Subtractive Innovation

Episode 12 December 06, 2023 00:26:41
Subtractive Innovation
The Loop Marketing Podcast
Subtractive Innovation

Dec 06 2023 | 00:26:41


Hosted By

Elise Stieferman

Show Notes

In this exciting episode of The Loop Marketing Podcast️, host Elise Stieferman engages in a thought-provoking conversation with Coegi’s Director of Innovation, Savannah Westbrock, and Innovation Lead, Allie Haupt to discuss the intriguing concept of subtractive innovation.

This episode leaves listeners with powerful insights, encouraging a shift in mindset that values subtraction as much as addition. The notion of simplicity and its long-term impact on future additive thinking is underscored, leaving marketers inspired to embrace subtractive innovation for continued success ✅ in their strategies.

Tune in to this thought-provoking episode and embark on a journey of subtractive innovation to streamline your marketing efforts and drive lasting success! Don't forget to subscribe, like, comment, subscribe, and share this episode with your marketing colleagues!


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Time Stamps:

0:00 - Intro

1:29 - What is Subtractive Innovation?

8:20 - Dyson and Apple's Subtractive Product Innovation

14:13 - The Steps to Implementing Subtractive Innovation

21:20 - Consumer Forward Mentality in Subtractive Innovation

24:16 - Final Thoughts

26:01 - Outro

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Elise Stiegerman: Hello and welcome back to The Loop Marketing Podcast. Today I'm excited to speak with Coegi’s Director of Innovation, Savannah Westbrock, and Innovation Lead, Allie Haupt on the topic of subtractive innovation. Welcome, ladies. Allie Haupt: I'm so excited to be here. This is my first episode on The Loop Marketing podcast. Elise: Well, we are thrilled to have you. I know that Savannah’s an old hat at this. She's done it multiple times. So we've needed to get Ms. Allie Haupt on the pod. So I know that the concept of “less is more” is something that has permeated our personal lives in one way or another. I think about the rise of minimalism and the widespread popularity of Marie Kondo and her philosophies around purging things in your home that don't spark joy and things along those lines. So I think we all have come to embrace that. But when you think about working in marketing, we tend to veer down the path of determining what's missing or what do we need to add to a process. And the concept of innovation in particular, what we've discussed in the past is that it doesn't always have to involve addition. Sometimes the process of removal of roadblocks or superfluous steps or actions is actually something that can be significantly more impactful to driving better outcomes. Which brings us to our big topic today. So, Allie, I was hoping that you could kick us off with telling us a little bit more about what subtractive innovation really is. Allie: Absolutely. So subtractive innovation is both a mindset and a process that seeks to improve something by subtracting rather than adding. So when you're looking to improve your business operations or your product or service, instead of adding that bell or whistle or that extra process, it's looking to see, okay, what can we take away to make something more efficient or effective? And if we were to Robert Frost this, I definitely think that subtractive innovation is the road less traveled by. And I think it really stems from it is in our human nature to take that additive approach. There was an interesting study at the University of Virginia by Leidy Klotz, who is an engineer there, and he noticed that addition was the gut instinct approach for humans when doing architectural designs. And so he really wanted to see, is this a phenomena across humanity that we opt toward addition? And so he partnered with Gabrielle Adams, who is a social psychologist, and they conducted a series of studies to answer that question, like, is that our instinct to want to add? And in one of the studies, they asked 91 participants to make a grid pattern symmetrical. And there were two options. A user could either remove four squares or add twelve. And shockingly, only 20% of the participants opted toward subtraction. And obviously, hindsight is everything. And we can all agree that the subtractive approach was the easiest, most efficient approach to take. Yet when we're faced with having to make something better, our instinct is just, hey, let's add. Savannah Westbrock: I think, tying it back to Elise's tee up with the marketing industry specifically, it's interesting to see that sort of, like nature/nurture combo with human instinct nudging us toward addition. But I also think the marketing industry itself really heavily incentivizes an additive thought process, right? How many of us, when we're planning campaigns, consider step one to be reaching out to every vendor in our contact list to see how they would approach the same problem? For example, I think what we've noticed as we've tried to implement more of a subtractive mentality throughout our company is taking a look at what we already have and how we can improve it before we seek out something new. And I think it's added a lot of efficiency to our general