DEEP DIVE with Chitresh Sinha: Innovation on tap

Launched in April 2017 as India’s only dedicated brand innovation collective, chlorophyll innovation lab (CIL) is a new model of brand engagement – it focuses on  earned media as a metric, won’t rely on just one domain of expertise, and is not trying to invent a new problem to solve for clients or brands, but, as Chitresh Sinha, CEO, says, focuses on trying to solve conventional problems in the most un-conventional ways. chlorophyll innovation lab offers solutions based on patented innovation processes that brands must seriously explore

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With more than 11 years of experience in design thinking, crafting unique user experiences, brand strategy, brand creation, communication design and brand analytics, Chitresh Sinha, CEO of chlorophyll innovation lab (they keep titles and names in lower case), which he co-founded along with his mentor Kiran Khalap in April 2017, has been demystifying innovation to unlock true brand value.

This strong believer in a hands-on execution-driven approach when it comes to brand building, has helped build more than 30 brands across sectors and continents.

Chitresh is currently focused on building up chlorophyll innovation lab, a cross-disciplinary innovation collective that is breaking the boundaries between design, science, technology and innovation. The MEDIABRIEF DEEPDIVE brings you an illuminating conversation with Chitresh Sinha – young innovation catalyst, brand strategist and ‘Human UX’ architect. Edited excerpts:

When did you think of creating chlorophyll innovation lab (CIL)? What’s the back story?

While CIL officially came into existence in April last year, it was an idea that evolved over a year. Kiran (Khalap, co-founder of chlorophyll) and I had been talking about creating a new model of brand engagement. One that focused on earned media as a metric and would not rely on just one domain of expertise.

We weren’t trying to invent a new problem to solve for clients or brands, but were trying to solve conventional problems in the most un-conventional ways.

It is serendipity that we landed our first big project even before we had fleshed out the exact structure of CIL!

Procam (promoters of the Tata Mumbai Marathon) approached us to create a communication campaign to highlight the value of The Mumbai Marathon beyond just being a running event.

We discussed the idea of CIL with Procam and convinced them to let us treat this as more than a campaign.

We promised to deliver their expected metrics within the specified budget but without creating a single ‘ad’, and promised them that we would create an integrated brand engagement campaign that would bring alive the idea of The Mumbai Marathon in the most innovative manner possible. That is how our debut project, The Mumbai Portal, happened.

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I remember, The Mumbai Portal was perhaps the first true ‘virtual’ cross-nation exchange from India. Like a gigantic Skype experience, but the ‘pairings’ of strangers connecting with each other in one-to-ones were very interesting…

The project was a collaboration with an international social art collective. We transformed a shipping container into a futuristic portal that connected Mumbai to 21 other countries from around the world.

We picked people who lived the ethos of The Mumbai Marathon — which we believe is pushing boundaries of the human spirit — from across the globe, and paired them with each other. We had daughters of sex workers from Mumbai talking to developers from Palestine, female marathoners from Mumbai talking to female marathoners in Afghanistan, and more.

The Better India came on board to convert the interactions into a five-part web series. All interactions were used to create content for digital promotions. The idea became the focal point of all of The Mumbai Marathon’s brand engagement during that entire year.

…with an ROI of…? 

We actually gave them an ROI of 5000% in terms of earned media.

We learnt a lot from this project and evolved the exact structure of Chlorophyll Innovation Lab soon after, and launched it in April 2017 as a dedicated brand innovation collective.

image-Chitresh-s- blurb-2-Chitresh-Sinha-CEO-chlorophyll-innovation-lab-on-Innovation-On-Tap-MediaBriefSo what is the exact nature of chlorophyll innovation lab? How is it different from the conventional agency structure?

CIL is different from conventional agencies in many ways. A collaboration of passion over domain-expertise.

We are India’s only dedicated brand innovation collective. We collaborate with an ecosystem of more than 800  global innovators and do not have a large team of domain experts in-house. Each of our collaborator is hand-picked based on their expertise and also their passion. We ensure that we bring a collaborator on to a project only when it meets both — their passion and expertise.

We are also a medium-agnostic and solution-agnostic entity.

Our focus is on using our patented innovation processes to solve complex problems.

What this means is that we are not restricted to just brand engagement projects. As long as the client has a well-defined problem, we take on the project.

