We often start most of our casual conversations with a seemingly simple question: “Hey, what’s up?” Lately, however, I’ve come to hear that question as the fuel of inspiration behind an important strategic shift now under way in our business that is driving us beyond innovation and improvement, and toward discovery and invention.
In this time of technologically driven transformation for media and marketing, the question of what is new, original and inventive has never been more pressing. Inside Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners (kbs+), we are pioneering an inventor culture that keeps us focused on just that— creating what’s new.
In today’s competitive marketplace and less-than-stellar economy, incrementalism is insufficient for creating the kind of results that can give brands a real competitive advantage. For the marketers looking to achieve breakthroughs that drive behavioral outcome—not just shape perception—we’re seeing how invention can create impact that far exceeds their marketing budget.
Take Nike, for example. Its FuelBand  is a marketing invention that, by design, inspires new behavior. But marketing invention doesn’t have to come in the form of technology. For instance, Nike’s debut of highlighter-yellow sneakers streaked across the 2012 Olympic track and field events—and billions of TV screens—this past summer, even though Nike didn’t pay a dime to be an Olympic sponsor. You now see these neon shoes on average runners everywhere. In both these instances, inventions created both cultural discovery and marketing impact.
Consequently, R&D is no longer the only place within organizations where you’ll find “makers.” Marketers are also expected to be makers, and they’re looking for creative partners who aren’t interested in one-upping what exists, but looking to create “firsts.”
Agencies must have that same mind-set to bring effective work to clients and compete for new business. At kbs+, we have established and strongly encourage an inventor mind-set throughout the agency. We practice it by inventing for our own brand with hack-a- thons and maker competitions we call “Hello Moments.” We screen for it in our hiring practices by asking candidates pointedly, “What have you invented?”
And we make inventions a central theme of our strategic briefs by asking, “What is the marketing invention that will deliver the desired behavior?” For example, when BMW told us “range anxiety” was one of the biggest hurdles for electric car prospects to overcome, we invented the EVolve App  to give drivers the ability to track their daily driving habits to ensure they’ll never be stranded without juice.
We also host invention sessions for our clients and prospects. When Puma asked us to design something that would add an interactive layer to their retail stores, to deliver a new level of engagement for their customers, we knew it was an opportunity to create something amazing that had never been done before.
To deliver on that we interconnected 32 iPads into a dramatic wall complete with custom apps that blend product artifacts and brand artifacts to create gaming and shared social experiences. It’s since been installed internationally in Puma flagship retail stores. You can see it firsthand later this month when it makes its U.S. debut in the New York SoHo store.
Marketers and brands also must continue to elevate the dialogue around invention, too. During last week’s Advertising Week, kbs+ hosted a panel called “Marketers as Makers” to shed light on the inventor cultures and processes of the marketing teams at BMW, Puma and GE. At every turn, our industry should be seeking the next great discoveries that will advance our business and benefit our clients. It may even solve the age-old issue of being paid for time, instead of the value we create, by consistently challenging us to create ideas that are worth more.
This is where we believe the world is going and by expanding our mission from “doing things that matter” to “making things that matter,” we will improve our odds of being well ahead of the curve and the competition.
So what have you invented?