workflow there. Allie: Yeah, and I think it may be a little bit of a hot take, but I think that we as marketers have conditioned ourselves to believe that the most complex strategy is the best. So when we're approaching like a media plan, it's like, okay, how many DSPs can we run in? Or how many audience segments can we add? Or, yeah, we have 1000 creative versions, let's go ahead and run all of them. But that can really be an inefficient approach to setting up a campaign. Not only does it take the campaign specialist more time to actually physically go into each platform and set up the campaign, but when you're slicing and dicing your media budget with all of those variables, you're having a hard time getting the overall campaign learnings because it takes longer to reach statistical significance. And your media dollars are being invested so far and wide that you're really losing sight of your core audience and promoting that core message. Savannah: I'm really glad you mentioned stat sig there too, Allie, because I think part of the way we've trained ourselves as sort of a digital-first agency is sort of assuming that machine learning can really handle anything we throw at it. But those inefficiencies really add up when you're starting with a really complex, segmented siloed media campaign. I think, like my first encounter with subtractive innovation, I didn't know the term, but we realized when we were building out our audiences in a DSP, when we were looking at different data providers, it was also more expensive to just segment and segment and segment because you're paying all of those different third party companies their respective fees. So a really practical example of what subtractive innovation might mean in marketing would be if I'm setting up an audience of 24+, I can go in and select individual segments, grouped as they typically are, by age demographics. Like 24 to 34, 35 to here, blah, blah blah blah. Or we can just not target the people under 24 and at least in the DSPs we work in, typically, not targeting something or suppressing that audience is free compared to trying to add in dozens of segments and let the algorithm take it from there. Allie: Yeah, and, hey, we're saving on carpal tunnel because we're no longer having to click on all of those different segments to add. Less clicks, baby. Elise: But I think going back to that human instinct, I think that marketers feel that if they don't think of something new, then they're not adding value to the client. If we can't test something that has not been explored before, and they think of that as adding a new segment rather than taking that segment away or something like that, that they haven't contributed. And I think that's true from a personal perspective. I mean think we're about to head to the holiday season. I am going to gift you something that you may or may not need, because I want to feel like you think I care about you or that's I think a value exchange that's being experienced through the act of gift giving. And it comes from a really honest place. I feel like. Same thing with marketers. It's not like we're trying to come at it with, okay, let's try to milk money from clients. Let's try to try all these things. And it's not from a selfish place, but it really is kind of that shiny object syndrome of chasing after something that has not been explored before. But to your points, I think that the idea of taking away can actually add a lot of insight that will veer you down the path to more efficiency, to better results and all of that. And so I'd love to hear a little bit more from you all on: when you think about companies that are applying subtractive innovation to their products, to their marketing, is there any company that comes to mind as doing that effectively? Allie: One that always comes to mind for me is Dyson, and I'm definitely over enthused when it comes to cleaning products. So apologies, but sit back for a little fireside chat of the lore of how the Dyson vacuum came to be. So James Dyson, the inventor, he was vacuuming one weekend, as we always do, and he noticed that his suction was horrible. And so he's like, all right, guess it's time to switch out the vacuum bag. But when he went to his closet, he was like, well, I don't have a vacuum bag at home. So he thought, okay, maybe I can find the cheat code to vacuuming, and I'll just dump my vacuum bag out and just throw it back in. No one will know the wiser. And he noticed that it didn't improve the suction, so he begrudgingly, went to the store, got a new vacuum bag, plopped it back in, and noticed that the suction was improved. And this was a light bulb moment for him. It was not the vacuum bag being empty, but the vacuum bag being clean that improved the suction. And so he could have had two options there. He could have either invested all of his time and resources on adding another thing to the vacuum to make it improve its suction, or spending all of his time devising this amazing vacuum bag that can be reused. But instead he took the subtractive approach and invented a vacuum that didn't need a vacuum bag at all. And that's really how the Dyson came to be. And their slogan is like “do less with more.” And I think that that's such a