When Havas Media North America hired Tom Goodwin early this year to be head of strategy and innovation, it did not include the words “future” or “futurist” in his title, but a large part of Goodwin’s role is understanding where the near- and not-so-distant futures of media can be applied and accelerated in ways that give Havas and its clients a competitive advantage. In the following Q&A, Goodwin explains his thinking, his vision and how it can be applied today.
Media Daily News: Describe what your role is at Havas?
Tom Goodwin: I’m very lucky in that I get paid to think! My role is about understanding the changes in behavior, technology and media, and then to use that information to inspire new thinking and new ideas, and then to bring them to life. It could be anything from what the internet of things means for our clients, to what wearables make possible, to the role of VR, to how mobile coupons could develop. The key is making something from it. For me innovation is nothing unless it turns into something real and something meaningful.
MDN: What areas of the business do you think require the most focus on innovation right now?
Goodwin: I think we need to innovate in two very broad areas. First we need to start working around people and not our own interests or channels. The notion of a media channel makes decreasing sense-- if we watch TV on a Smartphone, is that TV or Mobile? . We need to create new processes and structures, and bring in new talent to take advantage of the evolving media landscape. In the same way that radio stations were first books read out on air, and television shows were plays that were filmed, we’ve tended to simply repurpose advertising units that were invented several decades ago. In a few months we may stick a TV ad on Instagram and call it innovation. This isn’t enough. My first goal is to create new ad experiences with new calls to action, and not to just find ways to put old ad units in new places. It’s about bringing media and creative together.
Secondly, we need to re-evaluate the role of advertising. I’d like to see the marketing industry look beyond our current remit of brand communications and take our skills upstream. For me, media agencies should not be advising clients on how to spend marketing money, but applying design thinking, creativity, data and consumer understanding to solve client business problems.
MDN: How do you know which areas to focus on that will actually lead to business results vs. being interesting, but potentially low-yielding dead-ends?
Goodwin: The hardest thing with innovation is that it needs people to take a risk. You can’t do anything for the first time if you need to show the ROI or previous success stories, because by definition it’s never been done before. As an industry, we need to focus on our gut feelings and on superb ideas, not just data supported arguments.
I worry that our industry has become one of extremes. There are a lot of people doing the same safe stuff because it’s always worked and not taking advantage of newer, better solutions. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have people doing Meerkats on day two or the first VR ads, it’s all just for the trade press and the ad world. I think it’s best to find an approach for each client that spans these extremes and focuses on innovation that works. And let’s be sure to put in place robust measurements so we learn a lot from all we do.
MDN: Conversely, what areas do you think are being overlooked by the industry that could be game-changing opportunities in the future.
Goodwin: I believe that the industry is going to start targeting at a user level, not using a piece of content as a proxy for a person, but actually serving messages directly to consumers. Whether it’s cookie-based or UDID-based, or something like “addressable” that serves ads at a household level, this shift will change everything.
I see incredible value in how these ads can all work together across different channels. We won’t work around channels but instead design advertising experiences or flow advertising that allows ads to be served to move people down the funnel.
And that leads us to better calls-to-action. Right now, we still move people to visit websites or enter some silly competition. Why not use ads to download mobile coupons or send offers to friends, or save locations to bookmark, or make phone calls?
MDN: How do you reconcile your role between innovating and applying it into strategy. In other words, how do you walk the line between theoretical and applied innovation?
Goodwin: The hardest part of my job is establishing the “focal point.” It’s all well and true to talk about self driving cars as a new media environment but until you can buy one, it’s not valuable. At the other extreme, it’s easy to get bogged down by what is most easy to buy and make, but what is done by everyone else and produces no meaningful advantage. My approach is to take a long hard look at the future and what will be possible one day, and to consider an entry point that is buyable in the next 4 months, and make it happen.
MDN: What do you think of other agencies' getting directly into the ventures game to fuel innovation vis a vis capital, and do you think that's something other agencies should get involved in. Or is it best left to professional venture capital firms, or clients to do directly?Goodwin: I think hypothetically there is a huge change to bring media owners, brands and technology together around goals that work well for everyone. I think the role of media agencies needs to be about collaboration and openness and fostering creativity, but the key is how that is done, and how we ensure that everything is about the best interests of our clients.