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Is authenticity real?

18 Jul 2019 by Steven Giannoulis

I recently attended the Digital Day Out (DDO) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. Speakers included a Google exec, a panel of social influencers, an AR/VR specialist and an...

Marketing & Communications
is authenticity real? steven giannoulis

i recently attended the digital day out (ddo) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. speakers included a google exec, a panel of social influencers, an ar/vr specialist and an online e-sports gaming marketer. i couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of a whole bunch of people making money by distorting reality espousing the virtues of authenticity. it made me question my own interpretation of what authenticity is. 

i’d forgotten all about it until a couple of days ago when i saw ecostore was awarded nz’s most authentic brand. they are a company i admire – and genuinely think are authentic. and that’s not just because we were part of the team that launched the brand from niche category to mass marketing.

 

for me, being authentic is about being clear about what you stand for (beyond making money) and consistently speaking and acting in a way that reinforces this position. i find brands like whitaker’s, kathmandu and air new zealand highly authentic because every experience i have with them reinforces what i know they believe in. it’s not just about supporting good causes but delivering consistent brand experiences.

when dove began its campaign for real beauty in 2004 it transformed from a commercial soap-seller to a company with a strong social vision - “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.” by consistently aligning its marketing efforts with this vision, dove has truly championed women’s empowerment. the sustained effort and resources dove have consistently put into changing the advertising industry’s view of beauty has made them genuine and credible. as a result, people listen, believe and buy from them with confidence.

 

 

one of the ddo speakers referenced patagonia, a company i’d heard of but wasn’t fully up to speed with. patagonia is committed to building the best products, causing no unnecessary harm, using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. this informs everything they do. it comes through in their product design, manufacturing practices, culture, company fleet, energy choices, labour policies and their communications. so when we see it in their ad campaigns we know they really mean it. they’ve become my new favourite company to follow.

i’ve worked with the mercury team for about seven years now and they are another company who said the right things but didn’t always act in a consistent way. the rebrand three years ago created a new mission and a shared vision. we see it in everything they do now. from the focus on renewable generation, to the promotion of electric vehicles, to customer offers, to staff engagement programmes, right through to their new office environment and creating wonderful experiences for their customers. they’re a company who are quickly moving up my list of authentic brands and will, without a doubt, be up with ecostore in the awards in the next year or two.

on the other side, while everyone is pointing to nike’s applauded colin kaepernick ad as an example of authentic, i find it somewhat disingenuous (though i support colin’s stand). firstly, because they are using the cause so blatantly for commercial gain and secondly because it still doesn’t align with my perception of their global practices. i know the underage child sweatshops are gone but i still need to see a string of ‘good behaviour’ stories before i start believing in a genuine social purpose behind their messages.

'authentic' is fundamentally walking the talk. so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia. who cares how manufactured what they stand for is, as long as they do it consistently! i get that but i also suspect that it’s more than just my interpretation of authenticity that is a little bit fake here.

 

so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia.

 

is authenticity just about being true to yourself, consistently? or is it about genuinely thinking good thoughts and being true to that in your behaviour and communication? 

can you manufacture authenticity and call that authenticity?

is authenticity an admirable quality when you really think about it?

authenticity, authentic brands

The ideas path

18 Sep 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

I’ve always been an ideas guy. I feel comfortable looking at a problem or an opportunity and then generating lots of ideas about how to tackle it in a creative way. I’ll go one step further and say, it’s...

Marketing & Communications
the ideas path steven giannoulis

i’ve always been an ideas guy. i feel comfortable looking at a problem or an opportunity and then generating lots of ideas about how to tackle it in a creative way. i’ll go one step further and say, it’s one of the things i’m good at. but if i am going to be so shamelessly boastful i should be a bit more specific: it’s the quantity of ideas - not necessarily the quality – that i’m good at.

i’m not saying all my ideas are rubbish (though many are), just that the particular skill i bring to the idea generation process is helping generate that initial long list that eventually leads to one or two nuggets coming alive. after all, all innovative ideas have to start somewhere. often one of my seemingly random thoughts gets refined, expanded and turned it into something good that barely resembles the original idea.

so, what’s the trick to coming up with lots of ideas quickly? the honest answer is, i don’t always know where my ideas come from. i’m not shy in coming forward so often it appears as simply just saying random stuff. it’s not all that loose though, i do have a couple of techniques to help find ideas, wherever they are hiding.

