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Invoke Media: Marketing innovation meets digital design

Read time: 4 minutes

Michael Smit, CEO, Invoke Media

For many restaurant goers, social media has become part of the pleasure of an evening out as they share photos and comments with their online communities.

Now Earls, a popular chain of casual-dining restaurants, has taken this trend one step further with the help of a Facebook application developed by Vancouver’s Invoke Media.

With Earls Social Menu, users can single out favourite menu items, recommend dishes to their friends, and easily discuss their experiences at the eatery. Not only does the app create an interactive platform for customers, but it also allows Earls to collect valuable information about its menu and restaurant experience.

The social menu is just one example of the many online projects created by the innovators at Invoke Media.

Invoke is a unique hybrid of a digital marketing agency and a high-tech startup incubator that was launched in its current form in 2005 by partners David Tedman, Dario Meli and Ryan Holmes.

“They had a vision of building an innovative digital business, identifying opportunities and creating interesting, inventive products,” says Michael Smit, who joined Invoke this year as CEO.

On the marketing side, the company works with clients to promote their brand and advertise their products on the web through various vehicles. On the incubator side, Invoke Labs identifies opportunities to design and launch new digital products, either through internal teams or by partnering with entrepreneurs.

Shared resources

The two sides of the business tend to converge when resources from Invoke’s marketing arm are employed to launch and promote products developed by Invoke Labs.

Forming a solid operating structure to support these two pillars has been the company’s biggest challenge to date, Smit says.

“There’s naturally some crossover in terms of strategy and personnel. The two sides operate somewhat differently, but there are a lot of strong operational tools in place now to manage them both efficiently.”

Smit joined Invoke, a client of BDC Financing, to provide leadership as its founders became increasingly occupied with the company’s successful spin-offs. Among these is HootSuite, a popular social media management platform that reached 5 million users late last year. Invoke's 50 employees are spread across its main office in Vancouver, and satellites in New York and Los Angeles.

“Invoke’s initial philosophy was to help companies transition into the digital realm through email marketing strategies, content management, websites and e-commerce,” Smit says. “But the industry has changed dramatically since then.”

As technologies evolved, Invoke saw new opportunities and started to create software products. This was the genesis of HootSuite, a product resulting from the combination of software development skills and social media expertise.

Successful startups

Invoke Labs has already successfully graduated two business so far in 2013 and currently has eight funded startups in various stages of concept development, prototyping and market testing.

Two of the eight startups originated from within Invoke. The other six are the result of partnering with entrepreneurs. Invoke helps build their teams, raises or contributes financing and helps design and develop their core digital products.

On the marketing side, Invoke works with several household names in Canada and the U.S., including NBC Universal, the National Hockey League, AOL, Viacom, Piaggio, 7-Eleven, and Earls.

“We are most effective in industries where consumers have a high frequency of engagement and a high level of affinity with the products or company in question,” Smit says. “Those are the areas in which we can offer the most value.”

Over the next five years, Smit says he anticipates many changes in how users engage online and that will keep Invoke on its toes.

With so many platforms now available, the company will have to continue to find the right mix of content and interactivity across devices and help consumers navigate this electronic landscape.

“Moving forward this constant evolution creates a lot of opportunities,” Smit says. “As trends in digital development trickle from one industry to another, needs change and new challenges and prospects continue to present themselves.”