Q: Tell us a little bit about Brand Tango and your role.
A: Brand Tango is an experiential brand agency founded 11 years ago by myself and two South Florida executives with expertise in Marketing and Technology. We started the company during a time when agencies were still sharply divided between offering web or traditional design and advertising services. At that time, it was unusual to have marketing, creative and technology offered as a cohesive solution. At first, we focused heavily within the hospitality space where we went to work re-envisioning critical touchpoints for ownership/membership experiences as well as loyalty generation and face-to-face sales processes. Our focus was simple, it needs to work, it needs to look amazing and it needs to focus on ROI while moving people to the brand. Eleven years later, we are executing some of the most exciting work of our careers. RFID-controlled digital sales centers, interactive environmental design, mobile applications, interactive sales tools, food and beverage concepting, place making and dozens of other brand expressions both digital and analog. We have been engaged by some of the leading brands in Hotel, Vacation Ownership, Finance and Technology around the globe from Miami to Australia and Spain to Dubai.
As for me, I am a New York trained graphic designer who fell in love with business leaders and the challenges they place on the creative process. The interplay between business and creative has always been a welcomed challenge for me. To make sure our clients absolutely understand where we focus, I always tell them that we work for your consumer more than we work for you. Clients that understand this and the great brand power that comes from being “customer obsessed” really benefit the most from what we do.
The Brand Tango culture is totally horizontal. We work together like a family, we avoid too many meetings instead opting to meet with each other one-on-one in sometimes unplanned sprint sessions. We are smart, dedicated and above all else, extremely conscientious. I love what we have built and I love the people I work with and for. It’s an exciting time to be us.
Q: What skill sets will be required of a brand design agency in 2017? And what competencies should the agency develop now in order to remain competitive for the future?
A: My gosh, so many! I like to consider Brand Tango a successful company. We charge a good amount of money for our services, we pay our people well, give bonuses and for those who follow awards, we are constantly being recognized for our work. By every measure, we are a solid small business in our space. So why do I wake up every day feeling like we aren’t doing enough to keep up? The fact is technology and real business strategy has become almost more important than the creative skillset that most of us have built our careers on. As we homogenize mobile, web and advertising vehicles onto marketing automation and content platforms like Adobe Experience Manager, it becomes less about being clever and “totally custom” in what we deliver and more about being accurate, timely and performance-oriented. People no longer have the time to sort through self-proclaiming messages about a brand, they want instantaneous, relevant connections to the heart of the product or service. Don’t tell them, SHOW THEM!
Q: What role will technology play in the brand design agency of 2017? What technologies must the agency master to remain competitive in the future?
A: Today, technology is branding and branding is technology. Just knowing that an average person spends at least 10 hours a day consuming media on mobile or a desktop kind of says it all. If you want to form connections with a consumer, you must acknowledge that this is where most of those connections are occurring. A bit of a warning here; let’s not repeat the 90’s when agencies became jack of all trades, masters of none. As communications professionals, we need to understand what technology offerings complement our natural abilities, culture and even the clients we target. You really need to dig deep and look at your core strengths. Let’s explore just a few paths that you might consider when choosing a technology focus to keep your service offering relevant in 2017 and beyond.
Commerce: (everything you can buy online) has become extremely saturated and crowded. It has really become more of a science, less of a creative deliverable and sadly, a pay-to-play environment. At Brand Tango, we’ll define and design the brand and story but really try and steer clear of e-commerce traffic and conversion optimization work. We find that there are a million online marketing agencies who are fighting for this business and they know it way better than we do. IMHO, anyone who is considering specializing in direct digital marketing needs to be super-buttoned up or have a tested proprietary direct marketing system that works every time in order to make a living in this space.
Content: Branded content is important. Today, it’s the relevant, engaging trail that leads consumers to your brand. And guess what, you got it, we are now competing with some of the most awesome content ever created “user generated content”. Video is certainly important to Google but content can exist in sounds, smells, signage, environments, and dozens of places within the digital and analog customer journey. And…guess what?... All of these things are becoming more digital every day. As an example, if you have specialized in out-of-home or tradeshow work, you should be all over beacon technology, geo location, visualization of big data, RFID, virtual reality, augmented reality, touch and dozens of other things that have come out while I’ve been writing this piece.
Environment: Technology is finding its way into environments everywhere. Marketing messages, new ways to shop and experience brands are popping up in brick and mortar, public spaces, educational spaces, commerce spaces and especially entertainment spaces as the tangible world races to close the gap between it and the internet. Creative companies who find relevant ways to enhance the brand experience using a plethora of technology innovations have a major seat at the table. Right now, a handful of large players in the creative and technology space control this deliverable. It’s time for smaller shops to come in and offer even more creative iterations of these types of brand expressions. This is an area where Brand Tango is quickly becoming well-versed because we love moving people with compelling brand stories and we believe that when people come out from behind their phones and join other people in spaces, the brand energy can be intoxicating. This leads to sales, engagement, social media activity and a host of other highly desirable outcomes for brands.
