Today’s challenges require creative solutions from people who are unafraid to think differently. Glenn Gillis is the CEO of Sea Monster, a company which uses animation, games and immersion technologies – like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – to shift business and social outcomes at scale.
By using a combination of visual storytelling and games, Sea Monster provides structured ways for people to solve change management challenges, engage with customers and achieve financial education goals, just to mention a few of the big, wicked problems the company likes to help address.
“Sea Monster was born out of the restructure of a big entertainment business,” says Glenn. “We knew the future of marketing and education is about the story and voluntary engagement, and wanted to bring those skills, including the production efficiency of the entertainment industry, to bear on education and marketing. Globally, there are very few companies that combine animation and gaming in this space.”
Sea Monster has proven that animation and games are serious instruments for change within large organisations. “Eight years later we’re still around, and the quality of the narrative we’re having with clients has massively improved.
“They understand the costs better and we’re working with big businesses on real, strategic transformational processes in a way that is nuanced and story driven. We’re not seen as a hipster fringe movement – what we do is recognised as a proper part of their arsenal to drive their business goals.”
Fast Company SA sat down with Glenn to discuss Sea Monster’s journey and his insights into running a wildly creative company.
What has been the most innovative project Sea Monster has worked on?
Pick n Pay Supercards are back and out to educate and delight kids once again. This new iteration is based around the Cricket World Cup, and provides hours of educational content and learning about the game so many of us love. We’re very excited to be involved and are particularly pleased that the Women’s Team has been given great prominence.
Super Cards is all about collecting, teaching, sharing and showing off how much you know about the game. The app (available on The App Store and the Play Store) uses AR to bring the players to life in 3D, there is a great quiz plus a new mini cricket game that pits players against the best men’s and women’s bowlers to see how many runs you can get.
We think it’s great that education is being seen as a business opportunity. Kids get hours of entertainment and learn as they go, and Pick n Pay will hopefully be as happy with the business results as they were last time, while using Super Cards to deliver great value their customers. In tough times, this is what people are after. The value Pick n Pay is providing is in more than just price reductions, it’s hours of entertainment as a reward for their customers’ loyalty.
What is your opinion on new AR/VR tech and its business applications?
The technologies are amazing but they do not solve problems in and of themselves. AR is a much more mature technology – we’ve been using it for eight years now. VR is only just starting to emerge – even though we have industrial applications for it, for example, the VR experience we developed for ArcelorMittal that tests its employees for a fear of heights.
With AR, the technology is ready, the devices are out there but businesses are the limiting factor – they don’t yet fully understand how AR can drive their goals. We believe AR is going to fundamentally change the way we connect the real world with the digital world. It’s not a passing fad but rather a new way to think about everything from brands to social interaction.
Do you think creativity and business can go hand-in-hand?
What’s important to remember is that many people equate creativity with artistic ability, and being able to express yourself artistically is a powerful form of creativity. But for me, creativity is making non-obvious connections and seeing patterns between differing concepts.
Businesses today need creativity more than ever. Large corporations often sit with all the ingredients they need to fundamentally bake a new cake but ultimately fail to do so. It’s about saying ‘imagine if we could connect this capability to that one, and deliver something meaningful to clients’. It doesn’t matter if you call it creativity or innovation – it’s about creating value for customers and shareholders, and if we can wrap that up in a visually appealing story-driven way, even better!
You need to ignite people’s imaginations. Creativity can also be found in how we use narratives to appeal to our audiences and get them to relate to characters, which then drives behaviour change. How you use new technology or even existing technologies in new ways is where it gets really interesting.
How does creativity add to a company’s authenticity?
Power is shifting nowadays because people have more connectivity and platforms to express themselves than ever before. Communication about and with brands is no longer a one-way connection. Brands need to be engaged in social media and be a part of narratives rather than dictating them. This has to be consistent – you run the risk of coming across as insincere if you aren’t.
Brands have to be authentic, they need to be more human not more corporate, which includes admitting when they make mistakes. Many of them struggle with this. A brand has always been what customers say about it when they’re not in the room but now they can amplify that across all sorts of channels. If you weren’t authentic before, you have no choice but to be so now.
What is your business ethos?
Ultimately, Sea Monster sells something that doesn’t yet exist – every knowledge/creative business does the same. We sell trust and professional credibility. We stand up in the boardrooms of the biggest banks in South Africa and say, ‘We have a sense of what you are trying to achieve, we know what impact it will have and how to drive your business goals but we don’t know exactly what that will look like’. You have to trust the process and each other, if we are to truly unlock value together.
With our company, what you see is what you get – we sell the sizzle and deliver the steak. It requires trust and open relationships. It requires us owning the issues as they come up and working through them with the client as well as internally.
Maybe I’m being naive – maybe it is a ‘hard-bargaining, nickel-and-dime’ approach that makes people wealthy but that’s not something we’re interested in. We would rather have a few clients and shift the dial on the social and business objectives they want to achieve.