Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ad campaigns for women focus on leadership rather than beauty

I've discovered a tremendous change in what are called beauty products' approach to potential clients: your confidence comes from the way you think and behave, not your hair or skin.

@DianaTheodores has tweeted two great campaigns: one from P&G's #LikeAGirl Social Experiment and one from Pantene on women constantly apologising.

Both campaigns focus on developing leadership skills for women. Has anyone noted how radical a change this is from the success that used to be promised due to feminine wiles?

Here's a story: I worked for one of the most successful women's magazines in NYC for a short stint of 8 months. I didn't know what I was getting into, right out of teaching drama at Brown University where no one really cared what your hair looked like or if you wore make-up.

On arrival at this first job (I was told I was lucky to get with a PhD and no experience), I began planning my exit strategy.

Why? The editorial strategy was (in short) to alternate articles telling readers that they are enough just as they are -- with articles that tell them they are not nearly good enough.

In other words, the editorial strategy - led by advertising - alternated enough support to keep readers reading with enough anxiety to make readers run out and buy something to make them good enough. Women need to dress differently, look younger, lose weight - you know the drill.

It was an editorial formula followed every month, and I didn't want any part of it.

What a difference a decade makes. Women have transformed the way companies advertise because of the way we think about ourselves. Campaigns are designed to target our aspirations. Apparently, increasingly, the market is demonstrating we aspire to leadership based not on our looks but on our confidence in our own ability to lead.
*Please note, UK folk: in the US cultural norms insist you don't apologise in business. One takes no prisoners, as I've been told as a New Yorker in London throughout my seven years here.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Commercialising research as a road to entrepreneurship and innovation

Academics are often dismissed too quickly by industry when not looking for R&D because communication is not necessarily a researcher's strongest suit. However, innovation is not subject-specific. It's a process that can be applied to anything.

Mix innovative academic smarts at every university with just a little help articulating commercial benefits, and the UK could take over the world.

I had the great privilege of working with academics across Imperial College and Business School helping them commercialise their research. This was the idea of David Stokes, Programme Coordinator (Cross Faculty) – Digital City Exchange, and Elizabeth Varley, TechHub CEO and board member at Imperial.

Please note: these researchers are already very successful finding commercial partners - businesses come to them. This was a top up as there's always room for improvement. David found me because I work with TechHub helping entrepreneurs pitch for investment and partners, and Elizabeth kindly recommended me to him.

And thank you Elizabeth, for restoring my faith in innovative thinking. When business meets academics in the right spot, anything is possible - just give the researchers a little help talking to industry.
Companies dealing with smart cities would be tremendously lucky to have any of the folks I worked with at Imperial - with their depth of industry experience, agile thinking, and energy to make things happen. Genuine innovative thinking is so hard to find.

Want to learn about innovation? Go directly to Imperial. I am not usually a betting woman, but I suspect you'll find someone to help.