powerful way to show that you really can find success taking that subtractive approach. Elise: There are so many things I love about that story, a couple of them. So one, I think it goes against marketers instincts to take something like a vacuum bag away because it's something that you have to replace in a vacuum. And so in theory, you'd be making more money for the company because, oh my gosh, I need to buy a new vacuum bag to improve my efficiency. The vacuum is not working as well. And instead he's created an entirely new value proposition for a vacuum where you have a whole bunch of vacuum options out there, all of them need bags, and instead you go towards what the consumer actually wants, which is simplicity and a better working product. And now I feel like they've got a hold on the entire industry as being a best in class solution for something that probably in the short run, made CEOs a little bit nervous that they're going to actually make less money. So I think that's really interesting. Allie: Yeah, and it's a sustainable approach too, taking away the vacuum bag instead of just constantly dumping them in the landfill. So definitely a good sign of success for subtraction. Another one that comes to mind is Apple. I had an iPod in middle school. It was purple. I thought I was the coolest person ever. But you can't buy an iPod anymore. And that's because Apple had the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad all at one time and there was redundancy in their product offering. And with the advent of streaming music, the iPod kind of became a little irrelevant. And so instead of them again finding a bell or whistle to add to the iPod to make it more relevant, they were like, you know what, let's just cut it out and focus on the products that are really driving that value and revenue. So now you can't buy the iPod anymore. Savannah: Well, and it's interesting and I think speaks to the legacy of Apple's relationship with subtractive innovation that you brought up like the iPod and the iPad. Because when I think of Apple, I would go like maybe 20, even 30 years beforehand when they got rid of like 95% of the products they even produced just to focus in really closely on the ones that they really stood by. So I think that's just an example of how if you start this practice, you're going to notice long term how the benefits are maybe not as shiny and visible as a cool new product or standing on stage and getting some sort of award. But the lasting effect it's going to have on your business strategy is really exemplified by how we consider Apple today to be another just best in class company when it comes to the products they build. Elise: Right? And if you think about all the brilliant minds who are working in a siloed capacity on the iPad versus the iPhone versus the iPod and instead streamlined that so that their mental resources were more going towards the same congruent company goal, in theory, it should produce a better product, better positioning, more consumer happiness, all the things. And it's not necessarily the first gut reaction is like, oh my gosh, we're cutting a product line. It means that revenue is going to go down. And instead you're probably growing market share and thinking back to the iPhones of them versus Samsung or know whomever. So I love all that thinking. So then, taking it a step further, how do marketers go beyond that gut reaction of I must find something new or I must add something new to add value and begin to take a truly intentional approach to innovation, to where they're being challenged by themselves and by others to think subtractively about what they're actually going to bring to a process. And instead of flexing that regular muscle of what's missing. Allie: So I think the first step to taking a subtractive approach is to start by stopping, which is going to seem like really counterintuitive at first, but it's really important that you pause and you evaluate what tools and processes that your organization has in place and how all of those contribute to the success of your day to day. I like to think of this in the analogy of shopping your pantry. So we all know that to be an efficient grocery shopper, you first have to make a plan of like, okay, what am I making this week? Are mom and dad coming over for dinner? Will they want lasagna? And you pick out what you're going to be making that week and you go to the recipe, see the ingredients that you need. And to be a good shopper, you go in your pantry and you see what you already have so that when you're going to the grocery store, you're not buying things needlessly or having like 1000 boxes of pasta noodles that end up expiring before you get to use them. So it's really important to see what you have first and how it all contributes to the success. And then once you do that, you can start testing with subtractive innovation and consider what can be done with less. So you can take a process that you have and test, okay, what happens if we remove step three? Does this make the process more efficient? Does this reduce the timeline from A to B or does this allow more people to collaborate? Because now we're removing red tape in the process. So really starting to think, okay, what