  1. learning. there’s not much in the marketing and comms field i haven’t seen before. yes, technology is different and some channels are different but clients’ objectives and customers’ basic needs remain largely the same. so, i examine a challenge in order to understand the real problem that needs to be solved. i then consider other scenarios where i’ve solved this same problem before. this isn’t about copying the same good idea again and again but about leveraging past learning. i think about why i used that solution and what worked and what didn’t. this gives me insights on how to start thinking about the challenge in front of me. 

  2. parallels. it’s one thing to look at what other agencies around the world have done with the same challenge. this is a useful start but can often lead to ‘me too’ thinking. i find it’s better to seek the parallels in other industries and other environments. how have they solved this same problem in their field? what’s the core insight and idea behind their solution? how can we apply this same thinking here to solve the challenge in front of us?

  3. building. my approach to idea generation is to be unfiltered. i love mind-maps so, when brainstorming, i look to rapidly connect ideas and follow the path to see where it leads. follow your head. follow your gut. often this means spitting out whatever half-baked idea is forming in my head and then building on the idea out loud. this gives others the opportunity to add their thoughts and perspectives, helping the idea grow and take shape.

  4. perspectives. the most useful tool i use for idea generation is looking at the challenge differently. i always have this matrix image in my head when i talk about this. the challenge is suspended in mid-air and we spin around it in slow-mo, looking at it from different angles. i run through a checklist of what ifs in my head. what if the client was different? what if the target audience was different? what if the goals were different? what if time and budget were no issue? what if there was no money or time? what if we doubled the problem? halved it? multiplied it? most of these perspectives go nowhere, generating ideas that have others thinking i’m a complete idiot. but sometimes one of those idiotic thoughts becomes the first spark of a really good idea.

my advice for generating ideas is to free your inhibitions and let your ideas take you to new and unexpected places. one idea sparks the next, taking you down an uncertain path until a moment of clarity reveals itself. and avoid judging your ideas too early, as you’ll quickly close off the most interesting and rewarding paths.

idea generation, innovation, creativity

Innovation All-sorts

09 Jul 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

We’re on a mission to be more innovative in our work and that means pushing ourselves to think differently and go further with our ideas and our solutions. We’ve committed to building a team culture that fosters...

Marketing & Communications
innovation all-sorts steven giannoulis
we’re on a mission to be more innovative in our work and that means pushing ourselves to think differently and go further with our ideas and our solutions. we’ve committed to building a team culture that fosters this. over the last few weeks i’ve seen first-hand the opportunities and challenges this brings.
 
we are working on a really big and really cool project for a client where they have expressly asked us to push the boundaries, incorporating out-there ideas and technologies. what better job to test our new-found innovation resolve.
 
we started with a team brainstorming session to generate ideas that could inform our approach. 
 
some team members were clearly idea generators, spitting out idea after idea with little consideration of the merits of each one. i fall into this group, finding it really easy to generate the volume of ideas but not always with an associated level of quality. 
 
others were idea builders, better at taking other people’s ideas and exploring and shaping them further. 
 
others were idea resolvers. they sat thinking to themselves, not participating in the discussion apart from every so often when they shared the fully formed idea they’d been working through in their heads. 
 
and then there were the few who added little or nothing to the brainstorming meeting. they seemed to have no ideas. for these more analytical-minded types, brainstorming sessions are just too fast and unstructured. ironically, a few of our best ideas came from one of these people. they went away, thought about it, and then came up with a couple of well-considered ideas that were clearly influenced by the discussions in the brainstorming session.
 
 
as the week following the brainstorming progressed, we once again saw a huge difference in attitudes and approaches.
 
some of us got very excited by the endless possibilities and took the leading ideas, rethinking them, stretching them, adapting them, combining them in different ways and generally just looking to find new ways to apply them. we developed a prototype solution and got the team together to talk this through.
 
some were happy to take the solution being proposed, adding value by suggesting refinements, ways to sell the ideas into the client or alternative approaches to help the idea become more achievable. i quickly learned that harnessing these groups can help take a solution from good to fantastic.
 
another small group quickly switched off, feeling little ownership of the proposed solution. they didn’t fight or discourage it, they just disengaged, agreeing to do what needed to be done with little passion or buy-in. they still have a role to play in allowing an innovative outcome but it’s mostly about doing what needs to be done.
 
and a final group actively found issues with the solution, focusing on the complexity, cost, timeframes and/or highlighting past scenarios where similar solutions had failed. the challenge with this group is to get their focus off the problem and onto solutions. how can we do this cheaper, quicker and simpler? i found challenging them to find alternative ways to achieve the same outcome allowed this group to utilise their skills and feel more involved. 
 
