Ed Hornby on Digital Trends + Development in 2017

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in 2017?

For us it’s always been about creative and finding creative uses for data and technology that enable us to drive real and measurable value for brands and businesses, and their customers.

Traditional campaigns are still very important for brands, but we’re experiencing a tidal shift to always-on marketing, which means applying a ‘big idea’ not just to campaign activity but also to driving experiences for customers.

On top of that, because technology is changing so fast, so too do customers’ expectations and habits. Consequently how we develop brands and their products and services changes at equal pace. This makes it very challenging to do well. A big challenge is about how do we set ourselves up to manage our perpetual transition.

A bad habit that a lot of brands have fallen into is being technology-led. This is understandable given the considerable attention required to follow the martech industry and apply the latest tools to gain an advantage over competitors. So another big challenge this year is to bring the focus back round to the customers, and what is best for them. In all the excitement, many brands seem to have forgotten about their audience.

What do you think the biggest trends for 2017 are going to be?

As brands become more confident with data-driven activity, we’ll see a resurgence of interactive content, services and tools. We’ll see a trend for more branded experiences that customers seek out, use to their benefit and share.

The second trend will be personalisation, I think we’ll continue to see a lot of debates around personalisation; it’s value and perception among consumers and how brands can deliver this well. I think a lot more understanding across the industry will develop over this year.

A third trend will be machine Learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). Well, everyone is talking about it, from self-driving cars to production line automation. Chatbots appear to be one of the most common topics of conversation in marketing circles, although this is one very small application of AI. For marketing, ML can drive phenomenal value if used right. Predictive modelling will become more widespread, enabling better audience segmentation and automation of content than ever before. Our data science team has developed a ML predictive modelling engine, and we’re working with several of our clients to develop similar tools – brands will know your purchase intentions before you do. It’s a very exciting time to be in digital marketing.

What are your views on in-house and out sourced digital production? Are there benefits of both?

There are benefits to both, by which I mean the answer is not one or the other; it’s both.

Generally speaking, creative development, user testing, prototyping and bespoke productions are often better delivered in house because they benefit from a collaborative multi-discipline team iterating, trialling and improving (called a ‘test & learn’ approach).  For the same reasons, new product and service development, at the early phases, are often better developed in house – agile project approaches require constant client and creative collaboration, which is impossible across time zones and geography.

However, an outsourced model can work well for larger application developments, for high volume production and implementation, and for developing content assets for campaigns and programmatic advertising. Using offshore production is definitely a way to bring down costs for clients – it’s a very competitive market.

We often work with specialist tech partners as part of our in house team to get the best of both worlds. And we often work on client site to enable a high level of collaboration and development integration.

There isn’t one rule, as it will always come down to cost versus quality.

What’s the biggest skills shortage that you find in digital production?

It’s been difficult to find very good people across all disciplines. The growth of digital production as an industry has been so fast that the pool of skilled and experienced people has not been able to keep up.

There has been an influx of younger people over the last few years, so the pool has started to catch up as the newcomers have become more skilled with more experience behind them.

This will be reflected by a normalisation of the rate of increase of salaries and day rates. Several salary surveys this year are even reporting a slight drop in average pay rate across mid-level production staff.

How do you keep your team up to date with digital trends and developments?

Well, simply, in a lot of ways!

In our world, staying up to date with digital trends and developments is as fundamental to our work as having a computer, so we place a lot of importance on it.

We encourage everyone to go to the many different conferences, events and exhibitions that are on in London and beyond e.g. The Science Museum, London Tech Week, and some of the bigger conferences such as CES in Las Vegas and SXSW in Texas to feed agency inspiration.

We have a lot of training on offer; online and off, that everyone has constant access to e.g. from developing techniques in CSS to project management.

We also provide access to many of the (paid for) digital blogs and magazines.

We set up an internal digital team initiative called ‘RAID’, which stands for ‘Research and Innovation Development’, where we set aside 20% of the team’s time to look into new technology, build prototypes using new tech and frameworks.

We have a dedicated Innovation team that helps to build relationships with tech suppliers, from the likes of Google to the latest ML hothouse. They also feed the team via our Curious initiative, which puts on weekly Curious talks from outside experts, delivers a blog and shares inspirational and informative content about tech, digital and marketing to the whole agency.

We put on an annual Digital Village Fete event, which showcases new tech and its potential applications in an informal and, dare I say it, ‘fun’ way. It’s a day where clients and staff can play with the latest tech toys (eg VR) and see new software in action in a way that is relevant to our clients.

However, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink… The most important thing is that we actively hire people who are naturally curious, creative and collaborative, no matter the role. It’s easy to supply the means, but not the desire.

If any, which digital campaign do you wish you had produced?

Although not strictly digital itself, most recently, I think ‘The Fearless Girl’ is absolutely brilliant. It’s a statue of a little girl standing defiantly in front of the raging bull on Wall Street.  It’s been shared around over every social channel millions of times and it’s those kinds of brilliant creative ideas with real purpose that work no matter what channel.

To be strictly digital, then Spotify’s ‘Found Them First’ campaign is a great piece of work. A brilliant, creative use of existing customer data that provided value to Spotify’s regular users, the artists and of course to the business itself. It was shared so much that within the first week they reached a million users, all with $0 media spend.

Found_Them_First Spotify Campaign

What’s the best thing about being at VCCP?

The agency’s values have been there since day one and everyone really lives by them. Our culture is based on being a challenger, and you can feel that in a very positive way in the ethos of the agency. Our logo is literally about facing up to the big bear; we stand up to big beasts and challenge the status quo, we have the culture, the skills and the attitude to make change quickly and effectively.

We often achieve this by finding ingenious ways of doing things, by being clever in what we’re doing and not following the crowd.

Fast. Agile. Open. Collaborative. That’s what makes it such a great place to work. That and the free biscuits of course.

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