'Instead of ‘Money! Money! Money!', we think ‘Innovation! Innovation! Innovation!’ - How UM Labs’ company culture revolves around a focus on the future

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UM Labs is the technology and innovation division of UM MENA, a creative media agency with 14 offices across 13 countries in the MENA region. With clients ranging from Coca-Cola to Reckitt Benckiser, they specialize in connecting these brands with their customers through a variety of different platforms.

As one of our Premium clients, we recently collaborated on 2 thought leadership reports, diving into how innovation is empowering wearables and technology is driving the future of dynamic content to use as ‘ammunition’ in their quest to convince their clients about the benefits of such innovation.

Here, we sat down with Rasha Rteil - Head of Innovation at the labs - to discuss why innovation is in their DNA, and how TrendWatching fits into their vision of the future.

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UM Labs was launched in 2015 as the first - if not only - media and innovation products and services division in any media agency in the Middle East & North Africa region. We started in Dubai, where I’m based, and are now looking to roll the concept out across all UM offices worldwide.

We’re all about media acclimatization - creating new media concepts. So when we look at how clients are using media (organizations such as Coca Cola, L’Oreal and Hershey’s) in any kind of ‘stagnant’ format, even across digital or social platforms, we try to incubate or test an idea that has never been tried before.

Our aim is to push our clients into using media in an agile and innovative way.

At the end of the day, our purpose is to fix or plan objectives using innovation. For example, Coca Cola use a 70-20-10 model. Their focus is on 70% of what already works, 20% of what’s new and 10% of what the future holds.

At UM Labs, we try to work with that 10% and activate brands that are made for the future - part of our DNA is to promote a culture of innovation across every office in the MENA region.

We run a workshop series called Inspire using case studies from various industries and categories using insight from TrendWatching’s TW:Premium service. You guys power us with a lot of knowledge when it comes to trends!

These workshops help brands develop their marketing strategy - helping these clients transform the way they innovate, the way they plan. For L’Oreal, for instance, in a workshop we carried out earlier in 2016 we focused purely the luxury industry and how best to innovate for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs).

Similarly for Johnson & Johnson, J3 MENA (a sister agency under UM’s management) presented the INTERNET OF BETTER THINGS trend to highlight how the Internet of Things could feed into a small-scale campaign or activation to create content around, which would then in turn showcase J&J as the innovative brand that they are.

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The main aim in the future? To become less product- and intelligence-focused, and less developmental.

We don’t develop anything in-house; we develop innovation strategies and then brief the tech vendors that can make it happen. It’s not a place where we are so preoccupied with costs and profits. Instead of ‘money, money, money’, we think ‘innovation, innovation, innovation!’.

Our vision is to have at least three clients who think of innovation in 2017 as something they can achieve without a ‘media’ budget - for them to set aside a separate budget purely for innovation and developing their internal innovation culture.

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