as we get ready to present the proposed solution to the client, i am excited with what we’ve come up with. it took a mixed bag of ideas to get us here and all-sorts of people to allow us to refine, evaluate and improve the solution. my preconception was that we needed big thinking ideas people but a better outcome was achieved by including a more diverse team of personalities and approaches. creating a culture enabling innovation to thrive means finding a way for everyone to contribute in a way that makes the most of their particular skillsets.
 
innovation, workplace, diversity, idea generators, idea builders, idea resolvers

The strategy of design

21 Jun 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

We describe ourselves as a strategic-creative agency. This leads to the obvious question, what is it? You just design stuff, right? Strategic-creative is about how we go about making sure that the stuff we create is...

Marketing & Communications
the strategy of design steven giannoulis

we describe ourselves as a strategic-creative agency. this leads to the obvious question, what is it? you just design stuff, right? strategic-creative is about how we go about making sure that the stuff we create is fit for purpose and delivers results for our clients. 

strategy in the design world is very different to strategy in a military, corporate or even advertising world. what they have in common is that sense of thinking about where we are now, where we want to be and making a plan to get there. here’s a quick run-down on how a design agency strategist fits into the design process.

understanding of the brief

finding a great solution starts by understanding the real problem to be solved. a strategist engages the client, asks lots of why questions and listens in order to really understand what is needed. how does this brief align with the value drivers and the business, brand and marketing plans? what will success look like and how will we measure it? a well-defined problem is critical to helping the team come up with a well-conceived solution.

  1. audiences. a strategist defines the target audience, their needs and motivators and what their current behaviours and perceptions are. this clarity helps everyone on a project focus on what journey we need to take the audience on. audience insights mostly come from research – either directly by talking to them or through secondary sources. often it comes from a long-held appreciation of human psychology, group dynamics and organisational behaviour.
  2. frameworks. there are a number of proven best-practice models that define core communication processes like engagement, decision-making and purchase. a good strategist knows when and how to apply these frameworks to different briefs in order to move audiences towards the desired outcomes.
  3. positioning. working closely with the designer, the strategist helps define how something should be positioned in the eyes of audiences through its messaging, tone and visual language. this positioning allows a differentiated market offer that aligns closely with the audience needs and motivators.
  4. channel/medium selection. good thinking and design is pointless if it doesn’t reach and/or register with audiences. the strategist works with the designer to identify the best way to get to audiences, and what mediums work best. 
  5. creative development. as we move into design, the designer takes lead on the creative process. the strategist plays a supporting role, helping identify and evaluate design ideas and approaches. they review designs and provide feedback to help improve single-mindedness, effectiveness and strategic alignment with the brief and audience needs.
  6. selling ideas. rarely do clients buy into an idea just because it’s a thing of beauty. mostly they chose it because they can see its potential to solve their problem or realise an opportunity. the strategist works closely with the design team to sell-in an idea to the client by highlighting how it will deliver the results they need.

 

strategic-creative is both a mindset and a process, ensuring that the discipline of being creative to a brief is geared towards achieving the right outcomes. strategy-creative equals better design – but i would say that, i’m a strategist.  

creative, strategy, strategic creative, insight creative

Feeling the work

19 Jun 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

  Yesterday Brian and I had our monthly one-to-one meeting while walking around the new Te Papa Art Gallery –  Toi Art.  We wanted to talk about how to raise our creativity to the next level and...

Marketing & Communications
feeling the work steven giannoulis
 
yesterday brian and i had our monthly one-to-one meeting while walking around the new te papa art gallery – toi art. we wanted to talk about how to raise our creativity to the next level and what better place than amongst an eclectic collection of the best nz art.
 
toi is brilliant and we were both inspired and talked excitedly for an hour and a half. we had different pieces that spoke to us. brian fell in love with the story-telling associated with a small house from outer space in the detour collection. i was taken by the possibilities and perspectives reflected in the crochet circles part of the colour section.
 
the big take out of our walk was that we can go even further in our drive to make people feel something from our work – joy, anger, passion, nostalgia, pride, etc. (yes, even an annual report can do that!)  to take our designs to another level, we must work harder to engage audiences at an emotional level, making them feel something. think about your favourite movies, art, books and music – chances are they are your favourites because of the emotions they stir in you.
 
we came up with a number of ways to capture the feeling the client wants in the brief; how we can ensure our territories have a strong single feeling aligned with what audiences need and will respond to; and how to engage our client in going with creating a feeling rather than literally telling audiences stuff.
 
it has already started informing our idea creation on new projects.
 
if you get a chance to go to te papa toi art, do it. it’s well worth it.
inspiration, creativity, effective design

What clients can expect

19 Jun 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

This week a client asked me for a service level agreement. We’ve produced a few of them over the years but for more technical processes such as website management. Given that managing expectations is key to good...

