Marketers and their agencies are partnering on product innovation

Increasingly, it seems, marketers and their agency partners are adding “product innovation” to their job descriptions, according to the Marketers as Makers panel at Advertising Week. Jonah Bloom, chief strategy officer of kirshenbaum bond senecal + (kbs+),was the moderator; on the panel was BMW North America national marketing manager Michael Jobst, GE director of creative content Andy Goldberg, and kbs+ president and co-chief creative officer Ed Brojerdi.

“We are really starting to blur the lines between what agencies are making [and] what brands are making,” Brojerdi said.

BMW’s Jobst, for example, noted that an agency’s main role is to serve as a problem solver for the brand.  Hence, when BMW faced electric car “range anxiety” from its customers, the luxury car brand and kbs+ co-developed the app BMW EVolve to help consumers determine whether an electric vehicle would suit their commuting and lifestyle needs.

“We’re constantly giving product feedback to engineers,” Jobst said. “The actual experience in the car is a huge part of the whole feedback process.”

Similarly, advertising agency kbs+ worked closely with PUMA to create and launch the PUMA Creative Factory, a platform that enables customers to customize their own PUMA shoes. “It allows [customers] to personalize in a way that adds value and drives engagement,” Brojerdi said. “These are buzzwords we all hear, but it’s bringing it to life.”

As PUMA’s creative technology partner, kbs+ constructed an iPad wall to allow customers to design shoes on the spot. Brojerdi claimed that the PUMA Creative Factory provided the brand with insight into what colors and fabrics were popular among customers, particularly through their social interactions. “We’ve learned a lot about the social aspects of commerce,” Brojerdi said. “People love designing sneakers and sharing them with their friends.”

GE also aimed to incorporate more customer engagement and feedback when it co-developed and launched GE Garages, an “innovation and manufacturing center.” The center was designed to provide a source of interaction among technologists, entrepreneurs, and the public, according to GE’s website. “We gather a lot of information at Garages…in terms of people,” Goldberg said. “We get much more personal connections.”

Yet, all brands agreed that taking risks with product innovation can be challenging, particularly for large organizations. “How do you take something like the PUMA wall that can be confined in one space and bring it to scale?” Brojerdi asked. “Everything has to be done to scale. “

“There is a challenge with taking risks if you’re a big brand, especially in social where everyone’s very vocal,” Jobst added.

Goldberg claimed that hiring a wide range of talent and making agencies work together have been key ingredients in GE’s success. “We’re bringing in people with a lot of unique backgrounds,” Goldberg said. “You need a different mind-set from an outside perspective.”

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