Deutsch LA’s Twist on Agency Product Innovation

Digital agencies want to make products, and their brand clients say they want to “innovate.” But when the rubber hits the road, it’s rare that marketers dedicate any significant budget or attention to things like product development and experimentation.

Deutsch LA is trying to change that fact with a new division it’s calling Inventionist, which it hopes will help entice clients to dip their toes in the product-development waters with little risk, and at relatively little cost, by offering no obligation packages. The plan is to create an environment in which ideas and products can be created quickly, easily, and outside of the typical agency/client relationship and marketer campaign cycles.

Starting at $10,000, the agency will dispatch a team of four creative technologists to brainstorm ideas over the course of a week during what it calls a “sprint.” From there, clients can invest further for prototypes within 45 days and for full products within six months.

“Very rarely do brands think this way, and for marketers, this type of thing just isn’t in the budget,” explained Bud Caddell, the agency’s director of innovation. “We wanted to create an easy way for them to take a small amount of money and to try something new. It needs to look and smell a bit different to the rest of the agency because it is.”

Deutsch isn’t the first agency to start a “lab” or product arm, of course, but it’s hoping that formalizing and packaging the innovation and product-development process in this way will make it easier for clients to understand and, more importantly, to buy.

For many agencies, their labs are little more than a collection of side projects and in-house experiments that they claim help inform their work for clients. In many instances, they boil down to little more than marketing initiatives designed to prove their technology chops to prospective clients. For others, such as Huge and Anomoly, their labs arms are designed primarily to create their own intellectual property. According to Deutsch, its own effort is intended purely to service clients.

“We designed this for today’s CMO,” Caddell said. “Their tenure is measured in months now, and silos in their organizations make change difficult. They have less time than ever to make their mark, so we want to help them plant a flag in the ground for innovation. We want to help clients get famous, but help change their businesses, too.”

As for the type of products it’s hoping develop, Deutsch says it’s open to anything, as long as it’s tied to digital. That’ll include websites, apps, services but also physical products. Caddell pointed to Nike’s FuelBand product as an example of the type of deliverable it wants to bring to clients. “That came about after years of client relationship. What we want is to create a system-to-produce work like that repeatedly,” he said.

In terms of staffing, Deutsch’s “invention” team will man the new division, splitting their time roughly 50/50 between it and other campaign-based client work. Other agency resources will be tapped when necessary, but that team of creative strategists will form its backbone. The company is hoping the unit will help the agency more effectively attract and retain talent, too, by giving staffers the opportunity to work on a range of products and ideas in quick succession.

But according to Caddell, the unit will be firmly focused on offering its services to clients, as opposed to building products to be owned and operated by the agency itself.

“It’s not our goal to launch products. It’s a completely different business model and a completely different personnel requirement. We just don’t have the infrastructure. The idea is we want to help find new opportunities for our clients.”

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