Roger McKinley, Head of Innovation, from Activate partner, FACT, argues that businesses need to be more creative and explains how they can go about it.
I was recently asked if I think businesses are becoming more creative in the way they approach things like product developing, testing and marketing. I think the assumption was that I’d say that I did, but, to be honest, I don’t think they are!
In Liverpool and the City Region, we’re lucky to have a thriving digital and creative sector. But, having worked with companies in those industries for years as FACT’s Head of Innovation, I think that many of them – and they’re often small organisations – are still in a place where they have a great idea but don’t know how to make the most of it.
Too often, SMEs follow the same well-trodden path in trying to get a new product or service developed, released and marketed. They put all their energy into creating a minimal viable product that they can release without doing so in a way that is as innovative as their original idea. It isn’t the fault of SMEs, it’s just part of our businesses culture in this country.
This is where working with cultural organisations like FACT can help – and is what Activate gives digital and creative businesses in Liverpool, Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral with up to 250 employees the opportunity to do.
Although what every cultural organisation can offer varies, many have elements of their work that can help SMEs from the product / service development stage, through the testing, launch and marketing stages. They can also typically offer approaches to these areas that can’t be found elsewhere.
Research and development underpins all of the work that cultural organisations deliver, so they’re superbly placed to input on this side of things, even in different industries. In addition to having a network of artists, academics and researchers they can draw upon for creative collaboration, cultural organisation artist residencies are ideal for putting new ideas and early-stage products in the hands of creative thinkers who can apply emerging technologies and thinking to them.
The importance of putting new products and services in the hands of interested testers and the general public cannot be understated, but too few businesses do this. This is often because it is difficult to find people willing to help, but organisations like FACT are full of innovative artists, interested public programme groups and inquisitive members of the public. Indeed, our young people’s group routinely runs prototyping sessions with new and emerging tech to test ideas out on live audiences. New products and services from SMEs simply provide us with more opportunity to do that.
Perhaps the area of business that is most entrenched in how it is approached is marketing. It’s all too common for SMEs with new products and services to simply take their innovations to an agency that does standard, generic tactics like targeting tweets, plugs and events. Cultural organisations are perhaps best placed of all to think of innovative creative activities and campaigns that can live up to an SMEs cutting edge idea and generate more interest than might otherwise be possible. They can also help to begin building audiences before launch – much like Kickstarter – through development and testing work, but also through their public programmes.
For me, businesses that are launching new products and services and that don’t look to partner with a cultural organisation are missing out on a huge opportunity. This, of course, it what the Activate programme is designed to address for digital and creative SMEs in the Liverpool City Region and I’d recommend any such business to get in touch with us to see if we can help you. For others, don’t be afraid to approach cultural organisations directly and ask the question – you’ll undoubtedly benefit from creative approaches that can set you apart from your competition.