This article was published on July 15, 2013

Why online reputation is more important than ever: Q&A with Blue Rubicon’s Craig Le Grice

Why online reputation is more important than ever: Q&A with Blue Rubicon’s Craig Le Grice
Josh Ong
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Josh Ong

Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him a Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him at [email protected].

Craig Le Grice, Blue Rubicon’s Chief Innovation Officer, is set to follow up his TNW Conference Europe 2013 appearance with another showing at TNW Latin America in August. We caught up with him to find out what he has planned for São Paulo.

What can we expect from you at TNW Latin America?

Le Grice: What I spoke about in Amsterdam this year for TNW was about how everyone can work together better, so taking different stakeholders, whether it be agencies, consultancies, clients, brand owners, innovators, developers, etc., how they can all work together and actually learn to work with each other in a way that breeds deeper innovation.

What I’m going to be speaking about in Sao Paolo for TNW is something similar, but much more about doing so to build reputation. I’m looking at the new ways that reputation is built based on a track record of innovation and a pedigree in trying things, bringing people in and them working to find new ways to do things.

TNW: So is building a reputation a next step from working together?

Yes, definitely. What I’ll be talking about is very focused on that gap between the marketing piece and the strategy piece. So understanding what we’re doing, what we’re building and how to engage lots of different audiences and stakeholders while we do it.

We talk a lot about build quality, reaching users and delivering functionality and we talk a lot about performing to a long-term strategy. what we quite often neglect in the industry is thinking about how reputations are built and how they power all the rest of the piece.

So at the heart of Facebook’s success is a reputation story. At the heart of YouTube’s success is a reputation story. And that reputation piece may embrace lots of things, such as privacy and policy and mission and an act of doing good or changing the world, etc., but it all comes together in that brand reputation piece.

One of the points you made from your previous talk was about the importance of packaging perfectly. What’s involved in tailoring your packaging or understanding who you’re packaging for enough to be able to customize? What’s the importance that plays in building a reputation?

The two are completely linked. That’s definitely the point I will lift off and move on from in São Paulo.

The packaging piece is incredibly important. 100 years ago, your brand or your product stood for one thing and that one thing alone was your one message you painted on the side of your horse and cart, you painted it onto your billboards outside your shop front and if were lucky enough to get involved in “new media” as it was then, so newspapers, then that’s what you’d put in your ad.

Even 15-20 years ago, you had the ability before search’s prominence to wear many hats to be a business that could phone a potential client one minute and say “We are experts in the FMCG space,” and then phone another client or another prospect and have the same sales pitch but really say, “Oh, we’re experts in the pharma space.” Search changed that, obviously, because people can check out what you actually are experts in.

Now social’s changed that dramatically. So not only can you see what you’re claiming to be, but people can see what you have delivered and your reaction around that. So standing for multiple things has never been more important, and I think we’ve historically always struggled to build one brand, stand for one thing and consistently engage one audience.

I think there’s a whole new mindset required now for people to be able to do that with maybe 20 different customer groups or a business which is segmented by having at least a dozen different audiences it has to address.

What I would argue is that reputations are only built en masse while activity has to happen individually. It’s only when you get those 20 groups right, or those 12 stakeholders right that your reputation can truly grow.

If I used Tesla as an example there, Tesla, I think I read last week, their market cap is now 1/3 of GM’s [Ed. note: Tesla was worth roughly 1/4 of GM as of Friday, July 12]. Tesla is entirely built on reputation, but the pockets that have supported that are so vast. You’ve got the policymakers piece, you’ve got state governors piece, you’ve got interacting with manufacturers, with scientists. You’ve got to get the tech community engaged, you’ve got to have end users wanting to buy products, you’ve got to have commentators coming in. All of those require a slightly different package of the reputation piece, whether it’s Tesla as a scientific breakthrough or Tesla as the car for the people, or Tesla as the environmental story, etc.

It’s all those subtleties of packaging that come together to be that rocket fuel, no pun intended, for reputation growth.

Tesla now reminds me of very early day Apple evangelism. That kind of cult status is something which is incredible.

I live in central London, I don’t drive, but if I did, it would be a Tesla I wanted. I saw Elon Musk speak at SXSW this year and I genuinely believe I sat there in front of someone I will tell my grandchildren about meeting. It’s incredible, but that’s all come through that brand piece or reputation piece.

Can you talk more about the new role that social channels are playing in creating or destroying brand reputation?

We’ve all seen how it can destroy brands and how it can pull things apart. Something which gets less press or less commentary is that social’s given the ability to build businesses with customers. If we look at everything from Kickstarter to how apps like Yplan or Hailo have really really massively grown through social evangelism, I think that the common DNA that they all have is that from the very beginning what they did was they broadcast their idea for the business, but then worked with people collaboratively and in a co-creation way to build that business.

