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The Agency As Innovator

James Kane, Two Bulls

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Let’s start with the obvious: in the age of the customer, customer experience is key.

Improving customer experience used to mean coordinating consultancies, agencies and tech service providers with each responsible for a (relatively) discrete area. As the digital environment has matured attributes that were once pillars of brand—openness, consistency, reliability, security—are now expressed directly through CX. Back of house technology that was once largely obscured from customers is now the foundation of their experience. Customers expect seamlessness and businesses are rushing to provide it.

Nobody’s Playing a Home Game

Startups have an advantage in this environment. They begin t​abula rasa​. In a startup atmosphere business strategy, product, brand and CX appear to materialize in a simultaneous big bang. The results can be jarring, disrupting entire industries and cratering incumbents.

Legacy companies facing this threat have reached out to the startup ecosystem with inhouse VCs, venture labs, acquihires and acquisitions. Consultancies have responded by bolting on technology development and marketing services to their core product offering. Tech service providers have likewise expanded their offerings to keep up. Everyone is seeking to capture that startup lightning in a bottle and offer it to clients.

The C-suite recognizes that digital transformation is the key to their success and that CX is the key differentiator. Luckily, agencies are best placed to provide this need. Innovation is nothing new to agencies. It’s in our DNA. Consultancies streamline, tech service providers deploy systems, agencies create - and always have. That’s why companies are now tasking us with capturing the startup energy.

Creative Product

Our clients' demands have moved from simple websites to complex cross platform technical projects. The C-suite is not looking for a rebrand, they want to reinvent. That doesn’t mean deploying AR, VR, MR with AI and ML—it’s not about adding more acronyms to a branding strategy, it’s about deeply engaging with product strategy.

Switching to a product mindset means looking at consumer engagement through the lens of utility. We still want to blow their minds, but not through gimmicky technology or flashy content, through beautifully crafted product that makes their life suck less. And when you make every interaction and every communication seamless and satisfying, that is mind blowing.

Stitching it all together—from the depths of the backend through to a hardware device and out to a glowing frontend—is tough to do. Creating full feature products that integrate the complete sweep of customer touchpoints with full stack engineering requires a new kind of team: the innovation strike force.

The Strike Force

The innovation strike force takes its cues from startups. They are open to any solution, technology agnostic and agile. That means bringing together:

Strategy that aligns commercial imperatives and business process;
Creative that develops a beautiful experience resonant of brand;
Engineering that deploys the best technology solutions for the problem; and
Delivery that gets it done on time and on budget

Building something that your clients and their customers are going to fall in love with is really, really hard. It requires research and analytics capabilities to understand how consumers relate to the technology environment. It means facing regulatory burdens and internal compliance requirements that necessitate embedded business analysts or even lawyers on the team. It demands a new level of engineering, which works to different timelines and is stacked in complexity. Crafting amazing creative over hard engineering is another level of impossible. How do we make it all work?

Build the team they need​—team composition is fundamental to success, focus on what they need, build a cross-functional team around that, and review/rework over time.

Solve needs that matter​—whether you conceive of what you’re doing as a vitamin (improving performance) or an antibiotic (removing a debilitating ailment) focus on the need you are satisfying.

Deliver value—get to a prototype early and move from concept to market to adoption quickly.

Change the DNA of the Business—build a better experience and then build your client’s internal capability to service it. Most importantly, leave them a better company than when you met.

Startups may look like a big bang, but they are usually a series of probing sparks before they conflagrate, reorienting themselves continually as they seek product market fit. When can emulate this, first by building trust with our clients, gaining a comprehensive understanding of their commercial needs, while continuously sweeping the market, understanding customer needs. Then get a product out there and iterate, iterate, iterate.

Evergreen Value

Agencies will continue to grow, change, merge and reemerge. By positioning ourselves as the innovation strike force we no longer need to chase the next shiny new acronym. We build value for our clients by bringing together emerging trends in technology and culture as a single expression of brand and product. With strategists, creatives and engineers delivering together we provide perpetual value to clients in self-reinforcing, iterative engagements. We do what we have always done: create.

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About the author: James is the Founder and CEO of Two Bulls, a digital product agency with offices in Melbourneand Brooklyn. Two Bulls conceives the amazing, engineers excellence, and delivers every time. We’ve worked with the world’s largest brands to reinvent the way they do things. James is proud of his work with Two Bulls and doesn't want to mention anything else.