Entering the digital arena

Think creatively about digital design – and make sure you integrate these skills into the bloodstream of your offer, urges Thom Newton

Over the past couple of years, most of our client briefs have included a digital design or communication element. Whether the audience is consumer or business, and whether the touchpoint is on the Web, in-store or on a mobile, digital media now forms an integral part of the communication channels between an organisation and its audiences.

When we started 35 nearly five years ago a few of us had knowledge of digital design. Our work in this area had mainly been on consumer branding projects. When it came to corporate or shareholder communications projects there was a distinct difference about what clients felt was worthy of interactive communications. Consumer audiences were earmarked for a dynamic interactive experience, while corporates were more likely to be offered something static and less engaging.

We’ve always resisted the temptation to divide our studio into separate corporate and consumer teams, or create a split between digital and non-digital designers. But at that time, the conventional wisdom was ‘how on earth, in a world of specialists, could one team or individual be competent at designing for both audiences?’

Fast forward to 2008 and things are less cut and dried – and our structure has developed further.

Take the work we are currently doing for Tesco. Whether you are an analyst or shopper when you visit tesco.com or tescocorporate.com, you will expect a fulfilling experience. Faster, cheaper broadband at work, home, the coffee shop or hotel lobby has raised our expectations. You expect the navigation and content to be streamlined and tailored to your requirements.

With audience expectation in mind – and the desire to reflect and integrate ‘Tesco-ness’ – we are creating a corporate.com experience that unifies investor relations, corporate citizenship, media and employee communications under common brand values. We’ll be using off-line communications, such as printed reports, to drive people on-line to enhanced content and an interactive experience that encourages audiences to keep coming back.

This shift to increase the emphasis on digital media – with its inherent accessibility and environmental benefits – and the increased understanding of what it can offer audiences, means that groups like ours have to be able to deliver potent communications through a multi-channel approach – to the consumer who shops on-line and in store, and to the shareholder who reads her annual review from cover to cover, but also wants regular updates on share prices. Individuals often span more than one type of audience group – the employee shareholder, or the shareholding customer. It is crucial that brand communications are delivered consistently and in an integrated way whatever the medium and whoever the audience. All this puts demands on the traditional design-driven communications group.

Getting digital into the bloodstream has been a challenge and we’ve tried several approaches over the years. We’ve learnt a lot from each of these, and each has suited our situation at the time.

When we started to grow, we took the dedicated ‘digital partner’ approach to help us implement our digital concepts. These relationships worked well because we shared similar values with the partners we chose. We learned a lot and it informed our understanding of where natural synergies lie and what level of investment we would need to build our own capability. It helped us make the decision to develop our own digital offer, and informed how far this offer would go. We now have the resource to realise concepts across a range of digital disciplines.

We still draw the line – and I suspect we always will – at the point where the brief is no longer about communications, but about technology. So we leave ‘back-end’ services, such as building content management systems or hosting websites, to the technology specialists. We still apply the partnership model in these areas, so we can help our clients make informed choices.

Ultimately, you want to develop your business, and whatever skill-base needs to be integrated, the same principles apply – you have to get it into the bloodstream of the organisation. Digital had to become integral to what we do. Now it’s not just a practical output, but adds value to the creative thinking that makes us who we are.

Thom Newton is a director at 35

Going digital

• Consider working with a digital partner at first

• Decide if you’ll need a dedicated team of digital specialists

• Make sure you can handle a multi-channel approach

• Deliver the brand message consistently across platforms

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