Paul Sims – new audiences in new contexts

Start-up thinking can be applied to big organisations, says Paul Sims of Made by Many. But that means a whole new relationship between agencies and clients…

Paul Sims is very into the idea of the internet of people.

New, startup-style services are the most interesting thing to happen to service design since the arrival of call centres. The common thinking is the idea of two-sided problems – at the core is the product, which connects buyers and sellers, and which you wrap services around. But there’s also liquidity – which is never directly addressed. You don’t build unless you think people will do it, or use it. Otherwise, you have to sell it to them, to market to them.

The new context is start-ups versus big organisations – and brings the question “is service design the new marketing?”. Big organisations are a bit adrift right now. Startups do things like Hailo, which allows you to hail black cabs from your phone – an offer and an accept process. You ask a human being to serve you, and they choose to accept. It’s not automated – it’s human. And it means he uses way more black cabs. And it’s a self-selecting groups – it filters out the idiots. These things operate at a tiny scale – two individuals, but adoption is viral, and they can be incredibly disruptive.

On the other hand, we have marketing landfill, with brands desperately trying to create social services. Marketeers just don’t know how to create engagement in a way that matters to us. Maybe we need to embrace marketing as something we can help.

Organisations need a new kinds of process to create digitally native services.

There’s brand utility (a message) and essential utility (which is everyday). Startups often create Epic Utility – something that feels magical. The new approach is to act like a start-up, but work with (big) organisations.

Skype asked Made by Many to create some case studies about the product being used in classrooms. They asked Skype is they could do some research first – and they were allowed to. They went and found people using Skype to “make the walls of their classroom thin”. They made a bunch of assumptions based on what they thought would bring value – and then tested those with their found group.

Basically, teachers wanted to find each other – so they built something in five weeks that allowed them to do so. There was no strategy. They reduced the time to live by testing a few things very quickly. Once they’d built the platform, they were able to observe behaviour. People were hacking their profiles to talk about their projects – so they facilitated that. It’s been live for two years – it takes a long time for them to bed down – and they’ve used insights and data to add more and more stuff to it. It’s not vanity, building the stuff they want to, but stuff the teachers have shown them they wanted. This rapid iterative process breaks the design process.

The Skype teachers service has become a platform for other brands – Yellowstone Park Rangers, NASA and now Penguin Books are all on there, offering school Skype visits.

It’s a classic example of social return on investment – but also a platform for brands. They’re being asked to scale it to a huge number of classrooms – how does an agency do that? What happens when the agency “doesn’t go home”? That’s a new challenge. They no longer design and build something, then hand it over – they have to scale it. It starts becoming “growth hacking” – and that requires new skills, new people within the business. They need a service avatar, who sits both outside the organisation who owns it, and the agency running it. And they need people who understand data. Data drives the process.

It disrupts PR – it’s no longer a big launch process, but constant, under the radar iteration. Maybe PR is over, maybe it needs to be replaced with something new…