The Soda Academy
"Design is both a starting point to inform strategy and an endpoint to deliver breakthrough product and service experiences."
"Find a service provider you connect with on a human level, who shares your values and has empathy for your business challenges. These are the true foundations of a collaborative and successful partnership."
"As new technologies and user behaviors continue to disrupt existing business models, the need for fresh thinking and perspectives just grows."
"The faster we move from strategy decks into prototypes, the better we’ll understand emerging user needs and behaviors."
"Start doing new things with new people in new ways and reflect often on what works and build from that. Sounds easy, right?"

SoDA speaks with Doberman about customer experience innovation, organizational transformation and the artful balancing act between empiricism and serendipity

Positioning within the “digital” landscape is becoming much more complicated. In our Global Digital Outlook Study with Forrester, we see this play out in the nuanced way firms identify themselves (agencies, studios, consultancies, production companies, etc.) and in the direct overlap of the services they offer… especially in core capabilities such as Digital Strategy, Creative/Design, User Experience and Technology/Development. How do you position Doberman and is it becoming more challenging to differentiate your expertise in a market where everyone claims to do the same thing? Do you have any advice for client-side marketing, technology and product leaders trying to navigate this confusing landscape of providers?

At our core, Doberman identifies as a design firm. We’ve of course grappled with the shared existential questions of who we are and why we exist. And it’s not unique that we offer design services. In a competitive environment with shifting roles and new players, the path to differentiation is no longer through capabilities alone.

What sets Doberman apart is a two-prong approach.

On one side, how we approach design, using it as a lens to evaluate and solve complex business challenges. Design can be expressed as form, function, style… and we strive to make beautiful things. But more strategically, we use design to help our clients frame challenges, explore new opportunities, and solve problems. Design is both a starting point to inform strategy and an endpoint to deliver breakthrough product and service experiences.

On the other side, how we approach change. Most organizations and their consulting partners are fully capable of building, iterating and managing relevant and beautiful products and services. New and improved products, services and competitors are launched at an ever-accelerating speed. For users, this gives endless opportunities, but for most this is just noise.

For companies, this noise makes it harder than ever before to navigate competition. Incremental change is not enough and just adds to the noise. Organizations that will win in this shifting landscape are the ones capable of delivering radically new, memorable and valuable customer experiences as an integrated part of the offering, rather than a series of isolated, delightful moments. That’s the true frontier and that’s what we’re set-up to do.

Within this context of accelerated noise and change, the ambiguities in agency positioning and overlap in offerings is daunting for clients. They can’t be expected to track the who’s who in the digital landscape. But, when the time comes to select a new partner, dig deeper to look beyond just capabilities. Find a service provider you connect with on a human level, who shares your values and has empathy for your business challenges. These are the true foundations of a collaborative and successful partnership.

In recent years, we’ve seen agencies presented with increasing opportunities to work with their clients on product and service innovation and not just marketing-led campaign and creative work. This year’s study, however, suggests that agencies may be losing some ground to traditional consultancies (e.g. Accenture, Deloitte, IBM) and digital media partners (e.g. Google, Facebook) as their clients’ primary, go-to innovation partner. Doberman focuses heavily on innovation consulting. What do you think clients are looking for in an innovation partner? Do you think agencies are losing ground here because the scope of innovation is so much broader than marketing?

Within the innovation space, it’s tempting as a client to find a partner who, without much hand-holding, will come back with a bold new solution to your business challenges. The deliverable for this exercise is often a strategy deck, which the client is then on the hook to implement. Often, outsourcing innovation to a consultant or digital media partner is just a short-term fix.

Doberman’s approach to innovation consulting is more collaborative and focuses on building up the internal capacity of our clients along the way. We help companies break through the clutter of data and insights to identify a big idea and bring it to life – fast – to quickly test new ideas by putting them in the hands of users. Along the way, we’re modeling design-centered thinking to demonstrate how this approach can be applied to future challenges.

And while the scope of innovation is broad, agencies don’t necessarily need to lose ground here. As new technologies and user behaviors continue to disrupt existing business models, the need for fresh thinking and perspectives just grows. Consultants and digital media partners still need to prove their ability to deliver on innovation over the long-run, so don’t count the agencies out just yet.

One of the biggest ingredients in delivering customer experience transformation is the ability to create underlying organizational change… thinking, working and relating differently. When asked about strategies that would have the biggest impact on their ability to grow and evolve, client-side respondents this year pointed to changes in organizational culture and working styles as two of the most important factors. What do you see as the key ingredients for creating a culture of innovation? How can these new behaviors be taught and sustained?

The first step in fostering a culture of innovation is agreeing there is no linear process. It’s going to be messy. Innovation cannot happen in a silo, with specialized teams doing the heavy lifting across an entire organization. Rather, innovation best practices should be embraced globally. From here, there are specific tools needed to foster a test-and-learn approach. Through rapid prototyping and design iteration, coupled with sprint-based development cycles, we can dramatically accelerate the process by reducing time to usage for new products and services. The faster we move from strategy decks into prototypes, the better we’ll understand emerging user needs and behaviors.

To teach and sustain new behaviors, often the place to start is within your organization’s management team. Sometimes what you need has nothing to do with new products, but rather foundational business change. Sustainable innovation is not taught in business school. The only way to excel is to build a customized toolbox to facilitate change within your organization. When your executives embrace creativity and nonlinear decision-making, this builds the ideal conditions for innovation to flourish.

It is also a matter of putting together multi-disciplinary teams of experts, maybe not always from your internal organization, but from a broader spectrum of partners (freelancers, scientists, startups and other catalysts). Truly disruptive products and services come from people who build with purpose, and are superior collaborators using empiricism and serendipity in a fine balancing act, almost like dancing. If I were to only give one piece of advice, it would be: start doing new things with new people in new ways and reflect often on what works and build from that. Sounds easy, right? Then go ahead and do it.

This Q&A with Lisa Lindström of Doberman was informed by several key findings in the 2017/18 Global Digital Outlook Study from SoDA and Forrester.
  • Regardless of whether a firm identifies as a digital agency, integrated agency, consultancy, design studio or production company, there is a nearly 60% overlap in primary capabilities for Digital Strategy, Creative/Design, User Experience and Technology/Development.

  • In 2015, 60% of client-side marketers said they handled innovation initiatives with internal teams. In 2017, that number dropped to just 14% and marketers now lean heavily on traditional consultancies, digital media partners and creative agencies for the ir innovation efforts.

  • Client-side marketing and technology leaders say that "Evolving our internal culture" and "Cultivating a better understanding of our customers’ needs" are two of the most critical factors impacting their growth and evolution over the next 2-3 years. cite geographic expansion to new markets as an important factor in their 2 -3 year growth strategies.