Nick Parish of Contagious talks about how companies respond to change, instilling bravery in your brand and Tammy Wynette
As President and Editorial Director, Americas, Nick Parish helps run London-based Contagious in North America. He works on Contagious’ award-winning quarterly briefing book, frequent special reports, web platforms and client-based consulting projects, all focusing on turning emerging innovative technology and marketing into future-facing business intelligence.
Nick has spoken at dozens of leading industry events including the Cannes Lions, SXSW Interactive, IDEA, CaT: Creativity and Technology, Yahoo! Provoke Summit, CreateTech, FutureFlash, Interesting New York and his work has been published in the New York Post, New York magazine, Advertising Age, Creativity, Slam, Comstock’s, Mashable and the Globe & Mail.
Steve Mast, President, Delvinia and Neil Follett, President, Brightworks, chatted with Nick about his upcoming appearance at the Canadian Marketing Association’s CMAfuture conference.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found about how brands respond (or don’t) to trends that seem obvious to you, but are incredibly disruptive to their business model?
Right now in some alternate universe I’m rewriting the lyrics to Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” to fully communicate the incredible obstacles in the way of changing culture inside a big corporation and the success to be found in just being consistently dedicated to one vision and open to the chaos the future may hold.
Maybe you can hear the steel guitar now. And maybe some wormhole will deliver the finished product to me in a bolt of inspiration, and instead of my CMAfuture talk I’ll just get an amazing beehive wig and sing that for everyone.
But until then we’re here in our reality, and the gigantic suckhole of talent and ideas many 21st century companies have become.
But to answer your question, nothing’s surprising. Watching big companies respond to change is like watching glaciers or icebergs, there’s only noticeable action when a piece crumbles off. I’m not pessimistic about innovation inside brands, but it’s something they're either set up to do or they aren’t. It takes a lot of energy to even stay conscious of organizational biases, let alone try to buck the status quo in a company that’s devoted to a model that’s being subverted.
And that crusading, however righteous, tends to burn people out. That’s kind of why Contagious exists, to be an ally to and advocate for great ideas within companies, whether they originate inside the company or threaten to destroy it, all at once or over a period of years.
What advice would you give a top marketer who is trying to create a culture of innovation?
Probably the single most important thing is to try lots of new things but not be all over the place. It’s important to take the pressure off launching ideas and showing the public new stuff, marketers tend to be overly precious and protective of stuff that might influence how their brand is perceived. I want to help instill that bravery among brands.
That isn’t to say they should go around willy-nilly and jump on every single new thing that comes along. Retain a sense of self, understand your brand's organizing principles, and try to learn whatever you can about what people care about and will give their time and attention and money towards.
What unconventional skills do you think will be most valuable to the marketer of the future?
Creativity, and the ability to make things.
Cynically you could say these types of people wouldn’t make it to the top of a big brand, they wouldn’t have the political stomach, or the patience to deal with the tedium. But they’ll probably create the companies that approach the same problem today’s brands are trying to solve in more interesting ways and may render them irrelevant by the time we get to a reasonable approximation of "the future".
What do you have in store for those who will attend the CMAfuture conference?
Well, hopefully I’ll be able to deliver a different perspective that will help people bring more interesting ideas into the world. And maybe a little Tammy.