Introducing, the Agency of Trillions

January 8, 2014 in Notes from the Field

You may have heard the news that MAYA Design has launched a brand new innovation firm, Agency of Trillions.

My name is Deana Burke and I am Co-Founder and VP of Strategy at AoT. I can speak for all AoTers when I say we feel really blessed to be part of the MAYA family and really excited to continue the great work we are delivering for our clients.

Let me tell you a bit more about AoT. When we started discussing the idea we thought of it as creating an Agency for the Internet of Things. The Agency of Things. Who would help coordinate influencers when the influencers were the products themselves? But as we dug deeper into the potential we realized that it was far bigger than just an agency of things, it would have to be an Agency of Territories (environments and places) and also an Agency of Tribes—after all, people should be at the center of all of our work. We needed to also consider it an Agency for Tomorrow, that would reboot the traditional models evolved over the last 50 years and start fresh with an understanding of tomorrow instead of yesterday.

We also realized that this wasn’t only about Madison Avenue. Today the best agencies are doing amazing and thought-provoking work and learning how to move from campaigns to real-time. Marketers’ inboxes are pretty full with feedback about their social media work, especially within the frame of advocacy marketing platforms. If customers didn’t by x, we could pretty quickly change the campaign and say that it wasn’t x, it was X! or it was 2X or it was Y! But if you looked at the other side of the equation, the product development side, their inboxes were as empty as they have ever been. Product development doesn’t have the luxury of changing the factory and entire supply chain every time someone yells foul or some new upstart reframes the entire category. Product innovation sometimes didn’t even listen very well to its own support and sales channels; they had the attitude that “if they built it, someone would come” because it took so long to build and was pretty cool, right?

The mismatch, as we talked to more and more leading organizations, was striking. Sure, if you made something that was purely created out of bits you could evolve it quickly, hence the rise of Netflix, Uber, Twitter, etc. They all take advantage of connectivity and computational power that previous generations could only have dreamed about. But if you were a big brand who made things out of atoms, instead of bits, you had to consider supply chains, and factories, and the potential that something you created could lead to waste, a massive recall or worse. You just couldn’t move at that same pace.

Enter the Agency of Trillions

If you are familiar with MAYA, then you probably know about the book Trillions, written by Peter Lucas, Joseph Ballay and Mickey McManus. In the book they use the metaphor of climbing the next mountain and the vast business potential it represents as their organizing principle. Trillions Mountain is shorthand for the idea that tomorrow we will live “in” the information, in an information ecology of literally trillions of devices, all connected. They call this ecology the Trillion-Node Network. MAYA’s concept encompasses ideas like the Industrial Internet or the Internet of Things but also includes territories (environments) and tribes (people), as well as peer-to-peer networks of devices that may never connect to the Internet. For example, pacemakers and hospital rooms and critical infrastructure may not be connected all the time. You may want to know about the health of your new baby by having a connected diaper but we probably don’t need all of the diapers in the world tweeting. (Please, diaper marketers of the future, let’s actually not have all the diapers in the world tweeting.) In a disaster zone you may not be able to connect even if you want to, yet you’ll wish you could form a local connected community of first responders to rebuild the community. The pervasive connectivity of Trillions marks an increasingly complex world—one where the boundaries between atoms and bits blur, and the way that products are made and marketed will be completely upended.

We are entering a period of profound technological change. Soon, everything that can be connected, will be connected. The majority of “things” produced will have connectivity embedded in them as a default, and not just the obvious suspects like smart phones and thermostats, but entirely new categories of things. Those products will be able to communicate with humans, but there will also be communication between products as they form their own social networks, creating an incredibly rich—and incredibly complex—ecology of data.

This will feel like a veritable monsoon of noise compared to what we are used to today. This connectivity will usher in an era of radical transparency for consumers. Companies will no longer be able to hide behind the “just-so” claims of their sanitized TV advertisements, scripted customer care representatives or witty tweets. Their products will be emitting data, and other products, and more importantly their customers, will be listening.

This, coupled with increased manufacturing liquidity and multiple purchase channels—i.e. homemade via 3D Printer, handmade via Techshop or Etsy, secondhand via Ebay, manufactured as a service via Shapeways, etc.—means that consumers will not only have more information but also more choice and access than ever before.

At AOT, we don’t think your customers should be the ones that have to worry about all this change, but we do think that the expectation of the average consumer, of the average brand, is going to be dramatically altered, and that today’s Fortune 500 companies (and their agencies) are wholly unprepared for this shift.

Philosophy

We don’t have all the answers. But we have some tested methods that work in this emerging landscape. To begin with, we believe that a successful company of tomorrow must begin to design and deploy offerings that are 1) human-centered, 2) responsive, 3) interdisciplinary, 4) collaborative, and 5) rewarding for customers/innovators.

We need to move on from the “waterfall method” of product development to one that is responsive and iterative. The new feedback loop that we saw develop with social media is just the beginning of what is possible. Soon, companies will be able to build data backchannels in to every stage of a customer’s experience with the product. And not only can companies glean intelligence about where/why/when & how people are using their product, but where/why/when & how it is interacting with the other products in the environment. Plus, these backchannels will be recording and transmitting fact, not anecdote, and in real time.

But data is just ones and zeros until it is turned into intelligence, and we believe this huge shift in customer understanding will require a significant change in processes. We believe a hybrid role will emerge in order to find signals in all of this noise. No longer can marketing and product design work in their own organizational silos. In the company of the future, the roles of marketing and product design will blur in order to remain nimble and relevant in the face of all of this intelligence. And with the radical changes in manufacturing methods on the horizon, the stories that your products tell, co-created by your users and the community at large may drive changes in the product itself. We’ll shift from the traditional world of static product equilibrium—if you need to create a new product you create a new SKU—to dynamic product equilibrium, where your product is really designed as a species and is individualized by your customer, responsive to their needs, and able to surf the inevitable wave of change with more agility than ever before.

We also believe that information will begin to flow in surprising ways. Bill Joy says, “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” The company of tomorrow will create a fertile soil for their customers and end-users to innovate with them and reward co-creators for their creativity with far more tangible economics than thumbs up, stars, or likes. You could never afford to hire all of the people in the world to work in your design department, but you can build generative platforms that allow you to invite many of them into the community of product innovation. It’ll only work if you respect them as creative forces tuning your offering to fit their world. Brands won’t tell their own stories anymore, they’ll have to design for a little loss in control. They’ll have to become gardeners weeding out the noise and turning wild flowers to the sun. Products will tell new stories about the customers that love them, and customers will tell stories about their successes with a brand’s offerings as if it were their own, and in some ways for the first time ever, it really will be.

In traditional marketing, Paid Media is what you buy, Owned Media is what you control, and Earned Media is what you reap from third party validation. We believe something special happens when Trillions comes into view. We call it Made Media and it’s what you sow. It represents the creation of generative seeds and fertile soil so your customers can tell their own stories, and their products can join the conversation.

The potential for our new agency is vast and I am so excited to finally be able to tell everyone about what we’ve been crafting in our labs for so long. But more importantly the potential for our clients to harness this new medium and become not only literate but also fluent, is boundless.

More Information

We launched a new agency. Get in touch via our website, Twitter or email to talk some more.

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