Marketing & Communications
what clients can expect steven giannoulis

this week a client asked me for a service level agreement. we’ve produced a few of them over the years but for more technical processes such as website management.

given that managing expectations is key to good service, i approached the task with a broader client distribution in mind. as a result i’ve been drafting a ‘service promise’ that outlines what clients can expect when they work with us. and – fair’s fair - i’ve also outlined what we expect from them.

what do you think? does this fairly represent what you would expect from us if you were a client?  what else do you think we should expect from clients?

 

what you can expect from us:

we will

  • listen and ask questions to make sure we are clear about your challenge, your audience and what you need.
  • always deliver creative and innovative ways to engage your audiences and deliver the results you need.
  • base all our recommendations on good insights, research and/or best practice models and frameworks.
  • deliver the best solution across multiple mediums including print, on-line and experiential.
  • give you our best professional advice on what the best course of action may be including challenging you (in a good way) if we think something isn’t right.
  • utilise your expertise as a subject-matter expert.
  • collaborate with you, and other parties you work with, to deliver the best results possible.
  • ensure our work is correct and accurate at all times.
  • assign you a dedicated relationship/project manager who will be your main point of contact for all dealings with us.
  • take the time to understand your industry, your business, your objectives and the way you like to work.
  • celebrate success with you.
  • always allocate the required resource volumes and skills to your projects to ensure we can deliver what you need within the agreed timeframe and budget.
  • return your calls, emails and texts within a reasonable timeframe.
  • provide you with estimates for all work we undertake and outline the assumptions we’ve used in the estimate.
  • never charge you more than the higher range of the estimate, unless the scope of the project has changed.
  • notify you if something is out of scope before taking on the additional work. we’ll provide you with estimates for the additional work as soon as we are able to.
  • deliver detailed project plans for all projects of a significant size, as agreed.
  • use clear project methodology that facilitates the efficient and effective delivery of projects on time and on budget.
  • keep you informed of progress against timeframes and budgets and raise any risks which arise that could compromise quality, budget or timeframe, at the soonest opportunity.
  • work with a network of specialist partners who have the skills and professional practices to help us deliver the outcomes you need.
  • take responsibility for all freelancers or contractors we bring in to help us deliver your work.
  • have the appropriate insurances in place for the nature of the work we do for you.
  • ensure adequate health and safety processes are in place for all work we undertake for you.
  • make all endeavours to keep material, information and other items provided to us confidential and safe.
  • notify you as soon as we become aware of any conflict of interest that may arise and propose a course of action to mitigate and manage the conflict to your satisfaction.
  • have a clear escalation process if you are not happy with some aspect of our work or the way we are working together.
  • comply with all applicable laws and regulations.
  • keep good records of all time we spend on your projects.
  • invoice monthly within eight working days of the end of the month.

 

what we expect from you in return:

you will:

  • provide us with reasonable notice of work you intend to give us so we can plan the right level and type of resources for what you need.
  • be open and forthright with all aspects of your business so that we can tailor our solutions to what’s right for you.
  • be clear with your objectives and how success will be measured.
  • give us some leeway to explore ideas and solutions that have the potential to deliver better strategic-creative outcomes.
  • be reasonable in your expectations: effectively balancing the budget, time and quality trade-offs to achieve the best result possible.
  • carefully consider all material we provide you before approving it. this helps minimise changes at later stages in the project which may add additional effort.
  • provide us with the necessary information, content and approvals in a timely and orderly manner that allows us to deliver the agreed specifications, budget and timelines.
  • keep us informed of any developments that may impact our ability to deliver the agreed specifications, budget and timelines.
  • give us the opportunity to address any issues or concerns you may have.
  • give us open and constructive feedback on our work and process so that we can continue to learn and grow as an organisation.
  • pay us for all work you commission us to do – whether you progress with it or not.
  • pay our invoices by the 20th of the month following the date of each invoice.

leave a comment below with your thoughts!

