Let’s start with who you are, what you are, why you are, and where you came from. Tell us about your experiences and how you’ve come to be at Dow.
Are you sure you’re interested? It’s been a winding wee road to Dow I suppose. I’m from Kerikeri in the Far North. In my eyes Whangarei was a big city and Auckland was huge, smelly and incredibly far south. There was a part of me that just wanted to stay up there. It’s warm and I like fishing. But curiosity and that deep set kiwi desire to explore beyond our shores sent me first south to Otago Uni and then out to Melbourne, London and the Euroland playground beyond. Big city stepping stones I suppose. I landed in London right before the GFC, so clung to my first ever agency job by my fingernails. It was pretty clear in those days that digital was having an increasing impact on creative agencies and upon my second stint in Melbourne, I could see that Antipodeans were also a few years behind in that space. Coming from London I had just experienced what was on the horizon and wanted to get involved, so I worked for a digital agency in Melbourne for free for a few months to cut my teeth and the rest is history.
I travelled around a bit more, but after a few years abroad the beach-snobbery that can’t be helped when you’re used to the glorious north got the better of me and we (I was a ‘we’ by this stage) headed back home. Auckland by now was not a vast metropolis, but a decently big enough city with plenty going on and an embarrassingly abundant list of beachlife options. It’s easily the most beautiful city I’ve lived in. I’ve been here for five years now peddling my digital wares and Dow is the perfect fit really. Maybe it’s the fish pond.
What excites you about the digital world?
It provides an even playing field, in that it has the potential to democratise the flow of information. To me, every dollar spent on clicks, eyeballs and engagement can be matched by the sheer mass of people watching, clicking (or not), commenting, buying, blogging, rating – effectively judging – in real time for all to see. Add to this hot mess of communication the fact that nothing is sacred or stone - new player could emerge tomorrow. This means that Monday’s desperate social media meme curator is Tuesday’s influencer on a platform that could be irrelevant on Wednesday. Ok that’ s bit dramatic but the wheels do move incredibly fast. Which of course is exciting. You’ve got to be on your toes.
Having a Digital Director is a progressive step forward for Dow. What are you gonna bring to the table?
In many ways I feel the best contribution I can make will be showing that the seriously talented people at Dow have been doing it all along. This is one of New Zealand’s top design agencies and you don’t mess with that. Already the synergies are clearly visible as we’ve got some really great projects on the go.
So to me, my key contribution will be overlaying best practice digital strategy, process and delivery to an already well established and proven creative process here at Dow.
How important is it for a brand to have a digital presence and what makes that presence truly great?
This is a rant I have all the time, so apologies if it comes out like that.
A brand’s presence exists online with or without it’s input. That’s the nature of that information flow I mentioned earlier. So either you put your best foot forward and cultivate some of the digital information about your brand, or you can let the billions of people out there do it for you.
We also problem solve these days by reaching into our pockets and asking our smartphones for answers - it’s aptly being described as a ‘micro moment’. These little impulses can happen hundreds of times a day for some people and many of them are searches for solutions that brands offer. Whoever is present with the right information in these moments will at the least have infiltrated the customer’s consideration set.
What makes a digital brand presence truly great is one that understands the state of mind their user is in when they are searching for something and then providing them with an appropriate solution. So for me, being great is as simple as being where it counts with the best possible experience. It sounds simple, but the context of someone using Google is very different to Facebook, the website etc. It’s about picking your battles and being relevant, rather than just filling a gap because ‘we need an Instagram’.
Is there anything that brands need to be careful of in the digital world?
Where do you start! Things happen very quickly in digital. Especially at the moment where disposable content and ‘being part of the national conversation’ is an increasing priority. The thing is once something is out there it is almost impossible to take it back. So it’s worth having some rigour around what you’re doing online and more importantly why, rather than just pumping out something tenuous because ‘salt bae’ is cool right now. On the more considered end of the spectrum, I find that a common pitfall is how easy it is to think of a bigger build project purely in terms of the end product - rather than who is actually going to be using it and why. Websites are effectively the interface for a machine, so they need to be designed with that in mind. When someone arrives for the first time, do they intuitively know what to do? Have we truly considered what they may want and subsequently what we actually want them to do? Instead brands often fall into the trap of simply wanting to get a visual and then straight into cutting code. Thinking you can skip through a user focused design process means that yes you will get a website, but it’s probably just ticking a box rather than actually doing anything worthwhile for your brand or your customers.
As an area that is growing and changing so much so quickly, what do you think the future holds for digital branding?
We increasingly exist online. I’ve got Netflix on my TV. Augmented Reality in print is bringing the static page to life more and more. My nephew got a cardboard VR kit for Christmas and it was easily the biggest hit of the holiday, with everyone having a go at a tailgunner simulation. My 18 month old daughter knows where we hide the iPad, it’s password and what apps are relevant to her. At the same time we are collectively becoming poorer at independent problem solving, with an almost pavlovian impulse to search for solutions, opinions, locations, deals – whatever it is – mobile is first. As a result of all of this immersion and subtle behavior change, we’re in a phase now where a digital presence is being taken seriously at all levels. I’ve spent more time in the last year than ever talking digital strategy at board level. So it’s not a case of ‘just get a website and a Facebook page up there’ anymore. Instead what we are seeing is a digital brand presence being considered as part of the heart of the identity process. Because that is what it is: how effectively do you exist in a consumer’s mind given your current digital presence? So you will see an appreciation for a considered and cultivated digital execution from brands who know that you may as well not exist online if you don’t take the time to do it right. I also feel that there is a pretty rapid content evolution on at the moment. Up until now content is has been mostly perishable – wallpaper we barely notice on our feeds. That is evolving as performance measures show time and again that users engage with decent, relevant content with actual production values . So I’m expecting the throng of content we saw in 2016 settle down a little with those who know what they’re doing putting out less, but far better, more relevant content for their customers.