In the last year, we have helped create integrated brand engagement initiatives, create a new water heater product, helped a paints company drive adoption of their new product, created a marathon medal, designed a robot and launched a social impact art collective.

image-Chitresh-s- blurb-2-Chitresh-Sinha-CEO-chlorophyll-innovation-lab-on-Innovation-On-Tap-MediaBriefTechnology must obviously play an important role at CIL…

Yes. We are a data- and technology-driven company. However, we are more interested in the outlier usage of technology and data rather than the conventional usage. So we use data from social listening, over 800 hours of qualitative research that chlorophyll does every year, data around media trends and social trend-spotting from across the world. We combine this data to create our innovation database and use it in interesting ways across all our projects.

We also use Arduino programming for quick prototypes and neuroscience for concept testing.

How can one have a designated Innovation Lab! How does one summon innovation, as it were? It’s like saying, ‘We will innovate on demand’. It’s also like saying, ‘We have an innovation rate card’. Do you have one?

(Smiles) Innovation is like creativity. Everyone has it; you just need to harness it. However, one should be clear about the definition of innovation. Innovation is a pretty heavy word and gets used a lot.

Our definition of innovation is ‘making connections where none exist’. chlorophyll innovation lab is focused on creating processes that unlock innovation in unique ways. We are investing in building tools, processes and workshop models that can be used to create innovation. So we can, in fact, innovate on demand.

And no, we do not have an innovation rate card; what we have is a pricing model for our processes. The innovations we create are an output of the processes and they are created based on specific problems that clients are facing.

image-Chitresh-s- blurb-2-Chitresh-Sinha-CEO-chlorophyll-innovation-lab-on-Innovation-On-Tap-MediaBriefA lot of other agencies and technology companies as using the ‘I’ word a lot, as you said, and are also investing in their own innovation labs. How is chlorophyll innovation lab different?

It’s great that the world is now focusing on innovation. However, most companies invest in specific areas of innovation that help their core business offering. For  example, a digital agency will experiment with AR, VR or app development in their innovation lab.

Our definition of innovation is making cross-connections between two or more things which aren’t traditionally connected. Innovation is our core business offering, so we are innovating in multiple areas and not just one domain.

We know how conventional consultancies are staffed. How is an innovation lab staffed? And why like that?

Conventional agencies are staffed with domain experts that may be the best at what they do for example a copywriter, an UX designer, an app developer, etc. These experts work on their area of expertise only.

We have invested in building an ecosystem of 800+ global innovators that actually form the core team on any project. Our in-house team are not domain experts but process experts that can work with fluid teams and apply our methodologies to create output.

What are the different kinds of innovations CIL has come up with so far?

chlorophyll innovation lab created India’s first futurist immersive portal, The Mumbai Portal,  that connected Mumbai to 21 other countries

We also launched the world’s first inspiration medal for The Tata Mumbai Marathon. 

We created HIC, the world’s first smart and emotive mix-o-bot.

We have launched a unique social-impact-driven art platform that creates art plates. You buy an art plate and it helps put food on someone else’s plate.

We also created the world’s first crew of female only pacers at an IAFF event in the world for the TCS World10k.

We are launching India’s smartest water heater with Bajaj Electricals.

We created an art installation from 5000 used bottles for Bisleri to raise awareness about plastic waste.

Pick one that really pleased you…

I think we have been lucky to have had so much variety in all of our projects that each one was equally exciting to work on. If I had to pick one, it would be our debut project – The Mumbai Portal just for the fact that it let us combine all the pillars of what we focus on – social impact, innovation, earned media and integrated execution.

What are the kinds of services an innovation lab like yours promises?

We offer our innovation process to solve any complex problem that a brand is facing.

Largely, we are focused on … (counts them off on his fingers)

  1. Innovations in brand engagement that deliver earned media as a metric.
  2. Innovations in product or service that create an exponential increase in sales or service usage
  3. Innovations in organizational transformation that create a more innovative employee culture
  4. IP creation that drives social impact.

Which have been your main clients?

We have been privileged enough to work with some of India’s biggest brands in the short time since we came into existence. Some of these include Bajaj Electricals, Tata Mumbai Marathon, Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, Bisleri, Singapore Tourism, Inorbit Retail, Fortis Healtcare and Indigo Paints.

image-Chitresh blurb-5-Chitresh-Sinha-CEO-chlorophyll-innovation-lab-on-Innovation-On-Tap-MediaBriefWhat will CIL’s role and contribution be to Chlorophyll 3.0?

chlorophyll innovation lab is part of chlorophyll’s larger goal of helping our clients ‘mind the gap’. We will work towards using innovation to create integrated brand initiatives for our clients. We will also help our clients solve unique business problems and not just brand problems. As a business structure, we will offer an integrated service offering to chlorophyll’s clients. At the same time, CIL will work on its set of exclusive clients which add to the overall growth of the company’s profile and revenue.

Chitresh Sinha can be reached at chitresh [at] chlorophyll.in


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