Imagination opens innovation lab to foster technology-led creative thinking

Creative agency's MD highlight's technology rising role in customer engagement

Inside the Innovation Lab
Inside the Innovation Lab

Creative agency, Imagination, has opened an innovation lab in Sydney aimed at educating brands and marketers on better utilising emerging and digital technologies for customer engagement.

The Australian lab is part of a global program and comes a month after Imagination launched a centre in London. Clients are being invited to interact with a host of creative technology solutions that bridge the digital-physical gap and encourage interaction, including gesture control, user interface testing and remote monitoring, virtual and augmented reality, touchscreen surfaces, 3D printing, drones and data-driven apps.

Imagination managing director, Anthony Gowthorp, told CMO technology and digital are now core creative tools in how brands fulfil the experience demands of their customers. The lab is about providing a space to collaborate with clients and partners on solving business problems, fast prototyping and technology-led solutions, all with a focus on seamless experience for customer, he said.

Imagination has also been behind the launch of innovation centres for brands such as Commonwealth Bank, GE, 3M, Jaguar and Land Rover.

“We feel that we have an obligation to educate,” Gowthorp said. “Imagination Innovation Lab is a technology suite for clients to find out what they are getting into and using. We see technology as a disrupting media to grow the brand.”

But you can’t just buy technology as a ‘product off the shelf’, you need to use technology as an engagement and business mechanism, Gowthorp claimed. He also stressed the importance of viewing technology as part of an authentic brand engagement and experience, rather than as a gimmick.

“We need to connect with them as human beings,” he said. “We’re working from an experience point of view with brands and marketers on that question of touching the customer: What does that experience look like?"

According to Gowthorp, the biggest challenge Imagination faces in delivering technology-led creative is not the technology, but the marketers themselves. With so many channels at their disposal and options for investment, he predicted spend on these sorts of technology experiences would come from existing media budgets.

But it’s the mindshift away from campaign and tactical focus to strategic customer engagement that’s really going to make the difference, and Gowthorp threw down the gauntlet to CMOs to shake things up.

“The big challenge for marketers is they have to take a risk. You can’t pitch this stuff out or just send a brief to an agency – you have to take a leap of faith and immerse yourself in order to come up with solutions,” Gowthorp said. “The biggest threat is the marketers we deal with – they have to see the potential, understand where these technologies can take them and embrace them.

“This means CMOs need to start to change their relationship with agencies.”

Gowthorp claimed he’s already seeing some shift, and noted Imagination’s work with Telstra as one of seven strategic partners. One recent effort was around the telco’s Customer Insight Centres in Sydney and Melbourne, which are about showcasing offerings more interactively to business customers.

“We’re being briefed on problems by these clients, not on tactical delivery,” he said.

Imagination’s not the first to point to the changing nature of agency-brand engagement. At this year’s AANA Reset conference, Mars global CMO, Bruce McColl, called on brand owners to stop using fear and price as the basis for agency engagement and put more emphasis on creativity, collaboration and curiosity as the cornerstones of relationships.

Imagination’s innovation lab also reflects the changing skillsets being brought on by Imagination. To support it, the agency is hiring more technical directors and developers, along with strategists who can better interact with clients around problem solving, Gowthorp said.

“We are investing in people that can interact with our clients as partners, be entrepreneurial and help with problem solving,” he said. Content also goes hand-in-hand with technology, and Imagination has also increased its investment in these skillsets.

Imagination’s heritage is in experiential activities and trade show work, all experiences occurring in physical places. Gowthorp said the agency an emerging customer group is retailers looking to improve the customer’s experience at the physical point of purchase.

As an example, he pointed to the agency’s work with one automotive brand in China, Lincoln, to build digitally led virtual experiences in mid-city spaces in order to improve the level of engagement prospective customers can have with their cars in the absence of showrooms.

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