Q: In terms of business development, what steps should a brand design agency take to position itself for the future?
A: Strategic thinking should be the core of a design or creative agency. This is an ultra-rare, somewhat expensive skillset but it is necessary to break through the glass ceiling of “me-too” regional agency offerings and the dreaded cookie-cutter approach. As we witness design, UX/UI and creativity become automated and commoditized, the one thing that can remain rare, valuable and differentiated is our ability to see the world as it could be, not as it is. On top of that, strategic design professionals of the future need to influence the entire journey. Gone are the days of designing “advertising vehicles”; today the vehicle we are driving is the customer himself. Being in touch with his or her needs, desires, and accessibility no matter where they are or what device is being used is why Omni-Channel marketing is an addicting habit of the most successful brands. Thinking less in terms of delivering things, projects, websites and instead inspiring new paths to purchase, exciting ways to engage with a product and love of the brand is the skillset that will be valued above all else.
Another way to move through the future and grow is by working alongside other agencies through partnerships. If we can put our egos and competitiveness aside, and there is a level of trust, there is so much that can be learned and gained from agency affiliations and partnerships. As an example, we were brought in by a company in Los Angeles who had a long-standing relationship with a global hotelier to work on their sales software platform. Rather than seeing Brand Tango as a competitor, they looked to our UX/UI redesign to stay relevant with a long-time client. We now both enjoy a healthy co-agency relationship and the other agency has solidified client trust for the future.
Besides hiring strategic thinkers and opening yourself up to co-agency partnerships, we all must have the discipline to break away from the work and dedicate our time to making a few new business calls or a networking lunch. Ever since I have been speaking at various conferences, the work just seems to pour in.
Q: How will the brand design agency team be structured in 2017, and what steps should agency’s take now to begin building the ideal team?
A: The formula: Strategic, creative thinkers that ideate a better brand experience, project managers who help create product and manage internal and external resources, and creatives who understand every digital and analog vehicle and how it might positively impact the customer journey for a given client’s brand.
The Steps: Pay the salaries to get the right people (Quality over Quantity) Clearly communicate the goals of the culture. Lead by example. Create pride and celebrate achievement. Work really, really hard to evolve.
Q: What’s the ideal physical layout of the brand design agency of the future?
A: I am all about the open environment. I think having access to other providers within a localized area would be great. We would love to have a front-end development team that we could walk to or a video editing team that we could hire and collaborate with. I have been involved in co-working spaces and they never seem to quite gel, so setting pricing and working parameters between providers would be key.
Q: How should workspaces be designed to accommodate the way you’ll work in 2017 and beyond?
A: We have an open environment at Brand Tango and that works for us. Our conference room is purposely small to encourage meetings between staff at each other’s desks. We believe that comfort and quality are key. For instance, everyone sits on Herman Miller chairs and we invested quite a bit of money in a new kitchen and the office in general. We want to encourage people to stay in the space and lunch together and work collaboratively.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges brand design agency’s will face in 2017? And what steps should agencies begin taking to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead?
A: There are so many challenges that we face. One is that design and communication is becoming so technology driven. Now the Apps, sites and software that we use has become so highly tuned that there isn’t as much room to innovate the User Interface as there once was.
I think we are also facing the same challenge that small businesses are facing. The “Walmartization” of their world is also removing potential clients from our world every day.
We will continue to be impacted by the rising popularity of Design automation as tech start-ups try to disrupt the design business.
Emerging technologies like VR, AR, and Artificial Intelligence will continue to integrate into the lives of consumers. Since most small to medium design agencies simply do not have the capability to create content or design for these platforms, they may be left behind.
Q: What creative possibilities do you think the future holds for Brand Tango and the design field as a whole?
A: We’ve been at this for a long time, some of us are now in our late forties. What I am seeing for us is that we have finally been invited to the enterprise-level table. We have earned that spot because we worked to be best-in class not just aesthetically but substantively. Everything I am reading says that our focus has led us to the place we are now. If you pick up an issue of Fast Company it’s hard not to notice a very promising trend. That trend is that creative thinkers are finding themselves being placed at every level of an organization. It’s been said that ideation and creativity is the brain currency of the future.
AAF South Florida was established in 1957 as a local arm of the American Advertising Federation (AAF) to serve the interests of all disciplines and career levels in advertising. Now in 2020, we serve the Greater Fort Lauderdale and Plam Beach County advertising community.