Stop striving for perfection and start creating ‘slightly shit’ products, marketers told

Marketers should learn from scientists and start being content with creating products that are “slightly shit”, a debate audience at Mumbrella360 has heard.

James Sykes, global head of innovation and design at drinks firm Beam Suntory, said marketers spend too long attempting to make “elegant and perfect” products.

James Skyes

Instead, they should try to produce the “least worst” and learn from that experience.

Appearing on a panel at Mumbrella360 debating the risks and rewards of fast thinking, Sykes said scientists adopt a process of elimination and demonstrate “there is no absolutely amazingly wonderful products or solutions”.

“Marketers are the opposite. We want everything to be absolutely elegant and perfect,” he said. “We want to take 12 months and position the back story, the romance and developing all the assets to make it absolutely divine. But it’s almost impossible to do that.

“We should be like scientists and try and get the least worst.”

Sykes said his point was that brands must have permission to fail “in a constructive way”.

“It’s easy to say that but it’s very hard to instill it,” he told delegates. “It’s all about leaving your ego at the door. Learn to be happy and have fun in making slightly shit things – because slightly shit things teach you what is better that slightly shit. That is what scientists are doing.”

Asked if fear or inspiration works as a motivator in a competitive and fast-paced environment, Optus head of digital customer engagement Peter Macgregor said working with fear is a barrier that only leads to mediocrity.

“If you have people who fear doing something they will only do what they know which isn’t necessarily a good thing,” he said. “It means you are not pushing yourself  that bit further, Fear can be detrimental to you and your team in the longer term.”

But Macgregor stressed while there must be – and there is – permission to fail at Optus and other large corporations, it must be done in a “calculated” way.

He said digital channels are a quick ways to learn, citing an example in which Optus trialled six ways of communicating a message to customers before landing on the right one.

“You have permission to fail but fail with a right amount of risk. You can then use those learnrings to scale. That is really important for a marketer.”

Later, Kinda Grange, general manager grocery of Goodman Fielder, said the firm had evolved to become more agile, and has challenged its agencies to follow suit.

“Some want to come along for the ride, others don’t,” she said.


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