 

sla, service level agreement, client expectations, client satisfaction, design agency performance expectations

Learning in disruption

29 May 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

As our first significant piece of work with Victoria University of Wellington – the undergraduate recruitment campaign for 2019 – hits the market, I have a chance to reflect on everything I’ve learnt about the...

Marketing & Communications
learning in disruption steven giannoulis

as our first significant piece of work with victoria university of wellington – the undergraduate recruitment campaign for 2019 – hits the market, i have a chance to reflect on everything i’ve learnt about the higher-education sector in the last six months.

i knew it was a sector in change but hadn’t fully realised the extent of the disruption that universities face and how it will fundamentally change everything they say, do and stand for. building long-lasting communication programmes in this dynamic environment requires bravery, a desire to keep adapting and the on-going questioning of your reason for being. 

the rear view mirror

historically, universities have been the centre of knowledge and exploration. the place for critical thinkers to advance their wisdom and understanding for the benefit of all mankind. like the church and government, universities have held a central role in society as a voice for what is right, and what direction we should take. as a pillar of modern civilisation, it’s not a coincidence that the traditional university is characterised by large, solid, classically inspired buildings erected on stable foundations.

for centuries a university education has been seen as the pinnacle of higher learning. despite being free for many, it’s always been seen as highly valuable. parents worked hard to send their kids to university, believing they were setting them up for life. a degree enhanced your social standing, perception of your worth and desirability and was (almost) a guarantee of employment. 

contextual change

in a rapidly changing world, the role of the university has also evolved. most universities, including those in new zealand, have experienced declining numbers, particularly at undergraduate level. primarily, this is a demographic shift with lower post-baby boomer birth rates and the delay in having children. each year the pool of year 13s available is declining, meaning the competition to attract them is growing. 

there is also a plethora of other higher-learning options available to students. historically, a university degree was the primary option, with polytechnics and other skills-based institutions seen as lesser alternatives. with new accredited learning organisations, and more diverse qualifications being credited as degrees, a world of study possibilities is now available to students.

and affordability has moved to the forefront of student thinking as the cost of a degree, and the university lifestyle, have skyrocketed. without the certainty of gaining employment, coupled with the change in long-term employment patterns, students are questioning the wisdom of taking on student debt. the financial burden of repayment and the impact on lifestyle, has made the roi debatable for many, although the new government's free year of study may readdress this equation.

maybe the single biggest change though is relevance. students don’t see a university education as necessary as it once was. with technology, all the knowledge in the world is at their finger-tips and being lectured on it seems pointless. their perception of success and career also differs from previous generations and today’s students don’t see a degree as the only way to succeed. entrepreneurial mindsets and innovation are the new career currency as students think more about how to change the past than how to apply it.

maybe the single biggest change though is relevance. students don’t see a university education as necessary as it once was

even employers are placing less value on university qualifications. a degree represented a ‘quality mark’ that helped weed out the good prospects. it now signifies an ability to learn knowledge rather than an ability to think and apply. employers are looking for skills that align with the dynamic reality they face. they seek employees ready to challenge convention, adapt, collaborate and work more flexibly.

evolution

to be fair, universities haven’t sat back and done nothing. they’ve felt the water heating around them and have looked to change, albeit slowly. local universities have successfully leveraged new zealand’s ‘safe, clean and livable’ reputation and our standing as having many of the world’s top 1% of learning institutions to attract international students. this has helped boost student numbers and helped plug the funding gap.  

reaching a wider and more diverse audience through technology has also seen most universities embrace online learning. massive open online courses (moocs) are now common across the sector, offered by new and traditional players. just last year, coventry university launched 50 online degrees which are equivalent to the courses they offer on campus. harvard launched their remote learning extension school in partnerships with a number of international universities. 

massive open online courses are now common across the sector

universities are also starting to promote the experience of going to university alongside the quality of the programme or the qualifications students can gain. university learning is more than academic, it's a life-changing rite of passage. this is an advantage on-line offerings struggle to compete with and a proposition that appeals to both international and domestic students. this focus on intangible ‘life value’ continues to attract students and has seen a positive impact on student numbers for many universities, otago university being the obvious example.

being ‘employment ready’ is probably the single biggest mind-shift that universities have made. students want this, so do employers, and tertiary institutions have responded. at one extreme this means incorporating technology like google glass, virtual reality and ai into the curriculum to help student learn the tools of their future jobs. at the other end, it means making the learning more hands-on, vocational based, by working with industry to create job-skills and real problem-solving experiences.

