What CMOs Can Learn From KBS+’s Invention Culture – Forbes
As CMOs talk about creating more innovative cultures, or structures that foster new ideas and creativity, agency KBS+ has been experimenting for the last few years with its own version of that, a step beyond innovation, it argues—which it has dubbed an invention culture.
I caught up with Lori Senecal, chairman and CEO of KBS+, with clients including BMW and HomeGoods, to learn more about how she is defining it, what the agency has been doing in this regard and why–and how it could be a blueprint for CMOs seeking to implement something similar.
How are you defining invention culture?
There are two things that were important for us: Having that big inspiring belief that people can really get behind—for us, [it] was that power of invention. And second was tangible action that we take to live up to our invention culture. We are inventing things with clients, with CMOs. We think there was a lot of talk about innovation in the industry and we felt to really distinguish ourselves we wanted to create something that hadn’t been seen or done before. We’ve seen cultures of innovation before. We felt that space was well-trod territory. We wanted to push beyond to genuine invention. We wanted to go for the true firsts. The real inventions. Product development is certainly a part of that. One of the things that was critical was building a space for making in the agency. We did build a 6,800-square-foot space for making. It houses a couple of things: our tech shop, for rapid prototyping for making physical products. Ours is stocked with all the tools that an inventor would need, like soldering irons and circuit boards. Also in the Maker Space we want to be able to create content, so it includes our Content Lab to create editorial content at the speed of social media.
Did you hire from the outside and from different areas to meet the “invention culture” demands, or train existing employees?
Having the inventing culture has really reinforced for our employees what the expectation is. We need time to reframe marketing challenges through an invention lens. But then of course given that we are really getting into this maker space, we had to bring on new kinds of people to supplement. Product architects, engineers, IP sales people, journalists—definitely some new skill sets that come in in order to deliver on the promise.
How much is it a new revenue stream?
It is something that fuels the work we do for our clients and also the work we do for ourselves. The nail polish [we created] is an example of intellectual property that we’ve created for ourselves and would create a unique revenue stream. Also sometimes we’ll create an invention specifically for a client and we’ll work on that together, and in that situation the client will own the IP. In other cases, we’ll create an invention and own the IP and a client will brief us and we’ll license that to the client.
Take, for example, the iPad wall that we created for Puma. We skimmed it and customized it for Puma retail stores and called it the Puma Joy Pad. We could also use it for other applications or clients as well, for example, any other application that it might have relevance or that we have the IP for. So it would be incremental to the production of the unit. There’s certainly a revenue stream aspect of it. But it sets the bar for the kind of work we want to do overall.
Never has the need for differentiation been greater in order to validate the ideas and the contribution. [Taking the inventor POV] has really expanded our creative canvas. We feel when we do approach things with that bold inventor lens, the value of the ideas have more impact. We actually try to hold ourselves to a higher level of return. We want to aim for that exponential return that is a true invention marketplace.
Advice to CMOs seeking to set up similar cultures?
We do believe that the way to drive culture is to have that big inspiring belief that people can get behind and then create the tangible examples of that belief. It can’t all be talk. When we talked about creating that maker space, what we found was a lot of our clients use that for their marketing team gathering because they find it quite inspiring and fun. It’s about not just talking about it but making sure you do things differently to demonstrate your commitment.
For us, when you’re creating inventions with your clients it really does take two to tango. Inventions work best when both organizations share that common mindset. You have to really trust each other. There’s always some risk in creating wholly new things. Be ready for the potential curveball and be willing to work throughout those things together. They need to be brave and have that level of trust in their partners to be able to work through the challenges where there is no roadmap.
How are you tracking ROI on these efforts?
We certainly measure the impact of each of the inventions that we’re creating. We know what the ROI is for the ones we create for our clients.
Beyond the monetary returns, there have been some great cultural returns as well. When you’re inventing something it requires many people to come together. It results in all of those people with those kinds of perspectives naturally coming together without feeling barriers between their specialties. There’s a great spirit of collaboration. Invention is very fulfilling to top talent. It’s great to be able to really push for things that haven’t existed in the world before or in the marketing world.