No business can afford to blindly follow the crowd. Your company needs to be driving innovation, not sitting in the passenger seat. You need to be ahead of the trends.
I recently talked to RED Interactive Agency's CEO, Brian Lovell, and president, Donny Makower, about leading the way. RED Interactive Agency is a full-service digital agency that works with big clients, from Disney and ESPN to MasterCard and Guggenheim Partners.
"A lot of people in our business are driven to either change audience behavior or follow it," Makower said on the topic of staying ahead of trends, "and the truth is, you have to be ready to do a little of both."
Leading the way isn't easy in any industry, but here are three lessons the team at RED learned about staying ahead of the pack:
Get Clients Involved
Whether your company is focused on clients or catering to customers, far too many organizations encourage an approach that is too hands-off. The best work happens when everyone is working to accomplish the same goals.
"Our mission is to always be learning as much as we can about our client's business, and to work closely and collaboratively to reach the goals we set together," Lovell said. "We try to push the limits strategically, creatively, and technically to achieve success."
For RED, this means building tools and technologies to get clients involved in the process. A collaboration with Lionsgate and Microsoft's Internet Explorer group centered on the new Hunger Games film, created the Hunger Games Explorer website, which logged nearly one billion Twitter impressions in the first 24 hours of launch, and has over 15 million pageviews to date.
By fostering a collaborative environment with your clients and customers, you can use those relationships to provide greater quality. Enmesh yourself in your client's world or your target customer's way of thinking. By looking outside your company to deliver the best results, you'll be learning what your company needs to do to cater to your target demographic.
Encourage Teamwork and Collaboration
Teamwork with your clients is important, but teamwork within your organization is essential. You need your best people working together, sharing ideas, and not being afraid to fall down in the pursuit of something new. This means creating a culture of innovation and collaboration.
According to Lovell, the key to great teamwork is threefold: people, culture, and workspace. The agency goes out of its way to recruit the best people, whether they're local or a plane ride away. These candidates go through a lengthy interview process, complete with assessments, to ensure they have the right skills and are a cultural fit.
"We believe great ideas can come from everyone at the company," Lovell said. "We empower our employees to think beyond their job description and encourage them to have a voice in the creative process."
The company organizes informal brainstorming sessions called "concept-a-thons" in which employees from every department come together to work on a new project or toss around ideas. These brainstorming sessions let employees get out of their boxes, foster new skills, and stretch their creative muscles. It also provides projects and existing teams with fresh ideas and innovative concepts to explore.
Finally, the workspace at RED is built with collaboration and teamwork in mind. The office has lots of open space and communal areas for brainstorming and collaborative work, while also featuring work pods for when employees really need to hunker down with their project and get things done.
People, culture, and workspace all set the tone for your company culture and feed into each other. If you're ignoring any part of this three-tiered approach, your company and your best people are suffering.
Be Mindful of Trends--But Don't Stop Forging Your Own Path
Forecasting trends isn't easy; if it was, we would all be ahead of the pack. Though you need to get off the beaten path and make your own way to be successful, it's downright foolhardy to ignore what's happening in your industry. You need to strike a balance between being trendy and being forward thinking.
"An overwhelming part is simply listening to people," Makower said. "After all, trends are just expressions of human behavior, so it's imperative to listen to what people want and where they want to go."
Thank goodness, this should be easy if your team and your clients are collaborating seamlessly. Encouraging a collaborative culture is really the best way to stay ahead of the trends, forecast the Next Big Thing, and pivot before you end up in the lurch. When many voices are part of the conversation, you can truly listen to everything your team and clients have to say.
"You want to consider the trends, but you don't want to be handcuffed to them," Makower said. "It's about doing what's right, not only what's popular."
What do you think? How do you foster collaboration? How do you stay ahead of trends? Share in the comments!