digital disruption

the disruption we’ve experienced over the 25 years since i was at university is nothing compared to the changes that will happen in the next 25. universities need to think about how they will continue to adapt and evolve as their role changes. and that’s difficult to do given the rate of change and the uncertainty of what the future holds.

we hear a lot about the acceleration of technology and universities will feel the full impact of this. automation and the rise of artificial intelligence will lead this transformation. a study completed by pwc called how ready is university to embrace the future? highlights the urgency of the situation – raising the possibility that the organisations many see as dinosaurs will end up extinct unless they evolve.

a university of oxford report on the future of employment argued that 50% of us jobs are at risk of technological advancement that will severely impact the need for them. already machines are running production lines, solving complex engineering challenges, providing legal advice and diagnosing medical conditions. universities taught people to do this work, but the future may mean teaching them to intelligent machines or, at the very least, teaching a small number of people how to programme and populate the machines.

this once dominant role of universities will be further depleted as the digital-era further pervades all aspects of life. but technology will also be an enabler for universities by removing the physical and geographic boundaries that once constrained them. those universities that embrace technology can reach anyone, anywhere in the world, not just those who live nearby or have the means and willingness to move to the same location as the university. 

those universities that embrace technology can reach anyone, anywhere in the world

this global reach of education requires universities to think and act more globally, trading on the quality of their programme offer. already we see universities offering course from other universities, creating the possibility of an institution becoming a gateway for students to create their own learning programme and qualifications, choosing from a variety of the best courses and schools offered anywhere in the world. 

a new model

beyond technology there are a number of social, demographic and environment changes expected to further impact the university offer. the traditional university model that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years will become radically different. the obvious move is a shift away from fixed time and process to a ‘fixed outcomes’ approach favoured by our information economy. this will drive new funding models, with ‘pay for performance’ structures already becoming even more prevalent, especially in research. 

institutions will need to become much more agile to appeal to the needs of a hugely diverse target audience wanting a personalised and inclusive experience. this may see many more new courses and support services offered and a more holistic approach to student life and well-being.

the distinction between physical and digital will become blurred as the educational experience incorporates both. students who have the money and access will be able to make active decisions about what, how and when they move between online and physical interaction with a learning institution. this requires a repositioning of the physical offer, delivering a higher-value experience, that incorporates a strong sense of place. 

the distinction between physical and digital will become blurred as the educational experience incorporates both

many large global organisations are already creating their own in-house universities, populating them with courses from some of the best schools in the world. the expectation is that this trend towards skills and vocation will continue, with employers asking universities to tailor specific programmes to them. this requires a significant focus shift, away from supply-side – what we teach – to demand-side outcomes - what students need to learn and be able to do.

another trend that’s already emerging is cross- and inter-disciplinary programmes. traditionally the different faculties within a university didn’t work well together. the new model, tailored to a wider audience who want tailored choices, will see programmes that span across faculties, allowing students to combine the things they are passionate about with the career-learning they require.

up for the challenge

with all these drivers of change, i see the university of the future as being global, 24/7, focused on learning rather than teaching, offering students a completely tailored and holistic experience as and where they want it – on-line, physical and a combination of both.

i love a challenge and the dynamic universities environment definitely offers this. like many organisations, victoria is having to revisit how they position themselves and how they speak to the changing make-up and needs of their audience. they’re ready to adapt and well-placed to do things differently. it’s an exciting time and i am excited to be able to make my small contribution to their thinking, their positioning and their communications.

universities, education, disruption, tertiary education, changes in tertiary education

Dem Kiwi styles

01 May 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

I was recently asked to be part of a discussion on the Kiwi design aesthetic which got me thinking about the topic. So here are my views on what defines the Kiwi style. Given I’m not a trained designer or...

Marketing & Communications
dem kiwi styles steven giannoulis

i was recently asked to be part of a discussion on the kiwi design aesthetic which got me thinking about the topic. so here are my views on what defines the kiwi style. given i’m not a trained designer or artist, there is a good chance my views are well wide of the mark. i can only tell you what i see and feel.

