When it comes to innovation, more voices often lead to better ideas. That’s why MRM, a customer relationship marketing agency—part of the advertising giant Interpublic Group and the McCann Worldgroup network—doesn’t limit brainstorming to its own staff members. The company’s LAB13 innovation studio relies on co-creation from clients and outside experts, an initiative that helped earn MRM a spot on Fast Company‘s list of Best Workplaces for Innovators. Here, Global Chief Executive Officer Kate MacNevin discusses the benefits of the in-house innovation incubator.
Innovation often happens behind closed doors and away from clients’ eyes. Why involve them in the process?
The benefit of bringing in the client early in the process is that they feel some ownership—they feel like part of the solution. They become an enabler and a driver for this innovation for their company, and that feeling empowers them to sell the innovation inside their organization as well. That inclusive approach allows us to innovate at the speed and level that can be disruptive in this industry and allows us to compete with Silicon Valley.
What might a LAB13 by MRM project look like?
A recent example is a company that came to us after identifying a huge market opportunity. They wanted to explore how they could design new ventures that would address the problem at the heart of the human needs they identified. So we started to identify white spaces in the market, and we did trend and technology modeling to understand what the consumer really wants and why they aren’t getting it. We put together a RapidVenture team, including the client and outside experts like venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and scientists. We treated everything as the invention of a new business model, and even started working on early-stage prototypes of different ideas.
Is there a process you use to guide these projects?
Our process is called DIVE, which stands for discover, invent, validate, evaluate. We want to discover the human needs in the trends and invent new products, services, and businesses to address those needs. Then we validate those businesses through prototyping—are they feasible, and can we actually do it? Finally, we build the solutions and evaluate it through testing with consumers.
Do you use the DIVE process internally?
Our LAB13 studios use that operating system to design and engineer the innovation and transformation that clients are demanding, but it’s also an enabler for all of our offices and employees. One example is SIGNS [a tool to enable voice assistants to respond to and communicate with sign language]. The innovation studio in Frankfurt, Germany, was exploring the explosion of voice-assistant technologies and uncovered that almost 11% of the global population on the internet couldn’t access this voice-dominated digital infrastructure because of hearing disabilities.
We invested in prototyping a solution to use AI and image recognition to allow people with hearing disabilities to use their hands instead of their voice, essentially using sign language to communicate with smart voice assistants. We already have created a number of use cases for brands to show how SIGNS could help accelerate their accessibility efforts. And now because of COVID-19, the notion that we can maybe use gestures to interact with touch screens on vending machines or ATMs is really interesting. When you’re looking at trends, you have to be looking for those unmet needs. We always say, “Love the problem, not the idea.”