Think about the word “hybrid,” and it’s likely to evoke thoughts of eco-friendly cars, new types of plants cultivated by combining those that already exist, human robots in sci-fi novels, or even crossbred dogs. By its very nature, a hybrid is a new creation, often from things that may seem incompatible.
In a business setting, hybrid often refers to what results from the merger of different technologies, disciplines, methods, manufacturing processes, and so on to accelerate the evolution of a brand or organisation.
Specifically for marketers, the concepts of hybrid and hybrid thinking hold great potential. If you’ve worked in concept development and gone deeper than idea-making, the term hybrid thinking will sound familiar. There are, after all, seldom—if ever—new ideas. But the combination of existing ideas in new ways has the potential to create a vast number of new concepts. Some would say that this is what concept development is all about.
As we’ll see below, hybrid thinking has a range of applications in marketing, from your brand’s life cycle, to marketing technologies, brand experience, and the team that handles your brand. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Just imagine the possibilities hybrid thinking could unlock for product development and your organisational structure.
In our new, digital age, this pattern recurs: a new technology emerges, and virtually everyone is attracted to it and is afraid of missing out on The Next Big Thing. Therefore, it is all too easy to overlook already adapted technologies and applied practices. At the end, some new technologies prove successful, while many do not.
One of the reasons why the above scenario repeats itself is the mindset that a silver bullet will be the solution to all your integrated marketing efforts.
By adopting a hybrid mindset, however, you are more inclined to explore choosing “and” over “or.” Rather than picking X over Y, you may benefit from combining X and Y to create Z, which will be the best solution for you. Here’s a simple example: with the rise of social media, many marketers started neglecting their newsletters, sometimes replacing them altogether with social media pages and profiles. In doing so, these marketers lost an important direct touch point with their customers that could not be replaced by tweets and posts.
The out-of-home and home entertainment industry is currently obsessed with virtual reality (VR), which also holds some promise for experiential marketing. Amusement and theme park operators are looking into how VR technology could enhance rides, for example on roller coasters. However, it’s still very much a trial-and-error phase, while we wait to see whether audiences and visitors will take this technology to heart—and maintain an interest in it. For companies that operate attractions, keeping visitors excited is, of course, critical.
I believe that to get people off their couch, you need to provide them with something they cannot find at home. Adding a physical dimension to the virtual experience is key in doing so. If you are to use VR for a marketing event, you would want to adopt this way of thinking. The technology on its own is not enough—you will need to create a hybrid experience by combining it with something else.
When you think about the evolutionary power of hybrid thinking, it adds another dimension to the important issue of diversity. It is about much more than CSR, openness, and understanding diverse markets. It really can be about your team’s level of inspiration and innovation, and the subsequent success.
According to some experts on innovation, the inventiveness of organisations decreases significantly after a few years if they are led by the same group of people. Organisations need new people to thrive, and, most of the time, someone from outside the organisation. This premise may very well be why you need more than your internal marketing team to drive innovation forward, whether the outside source is an agency or individual experts and specialists.
I firmly believe in the notion that, without a brand culture within the brand’s organisation, strategies and marketing efforts will be ungrounded. They will often be superficial, with little impact. If you agree, let me share some food for thought. Some experts on the subject of culture claim that a culture that only interacts with itself will eventually regress and disappear. Historical theoreticians have made the claim that the Dark Ages of Europe were only superseded by the Renaissance because of exposure to non-European cultures.
Whether or not you agree with the historical aspects, consider this: to drive innovation and evolution, you will need to combine different ways of thinking, skills, and disciplines to succeed. In a time when seemingly everyone cries out in fear or praise of disruption, you will need to react to it by adding some progressive, disruptive element to your own team.
All of this adds up to an observation on hybrid thinking for the modern marketer. Hybrid marketing has been presented as another expression for omni-channel marketing with multiple touch points, or the combination of digital and analogue media.
However, I would like to advocate using this expression in exercises in true hybrid thinking and subsequent action. Just as integrated marketing needs an integrated mindset across disciplines and divisions, hybrid marketing should represent what your company can achieve through combining elements that may seem like polar opposites. The result will be unique, hybrid creations that will be defined by your individual needs. Sometimes the experiment may fail, but, at other times, it could very well enable you to go where no marketer or brand has gone before.