Wednesday, July 6th, 2016 | 9 min read
In a world where advertising methods are constantly evolving, Tim Leake—SVP of Growth and Innovation at RPA—discusses the importance of applying a “people first” focus.
Leake and I sat down at Cannes Lions recently to talk creativity, big data, and how to drive innovative ideas across an organization.
We’re doing a lot—and I think it’s just transformation, it’s not “digital” transformation. It’s fundamentally adapting to change in a world where change is normal and constant. And the way we do it is by constantly challenging ourselves and learning ourselves.
We’re always looking to figure out what’s happening, what’s new, what are new platforms we can be on, how are existing platforms changing, what’s about to reach a mass audience—and what is maybe new and exciting, but not reaching a wide audience yet. We want to experiment early and often on those, and figure out what works.
We experiment a lot on our own. Then we help our clients move into it confidently because now we know what works. It’s important to constantly challenge our thinking, because there’s no such thing as best practices anymore—what works today may not work tomorrow.
Our point of view is people first. That applies to all the work we do. It applies to client relationships, and it applies to how we work with our associates within the agency. We believe fundamentally that we’re talking with people. It’s common word to talk about being “consumer-centric,” but I hate that word “consumer.” I’m not a consumer, I’m a person.
The best way, we believe, to understand any given technology is to think about people first. We want to understand the behavior. How are people going to use this technology in real life and what’s going to bring value to them? What’s going to connect with them emotionally? How can we find the empathy in whatever experience we’re creating so that we actually have a connection with the people? And that gives us a really clear lens of how we want to leverage any given technology or platform.
I think a lot of times, people take a technology and they just do something shiny with it. It’s like, “OK, this is a virtual reality experience and stuff is flying at me, or whatever.” There’s no connection there. But if you can create a virtual reality experience through which we create a memory, or where you can connect with somebody on the other end, that tends to be more interesting. It helps us see how people might be adapting that technology in the future.
It’s really interesting to think about the idea of empathy in digital, especially when we’re in a place where we have so much data now, which helps us better understand individual people.
It’s so easy to get lost in that data, and there’s so much going on. So many things to wrangle. We can help work with our clients to remind them: “The data says this, that’s great. That’s giving us one input, but what is the motivation behind that data?”
The key is to try to understand why people are doing the things they do, and being able to paint the picture in a way that helps inform whatever our next steps are going to be. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of way to do that, but our we find the most effective approach easiest way is to be quite stubborn about that our people first point of view and that we always ask ourselves that question—why are people behaving this way?.
We talk often about putting on our “people glasses.” Let’s look at whatever it is we’re doing through the eyes of real people—not the eyes of marketers. It really helps us view the situation the right way. Every client we have, and probably every client out there, wants to connect with people. It’s not about what their ad is. I think that’s sort of a fallacy in the industry.
I think that’s sort of a fallacy in the industry. It’s not really about the work—it’s about the effect it has on people. Great creative isn’t the end result itself, great creative is a means to an end. Great creative is what allows us to make that personal connection, to create that empathetic connection with people. I think that’s exciting.
The other thing too, as data gets better, as artificial intelligence gets better, as these things get better, I think we have a better opportunity to craft our messages and our communications in a way that is more empathetic to the audience. So we understand where they are in their journey, in their needs state, and whatever it is that’s going to help make what we’re saying resonate with them, as opposed to just be an interruptive message that they don’t care about in that moment.
I’ll start with empathy again, because I think that’s key. In order to get people to change, you have to understand why they don’t want to change. You have to understand where they are coming from, what are the problems, what are their motivations, all these different things. You can’t get an “organization” to change. You actually have to get a collection of people to change, and a collection of individuals that all have different reasons to do what they want to do.
A lot of that is guided by a fear of failure, a fear of uncertainty, a desire for success, a desire to look good, a desire to not look stupid—all those sort of things. It’s really about understanding that for as many individual people as you can because every single person is different. That’s key.
Another key is relentless positivity—the ability to get back up and try again. You will fail most of the time. Most of the time, people don’t want to change. You try something, and it doesn’t work, or it only achieved 10 percent of what you hoped it would achieve. You have to adapt and say, “Cool, let’s try this again.” As a change agent, you also have to be the one who is saying something is true, when most people don’t agree with it yet.
By definition, if you’re an Agent of Change, that means everyone else is on one side, and you’re over here. You need to get them where you are. It’s very difficult and very hard, because you want people to like you. You want people to come along, so you have to be inspiring, and you have to get them to want to come to where you are. You can’t force them. You can’t threaten them, and you can’t just do it without them. They have to come or else it doesn’t work.
The easiest thing is to create some set of conditions by which people discover the answer themselves. It’s so easy when we think we’ve figured it out to just say, “this is the answer.”
As soon as you think you have it figured out, you just want to be able to give them the answer. But people need to discover it on their own. If they don’t discover it on their own, they don’t really believe it. It’s that tricky balance of guiding them only so far, and then letting them discover the last part themselves—that’s really powerful.