Can Collaboration Be the New Competition?

I find it interesting that there is such a strong, prevailing mindset that companies within the same industry must always be in competition with each other. Whether the focus is business to business, or business to consumer, it’s true that companies are fiercely fighting to attain and retain customers – customers who, no doubt, are closely watching their expenditures in these challenging economic times. However, what if companies adopted a different mindset?  What if companies became more open to collaborating with each other?

We are already witnessing the possibilities that can arise when companies open the doors for stakeholders to actively participate in various corporate functions and decisions through social media, leveraging online community engagement, crowdsourcing and co-creation. Companies, by tapping into minds outside of their corporate walls, are expanding their knowledge base and becoming more innovative as a result.

Now, imagine what could happen if companies became more open to working with each other?

Last winter, I came across a great example of collaboration in marketing. New to Ontario, I went to the LCBO (Ontario government liquor store) in search of a good microbrew. To my surprise, the LCBO carried a six-pack of beers from different craft brewers. What a delight to see the brewers working together to promote their products. The craft brewers are members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association – through the association, 25 brewers collaborate on a number of marketing initiatives designed to educate and expand awareness amongst the buying public.

Needless to say, I bought the six-pack; also, since then, I have repeatedly purchased a number of the beers that were in the six-pack.

In another example, a group of coffee roasters have come together to form Coffee Common – with the goal of working together to introduce consumers to the joys of exceptional coffee. Having previously worked in marketing in the specialty coffee industry at Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company, I am particularly excited about this initiative. Great coffee can be just as complex and nuanced as great wine, and just as delicious too. It’s challenging for one coffee roaster, with limited resources, limited budget, and in all likelihood a very localized geographic area, to make an impact. However, there is opportunity to be had through collaboration, which enables greater access to resources – notably minds and money.

The above examples are relatively small-scale in nature, but what’s to stop larger enterprises from becoming more collaborative? Imagine, for example, that companies became more willing to share intellectual property rights. The fear is, of course, a competitor will innovate, develop a better product or service and gain market share – but it is not possible, that by sharing information and collaborating, companies can work together to grow the overall market?

What are your thoughts?

Innovation in Advertising: Ignacio Oreamuno and Giant Hydra

I am excited to introduce a new feature on my blog. Every few weeks, I will be posting short interviews with interesting people who are truly making an impact in the business world – through their thoughts, their ideologies and their actions, paving the path for new and innovative ways of doing things.

This week’s interview is with Ignacio Oreamuno, a true innovator in the advertising industry. Ignacio is President of IHAVEANIDEA, one of the world’s largest online advertising communities, and he is CEO of the Tomorrow Awards, an international advertising awards show with a focus specifically on the future of advertising.

More recently, Ignacio developed and launched Giant Hydra. Giant Hydra is a unique technology that enables ad agencies and clients to access a global pool of creative professionals for work on a particular project. Qualified professionals, selected by the ad agencies and clients, participate in mass collaboration – working virtually and as a team through Giant Hydra, leveraging their collective ingenuity to create ideas for the project at hand.

Thank you, Ignacio, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your insights.

1. How do you envision the creative development process at agencies evolving over the next five to ten years? With respect to a movement towards mass collaboration, at what stage are we at?

The advertising has not changed in over 150 years. It is pretty much the same structure and method of work.

Take a look at all other industries and you can see that they all have changed dramatically over the last 50, 20, 10 and even last two years. Remember when Kodak claimed that digital photography would never have the quality of film? When music companies said digital music wouldn’t work, that the quality of CD’s was better?

The creative process between a copywriter and an art director that Burnbach famously pioneered is no longer apt for the campaigns of today.

As the recession proved, money talks. If an industry can produce a product (in this case creative ideas) in a lot less time, of better or equal quality and for less money, there is nothing that will stop change from destroying the old way of things. All it takes is a handful of agencies to start doing it and boom, it will change things forever.

Look at other industries, like digital film, online music etc. Once technology makes things better, it’s impossible to turn back the page.

Right now agencies are skeptical. They are all waiting for the other one to try mass collaboration and see if it works. Again, instead of seeing the opportunity and jumping on it, a lot of them are so scared of change that they would rather wait. I know a few people who say this model won’t work. They are the same people that have never used it. Ironic.

2. What do you believe is the biggest barrier with regards to improving collaboration and innovation?

The biggest barrier is going to be in getting proof that mass collaboration produces quality. Agencies want to know one thing and one thing only. That you can produce award winning work out of mass collaboration. Giant Hydra is so new that it is hard to show case studies since all of the work is confidential. It will take some time for the work to come out and for the evidence to be ready. I am not worried about that, I’m just focused now on showing the system on a case by case basis to each agency. Everybody always gets blown away by the quality of the people working in the system and the quality of the ideas.

I don’t think there are any more barriers apart from that. Giant Hydra works. Period. Mass collaboration works. Period. I’ve seen it, I’m seeing it right now.

3. A number of creative professionals and associations have expressed reservations about crowdsourcing, essentially claiming that crowdsourced creative undervalues their skills and expertise. What are your thoughts on this?

The HydraHeads in Giant Hydra are all paid. Some of them work on multiple projects at the same time earning multiple fees. And they work from wherever they are in the world, whether that is NY or Japan or a beach. They are all award winning creatives, strategists, planners, and social media mavericks. I would challenge anyone to have a beer with one of the HydraHeads and ask them how they feel about it. In all honesty, they seem pretty excited and happy, and these are 10+ years experience people.

Most people understand crowdsourcing as a contest where the best idea wins. This is not the case with mass collaboration crowdsourcing where it’s essentially a group of people (more than 2 working together online for a fixed salary). The word “crowdsourcing” is now tainted I think, and there’s not much anyone can do about that.

Follow Ignacio Oreamu on Twitter at @ihaveanidea.

Follow Giant Hydra on Twitter at @GiantHydra.

Nike+ – A Great Example of What Collaboration Can Accomplish

Today, I completed my longest run in about a year. Actually, it was my longest run since April 3rd, 2010 – when I ran 18.96km in 2 hours, 5 minutes and 29 seconds, at an average pace of 6 minutes and 37 seconds per kilometer.

How the heck do I know that? Well, I record my runs using the Nike+iPod sports kit, the ingenious collaboration between Nike and Apple that has benefited runners worldwide since its launch in 2006.

There are two main reasons why I marvel at Nike+:

1. An innovative product from a unique collaboration

I believe that over the coming years we are going to see more instances of companies – sometimes even competitors – joining forces in unique collaborations.  There are many potential benefits to be gained, including shared knowledge and data, shared resources, and opportunity to develop new and innovative products and services by leveraging and combining strengths.

2. It’s social and community-driven

The Nike+ experience extends well beyond the runs, thanks to a fantastic website and online community that has been cultivated. Not only can Nike+ users record and track runs using the website, they can share their experiences with runners worldwide while also benefiting from some rich content – including a training tips blog.

Recently, Nike+ also added a “Challenges” section, through which individual users can create running challenges and invite community members to participate. Sample challenges include “365 miles in 2011”, in which all participants are challenged to run 365 miles, and “Fastest 5km in 2011”. Each challenge includes a leader board, adding some incentive for participants to compete against one another.