The Start-Up Revolution Is NOT A Media Revolution

When I speak with marketers about their innovation and start-up ambitions, the conversation inevitably veers towards digital media forms, data, content creation and consumer reach and engagement.

This is driven, of course, by the fact that “media” is a language that marketers traditionally speak very well, and also by the fact that the first wave of digital innovation had a large media component. Think about browsers (Netscape), platforms (AOL, Yahoo, Google), video (YouTube) and social media (Facebook and Twitter).

The wave of new digital innovations that has led to the current status of our (digital) media landscape is, and will continue to, disrupt the marketer’s media world. So it's important and relevant to comprehend and address this element.

But VCs and start-ups have never been exclusively digital-media-focused. Whether you read news and commentary about start-ups, or just look around the scene, you will quickly realize that only a small percentage of start-up innovation is driven by “media” or “advertising.” (I place these two words in quotes so you can use them in whatever definition you feel comfortable with.)



I am writing this column while I am on a business trip in Tokyo, where I lived from the late 1990s to early 2000s. At that time, Japan was at the forefront of tech innovation (I had a DoCoMo phone in 2001 on which I could watch CNN and pay for a Coke from a vending machine!). Today, Japan again has a lively start-up scene that's beginning to spread its wings and influence globally (think of Line, for instance). This time, it’s not miniaturization or hardware that is driving the innovation wave. It is actually just as broad in focus as every other start-up ecosystem anywhere in the world.

For instance, if you work in HR, you will already have felt the impact of start-ups if you are using Salesforce data to understand the capabilities and delivery of sales targets of (yup) your salesforce. And perhaps you are using AnyPerk to incentivize your star employees. The innovation revolution in HR is only just starting.

If you look at the car industry, you will have noticed that it has started to incorporate digital technologies, platforms and (yes) media into the car at a pace that science fiction would have found hard to predict. The car has become a huge data user and generator, and now incorporates innovations such as touch screens, voice command, GPS, tiny HD cameras, Bluetooth, heads-up displays, batteries, and much more. The same is true for trains and airplanes.

Now think about anything to do with pets, mobility, weddings, travel, dating, food and beverage, sports, etc. VC-funded innovation can literally be found in any kind of product or service you can possibly think of. It is, in fact, safe to say that regardless of where you play your role in the economy, somebody somewhere is working on -- or already delivering -- a new and evolved model of whatever it is that you are doing.

As a marketer, it is sobering but also helpful to think about this: The “digital media revolution” is a far-too-narrow lens to apply to the world shaping and impacting your consumer. Simply adding Periscope or programmatic to your media mix does not tick the box of participation in the new digitally driven innovation economy.

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