I just got back from CES, which is alive and kicking and appears to have reinvented itself with much aplomb. Along the same lines of IBM transforming itself from a hardware and mainframe company into one that fully embraces software, services and a robust digital ecosystem, CES has taken significant steps to move beyond the Panasonic, Sharp, Sony, Samsung boys club of television sets. I mean, how much thinner can they get without rivaling Christian Bale in “The Machinist”?
Like SxSW, startups were a big part of the conversation, which is music to my ears. I guess they always were insofar that inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs and small businesses could exhibit in some tiny booth in some massive hall “off Broadway,” but today they have so many tools to elevate their presence and visibility. There are also far more events to showcase their talents.
Today, the focus is still predominantly a tangible one (read: headsets and iPhone cases), but it won’t be long until the words “CES” might be renamed “CAS” (Consumer App Show) or something to that effect.
Amid the rush toward courting the startup arena, a whole slew of brands and agencies are looking to dip their toes into the proverbial waters of innovation. In the center of this trend is the “test” (one third of the “Test, Learn, Evolve” triangle.) Some refer to the test as an experiment. Others call it a pilot program. It reminds me of when prospective clients ask me, “Should I call you Joe or Joseph?” -- to which I reply, “I don’t care what you call me, as long as you call me!”
The same response applies to collaborating, partnering or executing with respect to brands and startups: namely, “walk is better than talk.” That said, there is one point I do want to add and in doing so, put a firm stake in the ground.
To make the point, I take you back to something I said around 2007: “Marketing is not a campaign, it’s a commitment.”
I think this statement is critical for sizing up and engaging with startups today and tomorrow. I think it’s absolutely imperative that brands don’t get involved in the startup space just to check a box and provide the superficial air cover that gets them the obligatory article in the trade pubs (the same article they screenshot for their PowerPoint presentations and put into their LinkedIn profiles and resumes.)
Instead, marketers and their agencies should be looking at these partnerships as relationships -- more specifically, long-term partnerships. Just like startups pivot, these collaborations should pivot as well. There should be several rounds of revisions and follow-up “tests” that close the loop and integrate the “learn” part of the equation in order to “evolve.”
Likewise, startups should be looking long-term at their brand’s “white knights” -- and in doing so, should replace green $ signs (as in dollars) with the multicolored logos of bluechip brands. A rich portfolio of clients and case studies is a price above rubies.
We undergo multiple tests: at school, throughout our lives, and even on the silver screen (just ask Indiana Jones). Isn’t it time we apply the same rigor and endurance to the business arena -- specifically as it relates to innovation?