5 Ways Farmhouse is keeping Leo Burnett fresh and inventive

On Wednesday night 1871 invited Paul Earle, a Chicago entrepreneur and executive director of “idea foundry” Farmhouse, to speak on the power of innovation and the classic Leo Burnett belief that new products are only useful if they tap into a powerful human need.

Conceiving and developing new products, services and experiences is the mission of Farmhouse, the innovation and new venture center of mega-ad agency Leo Burnett. The hope is that Farmhouse can use innovation to populate the marketplace with new brands that move people.

Here is how Farmhouse, a seven-month-old venture, is helping to promote fresh innovation within a large, established enterprise:

1. Tap into the human element
“Oftentimes the profound and game changing innovations weren’t necessarily technological feats as much as they were human connection feats,” Earle said. Leo Burnett has a long history of creating emotional connections between advertisers and consumers. Farmhouse plans to take this history one step further by using a creative approach that taps into this human element to build branding and produce innovation solutions that are truly disruptive and divergent. “What good is a new product if it doesn’t uniquely access a human need or want? If a new product doesn’t inspire an emotional response and connection between that product and the consumer it will never work,” said Earle.

2. Recognize a good idea can come from anywhere
For Farmhouse, having a dynamic creative process means everyone’s idea counts. By leveraging consumer insights Farmhouse strives to improve products already out in the market. Earle describes this non-linear interactive exploration process as a necessary chaos because “big ideas never happen in a vacuum. They are formed by unexpected and unusual connections.” Working with a truly cross-disciplinary team, a mix of ad agency talent and leaders from companies like IDEO, the design innovation and consulting firm, have helped Farmhouse promote innovation. 

3. Create things that are worth advertising
To get the ideas flowing, Farmhouse is putting the creation process in the hands of the marketers, asking them to create their dream ad and then building the product that fits the ad. Getting the markers involved early on allows them to concentrate on creating products worth advertising—not just making ads. To help understand the gaps in the marketplace and plug into them “we have people working around the intangible elements of an idea rather than the physical,” said Earle.

4. Recognize the desire for innovation
Innovation is fast becoming the new standard in the industry and today’s customers expect an interesting product. “American consumers are not only open to new-ness in their products, they demand it,” said Earle. Farmhouse recognizes that innovation is the only remaining customer advantage for companies that have knockoffs. For many of these larger companies, the need for innovation is in digital realm where it is all about the experience and connection. It is this unique digital experience that locks the user into being a lifelong customer. Integrating digital into marketing ideas is something that must happen from the beginning. “For an idea to play digitally it happens first,” said Earle.

5. Harness and leverage intellectual property
The ability to capture an idea and realize its power is rare. Farmhouse is working to develop and deploy different business models in an effort to capture the ideas formed during their collaborative, chaotic process. They believe working with a new business model will help them leverage their intellectual property: “Business model A is not going away – we are trying to create business model B,” Earle says.

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