish chairman
  • “To succeed in China, build your brand quickly before a local company duplicates your product and extinguishes you brand’ — Royce Lee, Razorfish Greater China
  • “Focus groups are the enemy of innovation.  They help you do something better, not differently.” — Joe Crump, Razorfish Strategy executive
  • “Rebuilding our web presence is like rebuilding our company.”  — Fernando Madeira
  • “Don’t question where ideas come from.  People are saying inspiring things eery day right in front of you.” — Matthew Weiner
  • “User personas too often view people in isolation.  We need to understand people in context of their social behaviors.” — Andrea Harrison, Razorfish Strategy executive
  • “As children, we draw pictures of airplanes.  Then as grown-ups we dread dealing with airline service.” — Porter Gale
  • “The greatest enemy of innovation is associating innovation with creativity.” — Joe Crump
  • “Asking customers to do your marketing doesn’t excuse you from marketing, too.  Your customers will actually make you work harder.” — Shiv Singh
  • “I have 500,000 policeman following me on Twitter.” — Dave Stewart

Reactions from the blogosphere

I’m sure more blog coverage will unfold.  Please share yours with me.

Thank you to Razorfish clients who braved the recession and traveled to Las Vegas. I hope you found the experience worth your time.

Think Social Influence Marketing and innovation during the recession

According to a new survey by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), 77 percent of marketers will reduce their advertising campaign media budgets.

The ANA isn’t the only organization forecasting bad news for the marketing industry.  Forrester Research recently predicted that marketing budgets will see typical decreases of 15-to-25 percent as enterprises decrease their spend on information technology goods and services.  Basically the message to marketers and their agency partners (like my employer Razorfish) is this: we’re in a recession — deal with it.  In this blog post, I’m going to answer three crucial questions on the minds of marketers and agencies as we deal with the recession.

1. Are we witnessing an industry implosion a la 2001-02?

Times are tough, to be sure.  But we’re not experiencing the digital marketing sector meltdown of 2001-02. Back then, the industry was bloated with digital services firms, and, what’s more, they concentrated too much client work on risky dot-coms.  When the dot-coms imploded, we saw a natural winnowing out.  Today, the players are more stable, and so are their clients.  I don’t think we’re going to see a wave of business collapses as we did during the dot-com implosion.  Rather, as Razorfish Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Lanctot recently stated, we can expect big players like Razorfish to continue to grow via targeted, smallish acquisitions around the world.

2. What happens to social media during a recession?

Social media used to be perceived as the marketer’s nemesis.  Now suddenly social media is the marketer’s best friend.  Why?  Because marketers realize that amid an economic downturn, it’s a lot more cost-effective to use social media channels like Twitter to build awareness among influencers.

But that doesn’t mean marketers will take a smart approach to social media.  In fact, I believe that social media will separate the savvy marketers from the followers during the recession.  The followers will settle for remedial, poorly formulated applications of social media in the name of saving money (“Let’s just post a video of our new product on YouTube, link our company announcement on Twitter, and call it a day”). But savvy marketers will take a more systematic approach to employing social influencers and media to achieve their marketing and business objectives — a strategy that my colleague Shiv Singh identified as Social Influence Marketing in 2007.

Savvy marketers will emerge from the recession more effective for having embraced Social Influence Marketing.  They will move beyond the role of strategic counselor to the enterprise (although that role is important) and become active participants in Social Influence Marketing (e.g., by blogging and joining communities that matter to their clients).  Savvy marketers will figure out how to make their company brands more authentic and true to their cultural values by listening to their own employees’ blogs and Twitter posts.  They will stop worrying about employees “subverting their brand” through the proliferation of blogs and instead learn from their own brand ambassadors.

This journey is starting now as the recession forces marketers to take a closer look at deploying social media as a cost-effective way to build their brands.

3. What’s the best way to market ourselves in a recession?

Conventional wisdom says that during down times, you place more focus on ways you can help marketers achieve efficencies and measure ROI — like the Razorfish RIAx offering, which tracks the performance of rich media.  But a recession is also a time to innovate (especially if your competitors are not) so that you’re ready to flourish when a turnaround arrives.  In the December 2008 Wired, Daniel Roth asserts, “When the economy is in turmoil, the time is ripe for ambitious innovation.”  He cites numerous examples of companies like Siebel that took advantage of slack times to generate new ideas that helped them leapfrog competitors who were wallowing in cost cutting.

Moreover, when Intel announced its new Core i7 chip as the recession became more evident last year, Don Clark of The Wall Street Journal noted that the new product roll-out was “the latest sign that development cycles run counter to business cycles at high-tech companies.”  (Razorfish helped Intel with the effort through our involvement in the Intel Digital Drag Race, which generated buzz for the Core i7 among creative designers and games.)

So why innovate during slack times?  As Sean Maloney of Intel said in The Wall Street Journal, “You recover from a recession with tomorrow’s products, not today’s.”  And according to Daniel Roth during lean times, materials and labor required to experiment can be found for less money than during boom times.

At Razorfish, we’re using the down time to experiment with new ideas, too, like the Generational Tags we developed to measure consumer behavior on social media sites.  At our 9th Annual Client Summit April 21-23 in Las Vegas, “Art of the Idea,” we’ll examine the relationship between innovation and ROI.

How are you dealing with the recession?