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Exporting innovation: learnings from the #BlogBus tour

by Joanne Jacobs on 28 September 2012

So I’m back in the office at 1000heads Sydney and we’re hard at it, finding new ways to engage with audiences on behalf of our clients, and examining the rapidly changing tech landscape for social opportunities. But there’s no doubt about it, the #BlogBus tour has changed my perspective on a very great deal.

#BlogBus Bloggers. Picture by Yann Gourvennec.

As I previously mentioned, the objective of the tour was to investigate innovation of all kinds – including social – within Silicon Valley and the Bay area. Well, we certainly didn’t have to look too hard to find innovation. But what was interesting was just how many opportunities for change in consumer behaviour and social engagements are arising from the sector. I’ll divide my observations from the tour into two sections: culture and emergent technologies.

Culture

One of the objectives of the tour was to consider whether investment in the Valley and Bay area was declining and whether the innovation culture of the area was replicable.

As far as investment is concerned, I see no significant reduction. The focus may have shifted towards proven value in terms of consumer action and quality of engagement (rather than sheer volume of users), but money is still coming in. Bets are made because the ingredients for success are all there.

In terms of replicating the innovation culture, I think Louis Gray from Google responded to this question best. He noted that if you are going to recreate Silicon Valley you have to replicate all the pieces. The place isn’t called “Internet Valley” but “Silicon Valley”; the history of the area as a source of innovation in hardware systems, chip development, operating system development, software application development and so on, are all crucial elements that affect the oportunities to adapt and build upon emergent technology. Access to the university culture and talent pool in those institutions is also of paramount importance.

In many ways the entire area is committed to learning. Businesses don’t follow a pre-ordained set of operational principles or a practice of absolute commmercial confidentiality. They share ideas, learn together and engage with audiences in a transparent but essentially experimental fashion. Don’t misunderstand me; they don’t treat audiences as lab rats, but they are prepared to listen to the way they are using technolgies and communicating in a manner that is often lacking in traditional marketing research.

As I see it, this particular aspect of the innovation culture will export. While we way not be able to entirely replicate the culture and access to resources that exist in the Valley, the culture of learning will be cultivated in business environments because users will demand it. As the tools that have emerged from the area seep into our lives, we will require organisations to respond to our needs. To some extent we already expect organisations to rapidly respond to social complaints and compliments. Increasingly, we will expect firms to respond to to our needs for products and experiences, however obliquely expressed.

This isn’t privacy invasion, but simply a matter of operationalising a listening culture. It’s not easy, but if you have the right tracking tools, and the right communication strategy, it’s possible.

Emergent technologies

You may already have heard of the concept of a “post-PC” world, where computing leaves the desktop for tablet devices and other mobile technologies. On the #BlogBus tour, we regularly heard the expression “post-Web” used to describe an environment where content is consumed entirely via mobile interfaces. For brands, the implications of this are profound. Already, many companies choose social networks as their primary interface with audiences, and the standard corporate web presence may continue to decline in relevance.

The technologies emerging from the Bay area are dominated by tools designed to make the world around us more “usable”. Based on social recommendations and sharing, they build on our tacit knowledge and exchanges, and they fill a gap in our understanding as it arises. Whether this is based on your physical presence in places, or your likely needs at a time of day or moment in your personal or professional lives, tools are focused on providing you with recommendations that will help life be more productive, comfortable and most of all, controllable.

From a brand perspective, this turns advertising on its head. Rather than being about eyeballs accessing messages, it becomes a matter of accessing consumers at the exact moment that they need goods and services. Social tools are generating massive amounts of data and this needs analysis to identify the sweet spot when users most need access to goods, services and information, by region, culture and more.

From a tech perspective, we’re talking about  innovation focused on social incentives and recommendations as well as data anlaysis. That’s the holy grail for businesses today.

Conclusions

Innovation is only truly possible in environments where there is openness to experimentation and a tolerance of failure.

But regardless of whether places and businesses can facilitate innovation, the products emerging from the Valley and Bay area are changing the way businesses operate and the way consumers interact. It is foolish for companies to assume that they are immune from the emerging drive towards transparency, experimentation and social sharing. Their audiences will ultimately turn against them if they fail to adapt to their needs.

But we shouldn’t see this change as a negative or limiting aspect of the way we do business. Opportunity abounds. Social activations of any kind are a context for learning. And understanding how consumers engage with brands, and when they need information and services, is key to success in the post-web future.

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