can we do that can make things more efficient? Elise: So something that came to mind for me when you were mentioning shopping the pantry is that so many people, myself sadly included, let their pantry get completely out of order. I feel like people need to almost take that step back and be willing to reorganize their pantry. And that's not always the most fun process. Maybe it's therapeutic in some ways. We all love a clean kitchen when it's all done. Now, the process of getting there is not enjoyable, but I think taking the time to do that inventory of what's there and what's available to your teams is critical. Allie: Yeah, and the antithesis of this. I always like thinking of things in movies. Have you all seen The Holiday with like, Cameron Diaz? Savannah: Oh, yeah, I have. Elise: It's been a long time, you’re going to have to re-prompt me. Allie: Oh, it’s a classic. But when Cameron Diaz's character, Amanda, lands in the UK. One of the first things that she does is she goes to the grocery store and she's mindlessly throwing candy and biscuits and wine in her shopping cart. Truly no thoughts, just vibes. And while that is fun to do every once in a while, it's not a very efficient or effective thing to have as your lifelong practice of going to the grocery store. So sometimes it is fun to have that mindless grocery shopping, but you really need to have structure in place when you're wanting to add things to your organization or your household. Elise: Allie, it's like you knew. My next question and Savannah, I'm going to point the question towards you is that in order for people to get into that rhythm of having that subtractive innovation mindset, I feel like you almost have to put guardrails in place that allow for careful determination or evaluation of if addition is actually needed to come to the best solution. So are there any guardrails that come to mind that you've seen for marketers that have turned out to be successful in implementing that mentality? Savannah: Yeah, I think in general, the pantry metaphor helps us so much because we've all been in those positions where it's like, I have a strict list, I know exactly what I need and I have a firm budget, so if I deviate from this, I'm going to get myself in trouble. Right, but then to Allie's point, it's not inherently bad to have one of those days where you're like, I'm going to add a little bit of junk food to, or even just like, okay, I haven't tried this brand. Let me swap it out. Let's do a head to head test. I think my advice would be just go ahead and have the extended pantry clean out. It may seem a little bit intimidating to do an audit of the relationships you already have. But it can also really help you take a peek at which of the vendors you have, which of the partners, the tech relationships, the DSPs, whatever's in your toolkit or your pantry. It helps you see where there might be redundancies that you can reevaluate. It'll help you find fun head to head tests you might want to do. Maybe across your organization, you've used like six or seven different brand lift partners, right? You could do that exercise with your team to say, okay, let's narrow this down to maybe three preferred partners and when we recommend using them so that in the future you're set up for more success when you go out to evaluate new stuff because you have that strong foundation. You know what you like and what you don't like about the partners you've worked with before. And ideally, you're going to do some sort of an audit in a way that can continue living, right. Your whole team can keep adding to it, and you'll be able to see, okay, this is a creative combination of three different partners that can do the same thing as this flashy new tech that popped up last year, for example. That'll be my extension of this pantry metaphor more into the sad zone. As someone who hates grocery shopping, one of the things I love to do is to Google like, okay, I have artichokes and spaghetti and olives in my pantry. Is there anything I can do with that? And oftentimes the answer is no, please go grocery shop. You are an adult, but sometimes you get surprised and you find something that's actually really good. Kitchen sink cookies are a great example of that. Allie: That's so true. And I think it's important also when you're auditing to also reimagine how you can reuse things in your toolkit. If we're sticking with this pantry metaphor, if we only see eggs as a mechanism for scrambling, we're really missing out on the deliciousness of fried and hard boiled. So again, before you go to add, see what you have and then see if you can reimagine it in a way to meet that gap or that opportunity. Elise: So then I want to think a little bit back to our Dyson example. I think all that you both have mentioned here is great, and especially thinking about the tech partner relationships, the data relationships that have all been built up, the channel relationships as well. But then I'd love to think a little bit of how do we put ourselves better into the consumer shoes in building out the subtractive innovation mindset. I think about the Dyson example is a perfect example. This person was using a vacuum. They did not have a bag. They figured out the solution by