Sunday, August 9, 2009

the making of a trend lab

This blog post is purely for self-reflection and to help me think through an idea. But in the process, I'm going to share with you a project I've been working on for almost 2 years.

I think it was during my first week at the agency that they handed over a project to me (more like delegated) - we want you to build a trend lab. Back then, "trend lab" was an idea completely and entirely encapsulated in two words: trend (sounds cool) lab (sounds purposeful). I got a teeny tiny room on the quiet, hardly-frequented 10th floor. I did my best to make it cool - added visual stimulation in the form of creative ad work, magazine articles, and as many different colored stick pins that I could find. No one came into "the lab," so I started inviting people down, to talk, to share, to collaborate with. At one point in time, we were capturing the Consumer Confidence Index rating, the latest in creativity, the latest in marketing/communications, general articles about innovative cultural events or transformations, and consumer insights relative to particular audiences (Boomers, Gen Xers, etc.). People still weren't coming down in crowds. The people that did come down said it was cool once they were there, but still not purposeful yet, not an agency utility. Trend Lab 1.0 lasted over a year (that's about how long it takes when you've got one person working on the idea amid actual account/client work. I also needed that time to understand how the agency worked; of course I had my ideas of what I would want a Trend Lab to be, but I needed to take into account my audience and the category - other agency resources. What would make the Trend Lab different?

In its second year (and mine), it is alive and well in the form of a Trend Lab newsletter titled the MYT (see posts below for examples). The MYT stands for Making You Think, because we really saw the point of a trend lab to be thinking outside the box, being on the cusp of edgy and cool, making the work smarter and more relevant. I knew this from the beginning but still making a room out of it has been an uphill battle. Somehow I need to change the agency's behavior to incorporate a stop at the Trend Lab, it's needs to be a culture thing. If we want to produce advertising that engages, we better have a culture that engages internally.

And so, with Trend Lab (now a proper noun within the agency) 2.0 (thanks to the newsletter, it actually exists!) we have a room to differentiate from all other rooms in the agency. We're no longer on 10 but on 13, more at the core of the agency. Now our Trend Lab seeks to engage and offers a place for something agency people can't get elsewhere. Making You Think is not just the point of the newsletter, the point of the Trend Lab has been simplified to the art of thinking. It has become a sort of "prop warehouse" for planners to tell a story, for creatives to get inspiration, for anyone interested in collaboration to join in and be exposed to how other people think through conversation.

The brand promise of the Trend Lab is close to the campaign that restored Apple's reputation but not exactly. Think Different was a call to the creative class that said you are different, embrace your intricacies. The Trend Lab exists to make you think. As a resource within an agency that has many resources - most for information gathering, but none to stimulate or engage people, the purpose of the Trend Lab (its utility) is facilitating creative conversations. There's a certain call to action with a conversation; good ones require you to engage, to interact, to provide a POV, and to listen. Trend Lab 2.0 takes a lot of cues from social media, where the people matter and the conversation is what drives the interactions.

Ok. I've got it. Now off to write a manifesto to ensure that those who subscribe to this mentality and way of working will know there are others like them, interacting, thinking, and discussing in new ways, in the Trend Lab.