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10 December

Innovation is About Recognizing User Behavior, Not Reinventing the Wheel


With bigger budgets and more responsibility, creatives face bigger scrutiny on the return of their campaigns—and businesses are under pressure for better, more engaging experiences. The secret to pulling it off? A clear vision of user behavior.

SoDA just released its annual Global Digital Outlook Report, made in collaboration with Forrester, surveying the shifting needs and priorities for agencies and marketers alike. SoDA – The Digital Society is a network of entrepreneurs, agencies and production companies focused on producing digital experiences that push the limits of marketing. The organization encourages knowledge-sharing and collaboration between business leaders and creatives to tackle the challenges of the industry, of which the report is a primary example.

According to this year’s report, spending is on the rise: 54% of marketing leaders plan to increase their digital spend in 2019, but they’re also a bit pickier about where that money’s going. Under pressure to meet the always-growing need for content or the tough-to-pin-down goals of leadership elsewhere in the business, businesses need collaborators who are closely aligned with the needs and behaviors of their audience, and can provide the technical expertise to build upon that in fun, interesting and buzzworthy ways.

“Real innovation lies in learning how to start matching your products and services to evolve with user behavior.”

Wesley ter Haar

Co-Founder & COO, MediaMonks

What Does “Innovation” Really Mean Anymore?

According to MediaMonks founder and COO Wesley ter Haar, who served as Guest Editor-in-Chief of the report, innovation is more about understanding existing user behavior. This stands in opposition to the conventional idea of “innovation,” which is typically touted as investment in the newest flashy platform (blockchain, anyone?). Rather than truly innovate, many businesses seem caught up in chasing the perception of innovation.

And true innovation is scary, because it requires risk-taking and sometimes failure. But with that comes learning opportunities, where the real value lies. “We must … remove the fear typically associated with trying and failing, and instead reward the passion to explore,” writes Josh Crick of CANVAS United in the report.

24% of business leaders say that differentiating their brand through innovation is their top strategy for growth, while 22% are focused on embracing emerging technology before their competitors. But rushing to support the hottest platform for the moment creates a sense of hype that could blow up in business’ faces. Not falling for the hype cycle behind the trend-of-the-week requires taking a deep look at how new platforms build upon native user behavior, allowing for more engaging experiences to be made. Because more agencies are likely to specialize in emerging technology like voice, AI and experiential activations in the next year, it will be important for businesses to gauge how well their prospective partners really understand the value of these platforms and have the track record to prove it.

“Brands that start looking at consumers as co-designers can expect increased engagement and loyalty."

Micha Savelsbergh


Part of that challenge is understanding and anticipating the ways audiences on those platforms use them. This is because “Brands that start looking at consumers as co-designers and make it fast and easy for them to express themselves can expect increased engagement and loyalty,” Micha Savelsbergh of INDG writes in the report. The businesses and their partners with an intimate understanding of user behaviors are poised to put emerging platforms to best use.

How Can We Build Better Experiences without Falling for the Hype?

If you want an example of how a novel way to drive engagement fell flat, look at the trend of developing “Instagrammable” spaces and moments to drive user-generated content. When used alone, this tactic results in “a grid of identical photos with similarly structured backdrops—the only difference being the people in them.” What was once seen as sophisticated way to enhance a physical space through digital behavior has grown stale. This should give businesses a sense of urgency in building deeper engagement with their audiences.

One solution to engage more meaningfully with audiences is through marketing automation, which was listed as the top emerging technology for marketers and agencies alike, according to the SoDA Global Digital Outlook report. But despite its popularity, a lot of businesses struggle to add value to the user experience with the technology, instead using it in creepy and invasive ways, like that time when Target outed a girl’s pregnancy to her parents through a mailer. But marketing automation can enhance storytelling and experiences when put to use by creatives, who are finding themselves with a significantly bigger impact on the strategic direction of their business than before: 67% of businesses polled by the report said that creative leaders impact strategy. This shift demonstrates how the traditional divisions between departments and skillsets are breaking down.

Today's technology lets creatively-oriented companies add “a level of empathy to what is possible from an engineering perspective.”

Wesley ter Haar

Co-Founder & COO, MediaMonks

Once viewed as something for the IT department to worry about alone, creative-focused companies are looking for ways to enhance their storytelling through data afforded by the tech. With APIs making marketing automation more accessible, says ter Haar, “a creatively-oriented company can add in what they are great at, which is understanding user behavior and adding a level of empathy to what is possible from an engineering perspective.” This means the innovative experiences of today and tomorrow will require both creativity, business acumen and some technological know-how.

Whether you’re an agency providing marketing materials in-house or a business seeking partnerships to realize your vision, it’s essential that collaborators have a clear understanding of how digital platforms—especially those surrounded by hype—have the potential to provide real value to the experiences you create. And that’s just one of several topics covered in the Global Digital Outlook report detailing agencies’ and marketers’ key insights and outlooks on future platforms and emerging technologies. With clear, transparent understanding of what all what’s at stake for everyone—including partners as well as users—businesses are better equipped to truly innovate and grow rather than simply follow the bandwagon.

Ready to innovate? Read the 2019 SoDA Global Digital Outlook Report in full.

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