trying something new. How do we put our brand in a consumer forward mentality and apply the subtractive innovation mindset over there? Allie: One immediate example that came to mind is really evaluating your brand's website and seeing what sections of the website is the consumer going to? Is there a part that we may internally love but no one's going to it that's then increasing the page load time? So thinking of really simplifying your brand presence in that way I think is really important. Savannah: The other thing that I think from more of the client communication standpoint is you have to be brave enough to have those awkward conversations to challenge the status quo. Right? And I think you have to look at who is incentivized to do what. So we want to put our brands and their consumers in a long term relationship. But if we're being told that our marketing KPI is to smack them over the head with retargeting ads 4000 times yeah, we may hit this marketing KPI, but we're not truly serving the long term relationship that's going to have a continued lasting footprint on the brand story and their relationship with those consumers. And I think as we've navigated some conversations with brand teams, with agency teams, it's almost universal that we have to have some sort of conversation about the difference between a brand goal and where we want to see this brand in three years, five years versus what we're trying to do in the short term just to keep the dashboard looking happy and how we want to see it. So I think being brave enough to also say, I know you've worked with this brand in the past, can we try this one? Or I know that your goals are really short term right now, maybe we need to hit those, but how can we lay a foundation for pursuing that longer lasting relationship between the consumer and the brand? Allie: That’s so true. here's nothing more annoying than seeing the same Hulu ad like 100 times. So really thinking it as more of like a relationship with the consumer rather than like, oh, we served 1000 impressions, high fives all around. Elise: Yeah, I think having those honest conversations with our clients, having those honest conversations internally too, so that nobody falls so in love with an idea that it usurps. The actual end goal or end purpose is a critical piece of this puzzle for sure. All right, ladies, I think this has been a super interesting conversation. I'm going to wrap us up and ask that if you have any last thoughts that we should be leaving our listeners with. To be on the right foot of applying subtractive innovation to their day to day, especially going into 2024 when things are starting to get mixed up a little bit and potentially applying new strategies, what should our listeners be thinking about? Allie: I think it's important to remember that it is not in our human nature to take that subtractive approach. We live in a society where addition is so applauded and awarded. Think about like the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Academy Awards, we're always celebrating people's achievements through addition. So if we start to think of subtraction, as equally valuable as addition, people will start to see that that is also an avenue towards success. With subtraction, you can get efficiencies in your day to day operations, media effectiveness, as well as overall employee happiness. Because I don't know about you, but I like to work in a simplified process rather than in a system that is overly complex just for the sake of being overly complex. Savannah: Yeah, you mentioned Frost at the top, so I feel compelled now to also mention, like, an old canon author. I think it was Thoreau who said, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” And that was his big piece. I think in addition to what you've just said in our nature, really adding that complexity, it's important to mention that once you have gone through the process of simplifying things, it's going to make your future additive thinking that much more powerful. Because you're not going to waste time chasing just sort of loose ends that need to be tied up. You're not going to pursue things that someone else on your team already has the answer for. Everything is going to be buttoned up for you to then go out and find what really adds value to your tech stack your toolbox or your pantry. Elise: Wonderful. Thank you both so much for your time today. I'm personally excited to apply this thinking to myself and challenge myself to not just veer towards the path of figuring out what must be missing and instead bring that kind of subtractive mindset to the table. And hopefully our listeners will do the same. Savannah: I want to go clean out my closet now. Allie: Thank you so much for having us. Elise: I’ll have to go watch some Marie Kondo now. - - Elise: Thank you for listening. Coegi is an industry-leading performance marketing agency based in the Midwest. We have learned a lot since our founding in 2014, and started The Loop Marketing Podcast to share some of our hot takes on marketing trends we are following, best practices we have discovered, and actionable tips for improving your digital strategy. We’ll see you next time.

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