Q&A: Director of Innovation at SparkPlug, Mansi Jayakumar

Companies seeing the most success across industries today are those that challenge and disrupt the norms. From Apple to Amazon, and Google to Tesla, the groundbreaking ideas inherent in innovation are what have taken us from an 8-inch battery pack TV to on-demand streaming, from walking on the moon to prospect of getting us to Mars. And with start-ups growing at a rate of 10% per week, it’s clear that there are real market shifts happening. Uber, for example, has disrupted the transportation industry and achieved tremendous success across over 500 cities around the world – creating the safest way to get around cities, generating over 20,000 jobs a month, lowering DUI incidents, accidents and fatalities and improving local economies.

At Y&R, we’re tapping into and embracing these seismic market changes by building innovation into the fabric of who we are as an agency. Through the SparkPlug program, we proudly support entrepreneurs and startups by offering companies free office space, resources and relationships to interesting companies and idea generators. With zero equity fees, companies can focus on building their game-changing ideas, technology and products and will have access to Y&R's expertise, global network and clients. Through sharing a physical space with the constantly evolving world of entrepreneurship, we’ve created a culture within our own walls that radiates an energy of creativity and grit, allowing us the privilege to learn from the increasingly thriving community of inventors, designers, creatives and explorers.

We recently interviewed our Director of Innovation at SparkPlug, Mansi Jayakumar, who shares insights on innovation and the necessity for agencies to constantly explore new avenues:

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in innovation? What drew you to the SparkPlug program?

I’m a tech junkie, in awe of creativity and fascinated by how people think. The opportunity to create a fresh way for advertising to embrace innovation is what drew me in to this career path.

2. Why should companies care or invest in innovation?

Innovation is not something extraordinary that only extraordinary people can do. Innovation can be methodical and routine and operationalized and ingrained, with the smallest of ideas and processes. Whether it’s by challenging existing norms, forging partnerships, hosting hackathons to solve problems, incubating idea-generators or making acquisitions, companies that invest in innovation are companies that are investing in growth.

3. Name an emerging company/start up you think is interesting. Why?

Brick-and-mortar certainly isn’t dead. There’s a company called Oak Labs who created an interactive touchscreen mirror for fitting rooms, which lets shoppers request items and adjust the lighting in the room. It even detects which products the customer has in the room using RFID technology and offers up outfit recommendations and lets you save it to your online cart among other things.

This is incredible because nearly 70% of apparel purchase decisions are made in the fitting room, and yet there is little opportunity to “market” in there. Oak Labs changes that equation and provides an opportunity for brands to interact with consumers right where purchase decisions are being made.

4. What lessons can agencies learn from startups and entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurs are explorers, constantly looking at new ways of doing things, new avenues to upsell, and new opportunities to delight. As an agency, we need to take note of these qualities to relentlessly discover ways to tell more powerful stories and push the boundaries of even the most traditional client briefs.

5. Name one big emerging tech trend brands and agencies should pay attention to.

This is the year of chat and chatbots. Consumer usage of chat-based messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat is surpassing Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn and the appetite for brands to market and engage with their consumers in these channels has increased. Facebook messenger now has an immense 900 million users and since the chatbot platform launched in April, more than 11,000 bots have been added to Messenger. The technology necessary for consumers and brands to interact through this form of communication is in place and the capabilities are vast. All we need is the creativity to harness it correctly and engage consumers. 

Learn more at: Y&R SparkPlug 2017