Starting your own business involves some hard yards and the fear factor is enormous. It’s my 3rd time being involved in starting a business. The first one failed (I was 25, didn’t know what I was doing), the second one was with my wife (her venture not mine) and 5 years on Sufu Marketing is still going strong. Damn proud of her for that.
But despite many happy years working in digital agencies I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be running with my own idea. I wasn’t meant to follow someone else’s. So now, with Agency Interface, I have that idea and I believe it’s a good idea with a true purpose. Not a purpose of making me rich, or of allowing me the luxury of working from home all the time. A genuine purpose I can get passionate about.
When I was growing up in the late 70s / early 80s, what I loved was stories. I loved reading them, I loved acting them, I loved listening to them. Remember those Fighting Fantasy gamebooks where you could choose options to change how the story unfolded? I bloody loved them as a kid, that should have been a telltale sign of what I’d go on to do. As I got older I discovered photography and the challenge of telling stories with images instead of words. Then in 2001 I got a job working for a video production company where I could work on stories that involved imagery – moving imagery – and sound.
That was quickly amplified by taking these sorts of linear stories and turning them into multimedia. The infant internet wasn’t quite ready to deliver this yet so most of it was based on CD-ROM but the really exciting thing was that this was non-linear, you couldn’t force the user to interact with this in a single way, they had freedom to choose.
Of course, like any good fledgling marketer, once I’d embraced that freedom I wanted to manipulate it. Figure out how to get people to take the optimum journey and find the best content. Without realising, I was taking my first baby steps into the world of user experience. I’m not sure the term even existed widely back then!
What kept me in digital agency land for the next 15 years was a love of being involved in that process coming about. Take a business, figure out their story, connect it to an audience. Then create that story in words, images, and videos, give it a cool design and functionality and then release it onto the internet and watch what people did with that story. Figure out how they wanted to consume it and then tweak and add to it to make it grow in popularity. Awesome fun! I never became in a specialist in any one area, but I always loved sitting right next to the amazing designer or developer who made it happen and I learned a lot more detail about how you make it happen than most people who primarily work with clients. I came to realise that I had developed an unusual mix of breadth and depth of knowledge in terms of web development and digital marketing.
But, somewhere along the line things have changed, I don’t see the joy of that process coming through in the way brands and agencies work together these days. I think for the clients, the whole damn thing has just got too complicated, there’s too much to learn in too little time, agencies don’t always do a great job at educating them and instead of the fun, creative process website creation has always been for me, clients seem to find it all a slog. That in turn infects agencies, sapping the morale of creatives until they’re just going through the motions too.
One report that really made me take notice and was undoubtedly a catalyst for the creation of Agency Interface was Adobe’s 2013 Digital Distress Study. The headline stat from that was:
66% of marketers feel digital is critical to their company’s success and yet less than half feel highly proficient in digital marketing. Worse, only 9% of marketers feel they know their marketing is working.
Well if that’s how marketing managers feel about marketing then how lost must business owners feel?
It doesn’t have to be like that. Well maybe in the world of giant corporations it does, but then look at all the zany innovation ideas Facebook and Google have. That looks like fun! And in many respects we should be having the most amazing fun with digital right now, social media has given us an entirely new playground to create in, we can all be media publishers, we can all have personal as well as corporate brands, the possibilities are huge!
So I’m on a mission to get back to doing what I do best, which is to use my fascination with digital and my ability to communicate its possibilities with endless enthusiasm and a fair degree of expertise, to get brands and agencies having fun again, doing awesome work together and resolving issues and problems before they sap everyone’s energy and spirit out of the project they’re working on.
That’s a worthy objective right?