What if communication was an unstoppable source of invention and transformation? Rather than asking clients, “What’s the product?” “When is it coming out?” and “Who is it for?” what if we approached each challenge by imagining the final product didn’t exist—and actually created new products?
Having communication create a product is not as backwards as it sounds. Invention and transformation mean creatively firing from both barrels, and I believe it’s the final frontier of communication. All around us, communication professionals are first coming up with the products and then promoting their creation.
Carol Cone On Purpose launched one of the most impactful programs of the last decade when it partnered with Aflac insurance to create My Special Aflac Duck. These interactive companions are designed to comfort hospitalized children receiving cancer treatment. Aflac has donated thousands of the lifelike ducks so far, is making them available to every child with cancer in the U.S. who wants one and was recognized as one of Time magazine’s Best Inventions of the Year.
The communication team at jewelry company Hearts On Fire created a collection of jewelry with young women from Girls Inc., a nonprofit that works to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold. They invited the girls into the design, production and promotion process for a line of earrings, pendants and rings with a percentage of proceeds benefiting Girls Inc. With communication driving the product development process from the start, Hearts On Fire wrote an inspiring story to tell.
In transforming tampons into a book start-up The Female Company helped educate consumers about the country’s unfair tax on tampons as a luxury item. Germany then reduced the tax from 19% to 7%.
In my own firm, we paired indie rock band The Lights Out with Aeronaut Brewing Co., to invent T.R.I.P.: the world’s first album on a beer can. For the organic cafe brand Life Alive, we converted a diverse cohort of food and wellness influencers’ social handles into new menu creations called Mix It Up. With Summer Infant, we transformed a group of pregnant influencers into The M.O.M. Squad: a team of pregnant comic book superheroes.
The communication function lives or dies on the success or failure of the products and services it supports. So, we owe it to ourselves to take a stronger hand in their creation. The generation before us fought and earned a place for communication at the management table. We can express our gratitude to them by inventing a new table.
The idea of helping create products is exciting, whether you’re a student or someone who’s run hundreds of campaigns. I’ve shared this approach with nearly 50 schools, where future communication professionals are learning to invent new categories of products with news value and potential to be shared baked into them from the start.
Anyone can take an invention-first approach to communication. Start with a concept. Work with a manufacturer, cause or relevant influencer group to make it real. Then do what we’ve excelled at for 100 years: Tell the story.
If you’ve spent your career promoting the products you’ve been handed, think about how you’d like to spend the rest of it. With invention, the door is open for you to make an entirely new mark on the profession.