In his weekly column, Shivaji Dasgupta argues that the time is ripe to apply the idea of ‘Reverse Imagineering’ where the core experience – and not just its articulation – is influenced by talented creative professionals
Delhi | March 14, 2017
Everywhere today the finest creative minds are being wasted in the act of making promises and not designing deliveries where their impact can be truly spectacular. Communication agencies are hired merely to articulate the artificial function of positioning when technicians and domain experts control the development of real products and services. In a world where brands are enjoyed as multi-level experiences and not just rational transactions, culture exponents must be deployed at the top end of the value chain. Time is thus ripe to apply the idea of ‘Reverse Imagineering’ where the core experience – and not just its articulation – is influenced by talented creative professionals.
This scenario is true for most organizations in every sector especially in the so-called old economy. Innovation is a subject controlled very closely by white-coat technicians, industry experts and P&L fiends who apply their familiar filters to go to market. At times even the marketing team steps in when the fundamental design is complete with the clear mandate being to package the same in order to deliver results. Enter the advertising agency in order to apply further coatings to the stated vision of the client and thus create an attractive concocted narrative. A goldmine of insights, understanding and acumen trained to assess the intuitive and rational actions of the customers used in a very sub-optimal fashion. If nurtured correctly it can create valuable points of difference in the design and expression of products and services in every industry.
The earliest casualty of this conservative practice is the inability to apply consumer knowledge from other categories. Eventually of course it limits the application of innovation to a linear track of manufacturing expertise and not imminent developments in society. Every time I get stuck in an elevator I wonder why soothing music is not automatically played like during take-offs and landings in aircraft. Paper Boat does an awesome job with traditional flavours, yet falls short in creating the origination aura of the Body Shop brand. Imagine the next wave of Isabgol to become an easily digestible biscuit like Horlicks in another scenario. How about Nestle Maggi coming up with a ‘Puja Bhog Khichdi’ variant to tap in to the global need for convenient ritualism? Or c-commerce providers marrying the last mile with the MLM model of Amway to build a further leg of relationship with the consumer? Tripadvisor combining hands with Netflix to create a forum for cinematic renditions of tourist locations. Tea consumption will witness a dramatic rise with the installation of hot water vending machines to simply dip the bag which becomes a handbag accessory.
There can be innumerable examples of how a simple application of best practices can be a significant differentiator with original thinking based on societal trends and practices capable of surpassing every known limit. No better example of this than Henry Ford’s creation of the assembly line influenced by the Chicago meat-packer.
Another excellent source of inspiration is the technology industry where a culture of open-source innovation manages to assimilate cross-cultural feedback, thus being able to constantly apply consumer feedback though admittedly restricted to the core domain mostly. The simple point I make is that the most talented creative minds in the human genetic pool are usually employed in advertising agencies and marketing teams. They have the experience to approach innovation from a strong consumer perspective and not the rigid laboratory point of view. Using them to create packaging and paid communication is a colossal waste of talent. In every category experience development will improve considerably especially in an era where that matters most to the stakeholders. As an addendum this will considerably resolve the identity crisis of the half-service advertising agency unfairly struggling to adequately monetize the formidable function of original ideation. For that of course they have to change fundamentally which is a separate meaningful discussion by itself.
Thus the idea of ‘Reverse Imagineering’ will be a useful investment for brand developers all over the world. Very simply it will mean the redeployment of talented culture experts from the bottom to the top-end of the brand value chain, especially communication agencies who will now ably partner R&D and P&L to develop the core experience for the customer. Clients will thus deploy agencies as part of ‘Experience Alliances’ where their wisdom can be tapped at the most fundamental and not the least rational part of the continuum. Rightfully and deservedly marketing will be integrated with R&D or its equivalent as organizational structures evolve to keep pace with changing realities of consumer experience.
Readers familiar with the evolution of technology will be familiar with the Negroponte Switch, the thinking articulated by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab fame. In the early days the relatively unlimited airwaves were being used to supply signals to television sets with limited appetite while the cost-intensive cable lines were used for Internet which naturally had a voracious appetite. Over time the pattern was rapidly reversed thus mapping competencies to requirements according to the rules of sustainability in every industry. ‘Reverse Imagineering’ if executed with commitment will lead to the application of the finest ‘soft’ brainpower to the most necessary function.
A shift from being in the ‘promise business’ to the ‘delivery business’ can become the most significant development for the marketing communications industry. It will certainly lead to a rapid resurgence of advertising professionals constantly in search of renewed meaning. Clients must experiment by creating ‘Experience Alliances’ where the creative director is an integral part of product experience design. Now blessed with the power to significantly influence fact and not just weave fiction around non-negotiable parameters. By the brave but simple act of ‘Reverse Imagineering’ a lot more can be achieved than can possibly be imagined.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory with interests in consulting, training and writing. Till January 2017 he was Executive Vice-President and General Manager of Contract Advertising in Gurgaon. In a career spanning 20 years he has also been associated with Enterprise Nexus, JWT and Rediffusion, advising a wide range of organisations across every sector. He believes firmly that inspiring, intelligent and imaginative strategy must remain the fundamental foundation for brand management. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)