To start, this might not seem to be about marketing innovation – hold tight, we’ll come back around to it.
One US entity, The National Cancer Institute, has a USD $5B budget. They spend about $2B of that on research. While I’d argue that’s a lot of money in and of itself, it’s basically the tip of the iceberg of cancer research spending since so much of it is held in other institutions, private companies and charities. Doctors and researchers everywhere have been searching for ways to prevent, predict and treat the “Emperor of All Maladies.”
But consider this: the two largest breakthroughs – breakthroughs of staggering proportions were made this year by two teens. Brittany Wenger is 17. Jack Andraka is 15. Brittany developed an artificial brain that diagnoses breast cancer with 99% accuracy. It uses “an artificial neuron network to detect patterns across the nine indicators that signal a malignant mass.” It beats all current diagnostic approaches. Because the model gets better with more data – she’s opened it up to the world to make it patient ready. That’s free. In winning the Google Science prize, she receives $50,000.
And if you want to see what pure and lovely geeky happiness looks like, meet Jack. He won the Intel Science prize for $75,000. Based on diabetic test paper, Jack created a simple dip-stick sensor to test blood or urine to determine whether or not a patient has early-stage pancreatic cancer. His study resulted in over 90 percent accuracy and showed his patent-pending sensor to be 28 times faster, 28 times less expensive and over 100 times more sensitive than current tests. Jack received the Gordon E. Moore Award, of $75,000, named in honor of Intel co-founder and retired chairman and CEO.
So, we have two very young people transforming cancer research for a very “nominal” reward. However, think about the nature of the rest of the researchers’ work. How are those researchers finding people like Jack and Brittany? Because while these two are highly visible examples, they are surely not the only examples. The question is how do you find the next round of Brittany and Jacks in your industry without stalking high schools, college campuses or anywhere else? Research – akin to innovation – is generally held by a relatively small group of people working in very narrow fields on complex problems. The same is true of innovation in general. It is especially true for marketing innovation. Since it’s a competitive differentiator around customer/data/experience/analytics, we treat it as proprietary – just like research. And with that, we begin to lose. We close off our eyes, put our blinders on and look down. It’s time to look up out and around.
So, let’s consider this in a marketing not a medical context. Marketing needs to have access to the next generation of relevant Brittany- and Jack-type people, regardless of age, geography, language or industry. You need to be listening without prejudice. So many times we pay attention only to the people directly around us. Our personal network. That’s not bad. However, it leaves people like Jack and Brittany out of the equation.
So we need find them…designers, engineers, bloggers/journalists, academics, futurists, innovation labs, thinkers, tinkerers, tradesmen. To be practical, you can’t boil the internet ocean. Big data is crushing and you don’t have the time or interest in sorting it all out. So, the way you do this is by structuring 5 key keyword queries that represent not your current market but the markets/products/consumers next to it. Let me stress again – NOT your current business. The people who do customer service and community management will handle those. You keep adding or changing your wording a little bit until you start to find aha moments. You can, if you have a well articulated set of innovation initiatives, look to further down the horizon line using the same method.
Your goal is to get 15 people you don’t already have in your stable. From there, explore their content to find 5 more people each (a total of 75). Use Hootsuite (or other social monitoring tool) and other free or low cost available tools (contact @cunningham_kev if you need free recommendations) to create a quick set of scans/monitors. From there, explore adding 5 academics who are doing interesting work in the field. Add five innovation labs – such as the BMW, MIT or Stanford ones. Find five futurists. We’ve written about a number of them and can provide recommendations if you need them. That’s a total of 90 new contacts. Now send a tweet, short message or other means of contact to introduce yourself and what you’re interested in. Connect with them on Linked In as well.
Now you’re in full-on listening mode for their new content. You want to see what they’re talking about. Those of you with social media monitoring software will find this method much easier. You’ll also find the ability to keep your list current and automatically update your queries to be rather seamless. I highly recommend Crimson Hexagon. If you’re interested in what they have – reach out to Melyssa Plunkett Gomez. She truly gets the marketing space and can be assistance as well. You’ll want to run and review your queries at least monthly. Take all of the tweets/posts and content and create a set of word documents. It’s a bit of painful copy and paste exercise, but any member of your team can do it. Give it to the person likely to find the next part most interesting. Start to use a visualization software to view the content – keywords/authors/cross-references/links. Crimson Hexagon has a lovely interface, it’s one of the reasons I recommend them, but others have good reports baked in as well. IBM has tools that specifically address finding influencers. They too have even made it simple. The tools are out there, free or paid, per-use or enterprise grade. Your organization likely already has them. You can use the ones you’ve got, you just want a few queries and it’s a nominal cost for a big payout.
I’d like to say you want this content weekly, but I know how time strapped you are, so realistically, monthly. Go take the report and get out of your office to read it. Take your laptop and begin to explore the links. Dive in. You’ll be shocked what you learn and see in short order. What you will see are open pathways and connections that will make you smarter. Now, you are better equipped to define where you innovation investments can be made.
(personal note, Michael Wertz died of pancreatic cancer on 8/16/07. I loved and miss him.)