 

like many, i’m of the view that a country’s approach to the creative arts is a strong reflection of its culture. australian and american creativity is broadly bright, loud and confident, very much like the cultures of those nations. scandinavian design is minimalist, considered and efficient. french design is sensual, with flair and individualism.

it follows then that kiwi design is like us: understated, individual, complex and extremely grounded in nature and reality. we seek to tell stories by creating moods and feelings, crediting our audiences with a level of intellect, rather than always stating the obvious. it doesn’t mean that it’s all dark, brooding and intellectual, in fact, it is often the complete opposite, as we rarely take ourselves too seriously. the hunt for the wilderpeople may be one of the best expressions of the kiwi creative mindset with its complex relationships showcased through off-beat humour.

much of our graphic design style comes from our colonial heritage but, whether we like to admit it or not, our graphic palette also has a strong pacific flavor to it. we see this often in simple two-dimensional shapes made to stand out against flat colours. similar to the japanese aesthetic, we prefer design to not be overly perfect and crafted but to feel natural. we favour flowing forms over straight lines, again a reflection of our surroundings.

the tone of our work is often muted and dark with a heavy dose of realism. we use a lot of natural and rustic colours such as greys, greens and browns to express the world around us. we prefer real life over presenting places and scenarios in idealistic ways. and reality is also the driver for depicting people, staying away from over emphasising an individual’s positive assets, preferring to highlight their imperfections.

what i love most about the kiwi aesthetic is our use of language. there’s always that cheeky, sarcasm-loaded, sense of irreverence that reflects kiwi humour and our ‘she’ll be right’ approach to life. i think it’s what makes our work, particularly in advertising, stand out from work from around the world.

the nz design aesthetic will continue to evolve as the diverse tapestry that makes up our nation broadens and as we become more regional and global. to some degree i welcome this, but i do worry that our style will become less our own. i’d like to see us embrace more of the maori and pacific flavours that make our design voice unique, while also working hard to ensure our kiwi tone of voice never loses its cutting edge.

what do you think defines the kiwi design aesthetic?

image from https://www.glennjonesart.com/products/kiwiana-flavour

new zealand design style

Human trends - not design fad

17 Apr 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

This article appeared in the Autum 2018 edition of Idealog magazine It might surprise you to know that, even though I run a design agency, I loathe the notion of latest design trends. In my view, they promote a...

Marketing & Communications
human trends - not design fad steven giannoulis

this article appeared in the autum 2018 edition of idealog magazine

it might surprise you to know that, even though i run a design agency, i loathe the notion of latest design trends. in my view, they promote a distorted view of what effective design is and unnecessarily emphasise the tactical components of design rather than the outcomes they deliver. i am particularly frustrated when (mostly junior) creatives suggest a design that is a blatant homage to the look our industry is currently obsessed with. this leads to lazy, unoriginal design not driven by the needs of the client or the audience we are trying to engage.

i therefore hesitated when asked to write a ‘latest design trends’ article. so often these articles just represent the writer’s opinions and preferences on what is “hot right now.” i just couldn’t bring myself to do this, so if you’re expecting recommendations on a particular shade of beetroot red or a kerning style then this isn’t the article for you.

good design is as much a study of human psychology as it is a technical skill. for me, design trends represent shifts in consumer preferences and behaviours. they are driven by cultural and social changes, technology, new channels and mediums and changing consumer demographics. so my design trends aren’t the hot new thing but fundamental consumer shifts that inform the way we should be approaching all design communications.

think human. seek engagement. be authentic and responsible. tell stories. go simple.

think human. based on a number of well known design-thinking philosophies, human centric design has grown as an idea thanks largely to the user experience (ux/ui) emphasis in web design. the core idea though extends to all design – put the needs of your audience at the forefront of the design.

start with the underlying human need that the design is looking to address, both physical and emotional. this immediately gives you a sense of the tone and feel needed. then think about the user’s journey. what leads them to your communication and why? is this the communication piece that creates that desire to buy or the rational follow-up that convinces the head that it’s okay to buy what the heart wants? and finally, think about how the end audience will interact with your communication. always work with audience expectations, creating an easy, intuitive and natural interaction. 

seek engagement. in the last decade, we’ve seen a huge drive to digital. it’s reshaped advertising, direct marketing and pr and the way we think about design and branding. digital offers reach and cost-efficiency but often it’s at the expense of audience engagement. and that’s why in some areas we’ve seen a shift back to using more physical mediums to connect with audience. this manifests in simple things like a handwritten note, a clever direct mail piece or sending a printed newsletter rather than firing another email into a crowded inbox.

at the more complex end, it’s about creating experiences that audiences can interact with, immersing themselves in your brand. this trend is influencing the design of physical spaces like office and shop fit outs. it’s also driving the growth of temporary spaces, like containers, as experience centres that utilise both physical and virtual reality (vr) to create full-sensory experiences. with vr spanning the digital and physical worlds, and its growing accessibility, we see this becoming a leading force for delivering more meaningful audience engagements.