The end result is, and it’s cliched, but it’s true, a business or a company or an app that is built for users, by users. That iterative, collaborative piece is something that we could never have done pre-social. Focus groups were not a natural environment, you were taking users and customers into environments that simply didn’t reflect what they wanted to do and how they used products or services.

Now what we have is we’ve got potentially millions of people in their natural habitat going around their natural day doing it how they feel the should and using products and sending real-time feedback to you, or even just commentary across social platforms, talking about why they like, what they would change, how they would tweak it to make it more usable, etc.

I think what we’ve got now is, through social, a 100,000 or a million strong R&D department, which is something that is scary as hell to begin with because it gives a lot of control externally, but I think companies that are embracing it now are really evidenced in what they’re able to build and I used Hailo as an example there. Hailo now has quite a hefty advertising budget and can spend a lot on consumer acquisition, but actually in the beginning, it was very much social and word of mouth that drove this, especially in London and launch markets.

There’s a quote [by Neo designer Luke Chamberlin] going around on Twitter saying, “People who don’t build things themselves greatly overestimate the importance of ideas.” You mentioned at the last TNW Conference that the future economy will be split into those who have needs and those who have ideas, but missing from that is the concept of taking an idea and building it and the effort goes that goes into that, or having the skills required to implement on an idea. How do those other pieces fit into your model?

I probably, actually would quite agree with the sentiments of the quote. One of my favorite quotes was a Steve Jobs one, the piece around if you ask people what they want, by the time you build it they won’t want it anymore. I think that’s very important. It is correct because people who have ideas and people who make ideas happen generally have very different pooling forces. What I would suggest is the key to innovation and making some money, if we’re going to think a bit coldly and commercially, is being the ringmaster or the juggler who can make both of those things happen.

So, bring together people with ideas, and that could be two people at vice president level or it could be a million people on Twitter and then bringing that together with the ability to make something happen. Once you’re in that central coordination role, master collaborator, perhaps, that’s really the position that gets things done and that’s where the value’s made. I would argue now that what we probably need is company leadership in that central core space. Users of space in the idea section and creating things from an ideation point of view, but then skills who have the business and partnerships to make them come alive and make them happen.

I wouldn’t disagree with the comment, I think people who have ideas and people who can make ideas happen are not usually the same person, but both are of equal importance.

When you combine the two, you get someone like Elon Musk who is able to dream bigger than most of us can imagine and yet still achieve it at a scale which is really impressive.

Definitely. That’s one of those rare situations where we may have a dozen of those in our lifetime.

You’ve been working in digital for over a decade. What led you into it?

That’s a very interesting question. I imagine most people you ask that to would have an answer that starts with the same thing. It was quite accidental for me. I started studying business strategy and around about 2001, with the Dotcom bubble literally imploding, I observed everyone I was looking at, whether it was companies, leaders, professors, academics, etc., writing off the Internet.

The tone and the sentiment and the mood at that time was we had a good run, some people made very well, most of us lost, that’s the end of it, and I just couldn’t buy that. I couldn’t understand why anyone would be writing off what I’d started to see grow, and I decided that I would kind of go against what most of the grain was and explore it. I wanted to work within digital, I wanted to focus on tech, I wanted to live on the Internet and that was it. It felt instinctively right, that things were not very good at the time, but we laid the foundations for things to be very, very big.

What are the things you do to build your own reputation as an innovator, an entrepreneur or a thought leader? How do you apply that to the companies that you work with and for?

I think it’s the same DNA, what I’m able to do is on a much smaller scale than my biggest clients. One of my biggest clients is a top 20 firm building a reputation in a crowded space. The resources they have are obviously much more than the resources I could do with on an individual basis, but I think the model is the same.

I write a lot, I speak a lot, I think a lot and I make a lot of sensible mistakes. I’ve got this theory that failing successfully is the best thing you can do in the innovation space. Make lots of carefully controlled mistakes that you may lose one thing, but learn nine. That’s something I’ve always done myself.

Every opportunity whether it’s going to turn out as a an end result or an end fail has learnings. I think capturing those learnings and using those learnings in a way that you can rally together to build on them is something you can do whether you’re a one person consultant or you’re running a 200,000 person business.

My overall theme for São Paulo is that innovation is being treated like we treated digital 10 years ago. It’s being treated as a separate thing that requires a separate team and it doesn’t exist throughout the business. I find that very sad because we should have learned our lesson  from digital that really, it’s only when digital is integrated and being worked on by everyone that we deliver a solid tangible result.

I see innovation the same way. I’m Chief Innovation Officer in a company, but I’m far and away not the only person that should be involved in something innovative. My vision for our company, and my vision that I share with clients for their company, is every single person in the business should be involved in digital and every single person should be involved in innovation because it’s only when it touches everyone and every part of the chain that it really works.

Sign up for TNW Latin America if you want to hear more of Craig Le Grice’s thoughts on the interplay between reputation, collaboration and innovation.

Top Image Credit: Julia Deboer/The Next Web