Based in London, Jon Hamm has led creative work at Geometry Global since 2014. A philosophy graduate, he has a background in film and TV and began his career making commercials at Ridley Scott Associates. This interview explores Hamm’s personal perspective on what makes up a brand, and how the nature of creative work at agencies is changing.
In the simplest possible terms, what does the term ‘brand experience’ mean?
When I think about ‘brand experience’ I’m thinking about the ecosystem that exists around a brand or product. That could be packaging, retail, innovation, communications, events, customer service, social media, CRM, etc.—all those are component parts of the ecosystem that is the brand. The fundamental thing is, the brand is those things.
One of the things I’ve seen is a big shift in clients from seeing their brand at the centre and a collection of things around it, to seeing those things as being the brand. The reality is that that’s how people think. My experience with a customer service representative is as much as experience of the brand as a product I may have purchased.
What should it not be?
People’s minds immediately go to events when you say ‘experience’, and that’s because we’ve tagged the word onto a multitude of different things. We [at agencies] get more confused than our clients do. They have a clearer view about what they mean when they talk about brand experience. They don’t have the baggage of it.
Both D&AD and Cannes have reclassified the experience category. Thankfully Cannes has decided to rid itself of the Promo & Activation category and their definition of it is modern and fresh and leaning towards the brand ecosystem. But at D&AD, it feels like they’re still talking about events or experiential. These are two of the leading lights [of awards shows] so this potentially causes confusion.
Do you mean there’s no place for ‘experiential marketing’ any more?
It will always be a powerful tool for brands to educate and engage people, but I do find a lot of it is lacking purpose. One thing we’re trying to do is move it away from the idea of ‘sheep dipping’ people in a brand to focusing on creating behavioural change.
Name a brand that you think truly understands the concept.
One client I used to spend time with was Amex and they are a brand that fundamentally understand brand experience and apply their vision to everything from customer service to their massive sporting activations.
Nespresso is another example. One thing I was impressed with quite early on was that they identified the waste created by the pods was becoming a potential barrier for them. It was potentially damaging for the overall brand. They brought out their recycling program, which has been wonderfully delivered. So they took the notion of brand experience and used it to transform something from a negative to a positive.
Then there’s John Lewis [the UK department store]—they’ve appointed a brand experience person and are looking to create a certain vision for their stores. I read that they are sending their staff off to theatre school for the day. To me, that is a brand that’s getting it and saying we need to bring the brand to life in a retail environment, and we’re going to commit to that.
How can brands improve the experience they offer at a retail level?
Brand experience in retail is always a challenge because essentially you are sitting in someone else’s house. A common mistake marketers make is that they are in their own brand planning cycle. They are very focused on their brand and strategy and don’t realise that retailers are in a different system, one of their own. Where brands get it right is to understand the retailer’s strategy.
What do people with ‘creative’ in their title need to bring to the table in 2018?
I think it’s more a question of what agencies need to do. The fundamental thing is that we need to start thinking of ourselves as agencies without walls. They idea that we will be able to retain the diversity of creative talent we need in an organisation and make them come to work for us from 9.00 to 6.00, five days a week—we are insane and on the wrong path if we believe that will continue. We need to be more fluid and have a relationship with a much broader creative community, understand how millennial talent thinks about their relationship with work, and the diversity of what they may do in any given week. We as agencies need to get on with that because if we don’t we’re not going to be able to provide the diversity of talent that we need to.
Does it mean full-time creative staff are a thing of the past?
No, they will still be the heart and soul of the agency but more and more we want to have people with a diverse set of skills to solve problems. We want to bring in people who understand gaming, mechanics, musicians, poets, animators, people who understand Spotify algorithms—much as I would to think they can exist as a wonderful [full-time] collective, it’s not going to be possible and I don’t think we should try to make it possible. What’s great about them is that they’re exposed to diversity that we gain massively from when we bring them in and out of our organisations. So the community that exists around an agency is going to be increasingly important.