Mining Big Challenges to Drive Purposeful Innovation

By WomenAdvancing Archives
Cover image for  article: Mining Big Challenges to Drive Purposeful Innovation

January 1, 2007 was a Monday. I know this because Team Detroit, WPP's bespoke agency that handles Ford Motor Company's business in global markets, now known as GTB, officially opened the doors to their then-new Dearborn office a day later -- Tuesday, January 2. Three days later I walked through those doors as the Head of Digital Media Operations. This was a brand-new position both for them and for me, and it marked a significant progression in my career. They hired me to create one high-performing team from the digital media practices of the six agencies that were combined to form Team Detroit.

Performing this job was a daunting task with many logistical challenges. Some of these included melding the unique cultures of six agencies into one team with a new culture that had one set of processes aligned with the needs of our client. Onboarding to a new client business is always challenging; doing this from the starting place of six agencies made it all the more complicated.

Meanwhile, the economy was slipping into a recession and the automotive industry in Detroit was at the center of the crisis. The pressure on our client and their entire industry was enormous and, in turn, their agencies shared in this pressure. We had extreme scrutiny on our budgets, which of course included the digital budgets. We reworked the budget tens if not hundreds of times

I was faced with even more challenges as the media landscape shifted before our eyes.

Facebook opened to the public in 2006, and by 2007 the social media platform was already a major point of discussion in our media teams -- and with our clients. YouTube was also increasing its relevance, adding significant inventory in concert with rapidly rising consumer usage of their platform. We had no formal social strategy nor capabilities. No one did.

The iPhone and Android phones launched, exploding with new content types, ad formats and experiences for us to sponsor.  We had some mobile strategy and capabilities but as we now know, it was too early for mobile. Recognizing the importance of mobile, social and digital video then, and knowing it would only escalate from there, we knew we needed to drive up digital media spending allocations to take advantage of the important audiences. But how? 

Despite these very complex and challenging factors, we were able to find and harness new opportunities into game-changing ideas for Ford which ultimately would be foundational moments in the development of digital advertising strategy.

Due to the pressure on digital budgets relative to what was needed for TV -- factors completely at odds -- we created the first metric for web video which was a gross rating point calculation. This was well before any industry body had solved for this in any product they offered. This move, along with many, many conversations, held the digital budgets and supported their growth.

We launched the Fiesta Movement as a first-of-its-kind social media-led vehicle launch. This demonstrated the power of social and viral marketing to help launch new vehicles. Through social media, Ford achieved significant pre-launch brand awareness lifts and sales leads from people who did not own a Ford model. This is now a formal case study at Harvard Business School.

Why is this so relevant to challenges we face today? 2016 has been a challenging year and 2017 looks to be no different. 

A major theme of this year is perceived lack of trust. On Wall Street, major institutions from banks to pharmaceutical companies have had unfortunate and trust-damaging issues continue to playout.  We've seen trust concerns playing out in ways we'd never conceived in the U.S. political election.  And, of course, we see it playing out as a concern in our own industry, advertising. Coupled with conflicting reports on the future health of the economy, this has increased uncertainty and pressure on client and agency businesses alike. 

In the advertising world, technology and new platforms continue to quickly evolve in the ever-mutable media marketplace. Advertisers and their agencies are facing big questions about how to use media to meaningfully reach and engage audiences in this increasingly fragmented world where old tactics don't work as well as they once did.

Programmatic capabilities have grown to a significant tipping point, but there is still a lack of scalable usage of automation around the creative side of the business. Measurement in emerging platforms evolves but pressure on the notion of measurement methodologies overall continues to persist. Data symmetry is a known goal but it's a journey riddled with complexity and tall "walls" to scale.

The challenges we face are significant and complicated but far from insurmountable. Yet, as the great Albert Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

You are currently working in a system that will continue to enable the challenges you face today. The only way to turn your challenges into opportunities is to address the system itself by changing the way you work.

If you boil down all of today's challenges, our biggest obstacle is doing more with the same or fewer resources and not having a purposeful system to handle that specific challenge. This was the same problem we faced in 2007-2010 years. You must do more, but differently.

In order to do this, we must:

  • Subscribe to a higher purpose. Extreme times requires a rallying cry! Commit to the fact that your team must be aligned to fundamentally address that doing more -- differently -- requires having a specific and purposeful system to handle this.
  • Reassess and repurpose existing resources. Rethink or reuse them for new purposes. Determine if you can acquire incremental resources.
  • Organize yourself for success with a framework that involves people, processes and tools.  Implement this by assigning specific tasks and giving real responsibility to lead. Again, all in the goal of doing more, differently.
  • Be consistently purpose-driven and aligned. This is normally a pain point. In a chaotic system, inspection of consistent outputs against goals usually fails first. Consistent inspection succeeds.
  • Don't waiver.

We've experienced the worst economic times coupled with an explosion of emerging technology, yet we were able to do more with less by iterating the specific framework of people, processes and tools against our challenges. The resulting new schemas were market leading for Ford only because we absolutely did not waiver.

Find your biggest opportunities by creating a purposeful system to do more, differently.

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