News & Views

Opinion / An Agency Hacked My Brand

by Contagious Contributor

David Caygill, creative technology director of iris worldwide, identifies how to draft new thinking into your brand's process

Some big brands have a challenge on their hands. Disruptive startups, driven by technological advances, a better understanding of a consumer need or simply a leaner approach to doing business, can re-imagine whole markets.

A key theme throughout Cannes this year was a call to brands to 'stop trying to make people want things, start making things people want.' I'd take this a step further by bringing the consumer across the line and opening up the doors by getting them to 'hack' what they want from the brand alongside you.

, an iris client, is one of the largest and oldest global electronics brands in the world. But it still managed to win Forbes' most innovative product of the year award in 2012 for the connected light bulb, hue. 'Initially our team was very small and totally separate, we took the liberty of working outside the usual processes,' said Filip Jan Depauw, Philips senior global director of connected lighting.

Philips ran the program like a startup. Following basic design principles, hue was created in collaboration with end users, and as soon as a minimum viable product was ready, it was taken out for field testing. Some of hue's competitive edge was provided by the approach the team took in employing the tools revolutionising the hacker community. It's things like low cost desktop 3D printing, embedded electronics and open standards that are all helping the curious collaborate and accelerate past traditional approaches.

So, how does a big brand take a leaf out of the startup rulebook? We know the buzzwords but how do you deploy it on Monday morning?

Start with a shared vision
When you're engaging in a brand hack with consumers or partners, the vision of the future opens up. It's likely that an ambitious vision was one of the driving forces behind embarking on a shared creative journey. However, it's important that senior leaders within the organization are fully signed up to this. Hackers will have an emotional connection to the product they had a hand in inventing or changing. And they might not have the reverence you have for your brand. This shift can be unsettling for traditional brands as they now have a few more stakeholders in the mix, and no marketing chain-of-command that demands respect.

Share successes, absorb failures
Co-creators know their work has value. Therefore, solid reward models need to be designed to ensure the process does not exploit the contributor. Can you develop a profit-share model of sales through a new channel, or of a new product? Will a cash prize for a winning team give them what they need? Do you pay people to attend, or give them free services or products? Can you find a place for these smart people in your team in the longer term? Equally, if your hackers have given up their time, skills and expertise for you at a reduced rate and if the venture isn't a commercial success immediately, the loss will be one for you to take on the chin.

Hack the corporate process
Running a brand hack or working with a startup will challenge the status quo at your company. Special dispensations will need to be set up. This is not a license to throw caution to the wind, however. Ensure you manage any exposure to financial risk, and the PR team is briefed to manage any press attention to your advantage. Releasing early and quickly is the mantra. It's important to get views from end-users or customers as soon as possible. What people say they want and end up actually wanting can be very different.

Brief it then back it

Successful hacks and partnerships have a few things in common. The organizer set a brief that was ambitious, but inspired people to take action. In July, we helped Philips hue participate in -- a 500-developer weekend hack in London with sponsors ranging from Microsoft to Heroku. We wanted to assess the level of demand for hue and quickly generate a range of working prototypes for apps and services. The brief inspired the developers in specific areas, but was open enough to accommodate any strong creative thoughts.

Pony up your IP

You know your brand, company or product best. You probably already know a lot of what consumers are saying they need. You will also have the most access to data, APIs, services, software and hardware kit that will enable ideas to flourish. Sharing this in an easily-digestible form and providing everything your hackers need to get up to the productivity of your most seasoned R&D team is your challenge, and it's not one to be taken lightly. Hacks don't just happen; they are orchestrated and nurtured by guiding hands then fueled with generous provision of assets.

At iris, we have a few of our own proprietary tools to help disrupt the creative process, from time-boxed ideation hacks through to a startup accelerator. Just as Silicon Valley grew out of brave people taking a punt on collaborative ventures, so too does a successful modern brand. A brand hack is more than a one-off stunt; it's about looking at how you develop ideas within your organization. It's about identifying the areas that need help and then creating business processes that allow risk to be lessened and success celebrated, so the easy and safe way is not the default way.