Last week, Emotive Brand celebrated its ten-year anniversary. Naturally, the milestone has led all of us here to reflect on the last decade and ask what it will take to continue to be successful moving forward. Today, Founding Partner and Chief Strategy Officer Tracy Lloyd and Creative Director Thomas Hutchings tackle that very question. What does the agency of the future look like? How does it behave? And how do we continue to push the envelope of what’s possible?
How have you seen the agency space shift over time?
Thomas Hutchings: Gone are the days of real arrogance, where an agency could rest prim and proper on its name alone. In the beginning, when there was far less competition, you could get away with being very demanding and say to clients, ‘It’s our way or the highway.’ Now, the space is so diverse and versatile, agencies try to provide the best experience possible. It’s a much more malleable and friendly relationship where you really immerse yourself in the client world. Keeping those worlds separate is an old way of thinking. In a sense, it’s kind of reversed: the agency is now the client and the client is now the agency. In addition, there’s been an increase in robust in-house teams that are strong, educated, talented, and bring something to the table. Perhaps some would see that as intimidating, but I think it’s great. We seek to inspire one another and be an extension of your team.
Tracy Lloyd: It’s a much more agile relationship that agencies are having with clients. There has been a shift from agencies dictating how long a project will take to the client driving the time frame. And at the same time, the problems agencies are being asked to solve are getting more complex. No longer are agencies able to lean on old methodologies. Solving the business problems of high-growth companies today requires having the right frameworks that can be adapted in real-time to keep pace. It’s about leaving your ego at the door and acknowledging that our clients are sophisticated, educated, and have a lot of the same skills agencies have. You must be prepared to be collaborators – not dictators.
What’s the value of bringing in an outside agency?
TH: While brands and their in-house teams have definitely become more robust, agencies will always bring a lot of muscle to the game for one key reason. Brands are cursed with having to focus on themselves 100% of the time. We have the privilege of working on so many different projects across a myriad of verticals. We have a 360-degree view of the landscape and can leverage solutions from other fields or spaces. That’s a very unique power.
TL: We are asked to solve some tough business, product, and brand problems for our clients. As an agency, we bring a very senior team that not only dedicates time to fix those problems but solve them in unique ways. You need that outside perspective, that diversity of thinking, and that unique pool of talent that agencies bring in order to see the problem for what it is. It’s the fastest way to ascertain the strategic shifts you need to make to get back on the right track.
What have you been most surprised by?
TH: It’s been fascinating to see the small to medium-sized agencies become the new champions of this era. They are the ones getting the big clients, and the giant branding firms are wondering where they sit in this space. It’s almost akin to what’s happening in the retail space, with big box stores versus small independently-owned businesses focusing on experience. Clients are looking for the weird and the wonderful – not just the cold, stark efficiency of a massive branding firm. The agencies that create brands that actually mean something, rather than just exist and churn, will be the ones that survive in the long run.
TL: We work with mostly B2B brands. I think there are some B2B companies that are raising the stakes. The branding out there is getting more interesting, more experimental, and less corporate. That’s really nice to see. With the bloom of smaller digital agencies, there is a lot more competition out there – but I think it’s incredibly inspiring. I feel energized and inspired by our peers and am happy to be pushing the envelope of what’s possible alongside them. I think this year will be revolutionary for what we will see from B2B brands and the agencies that serve them.
What does the agency of the future look like?
TL: Agile. Smart. Nimble. Focused. I think the agency of the future, especially those agencies that work with B2B brands, will be two-fold. First, they will be the ones who can bring the same level of strategic problem solving and creativity of B2C agencies. And second, they will be known for developing those big ideas that create new categories, new markets, new revenue models, and build brands that people want to buy, work for, and talk about. That’s the agency of the future we are trying to build.
TH: The best agencies are the ones that keep their minds open and are willing to take a brand into any avenue. The more you pigeonhole, the more stagnant your agency will be. That’s easier said than done. Much of that comes down to surrounding yourself with people who have a natural hunger for curiosity. Those who ask, ‘What if it went there? Why can’t we do this?’ You need to embrace a challenger mindset to upset preconceived notions and conventions if you want to make something that really resonates.
If you could start over and build from this agency from scratch, is there anything you’d do differently?
TL: This is a hard one to answer. In many ways, we are doing the same things we’ve always done, just on a bigger scale. Our clients are the C-suite. The companies are bigger, global, and recognizable by name. The stakes are higher, and our team is more senior. But in principle, we are operating the same way. The tenets of Emotive Brand have always been about finding the perfect blend of emotional and rational strategies to help change how people feel about the brand and to ensure they are activated in the ways business need.
We’ve worked hard to make the experience clients have with our agency different in every way. We’ve used our own methodology to deliver on that, and every employee from day one knows how to deliver on that. I’m glad we were clear from the start, and I’m proud to know it still drives our behavior as an agency today. We continue to lean into a sales-led approach to solving positioning and go-to-market strategies for our technology clients because that’s just how my brain works. And it’s working. Our references are not just CMOs and CEOs – CROs love us, too. As an agency, it’s helped us become recognized as a go-to B2B branding agency. And that means something to me. Because delivering growth is how our clients measure our success, and theirs.
Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design agency in Oakland, California.