be authentic and responsible. there are some significant social trends that are changing expectation of communications and design. first, there is a move against the over-manufactured reality that we were increasingly fed over the last few decades. consumers now want authenticity and that means representing everyday people, in real locations and situations using everyday language. not that there isn’t room for hyperbole, fantasy or escapism, but we can’t keep passing off fake as real.

and there’s a growing sense of responsibility for our actions and those of others. catalysts like #metoo, global migration and environmental change have consumers looking at communicator’s social purpose, credentials and actions. we must reflect this in design application, through the responsible depiction of gender, race and environment and with more considered application of language and humour.

tell stories. ironically, social media with its short word counts has driven growth in story-telling. as instagram shows us, a picture (and a few words) can tell a powerful, engaging story. it’s facilitated the move from saying things to showing them. audience’s want organisations to tell stories that demonstrate who they are and what they stand for, allowing audiences to seek alignment with their own beliefs and ideologies.

designers can learn from social media on how good stories engage audiences. this means capturing those real moments, and the feelings they evoke, as well as finding ways for audiences to become part of the story.

go simple. our lives are busy. email, news and social feeds bombard us constantly across multiple channels and devices. in this cluttered world, getting cut-through and resonance with communications is increasingly difficult. design can help bring calm and order to this chaotic world and that’s why we are seeing a rise of simpler design approaches. make it as easy for audiences to engage with less visual clutter, clean colour palettes and typography, good navigation and sign-posting, fewer words and meaningful icons and graphics.

applying all the above won’t necessarily make your designs more effective in driving audience perceptions or behaviours. as i said earlier, good communication design is about understanding the human psyche and this changes from audience to audience, situation to situation, and brief to brief. however, considering how to apply these (so-called) trends will go a long way to helping solve any design challenge from a consumer-led perspective.

design trends, design fads, effective design

SIT & Innovate

04 Apr 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we innovate and how we help our clients do the same. In an industry where much of what we do has been commoditised, our most valuable skill is our ability to think creatively in...

Marketing & Communications
sit & innovate steven giannoulis

i’ve been thinking a lot about how we innovate and how we help our clients do the same. in an industry where much of what we do has been commoditised, our most valuable skill is our ability to think creatively in helping our clients solve the problems that matter most to them. i’d heard of strategic inventive thinking (sit) but had never taken the time to really understand it. thanks to a course on lynda.com, now i’m a big fan.

sit uses a number of tricks and techniques that require you to look ‘inside the box’ to unlock ‘outside the box’ thinking. it starts with the existing solution rather than the problem itself. (now that’s innovative in its own right.) and it’s a technique many successful firms, like apple and 3m,­­ have been using for ages.

"sit uses a number of tricks and techniques that require you to look ‘inside the box’ to unlock ‘outside the box’ thinking."

for each existing solution to a particular problem, you identify its key components and attributes and then use the following techniques to think differently about them:

  1. subtraction – what if we take away certain features and functions? apparently, the idea for the ipad came by applying this technique to the laptop.
  2. task unification – what if we associated relationships in different ways. rather than having its own cooling motor, what if your fridge was kept cool by your home’s air conditioning system? no motor and suddenly the fridge has more capacity for food, is cheaper and quicker to manufacture. and you have more possibilities for shape and size!
  3. multiplication – what if there were more that one of these components? what if your laptop had more than one screen? what if your phone had a screen on the front and the back?
  4. division – what if rather than having one big feature we have lots of small ones? the development of the dish draw dishwasher is a good example of this thinking.
  5. attribute dependency – rethinking what a thing is designed to do. what if it did something else instead? what if your light-bulb also heated your room for example? the best example is the mobile phone. someone said what if it wasn’t just for calls but a mini-computer, a camera, a dictaphone, a mini-tv, an audio device, a games console, etc. and now it is.

 

once you’ve generated lots of ideas using these techniques, they are evaluated against both customer needs and the feasibility to produce.

the two things that i like most about the sit approach are:

(1) it’s driven by customer-led design thinking – it’s not about brainstorming wild ideas but really thinking about the customer experience and how to better meet their underlying needs and wants; and

(2) it targets ‘fixedness’ thinking which stops innovation. fixedness is the pre-set ideas we have that things need to be in a certain place, look or work in a certain way or work in tandem with something else. change your mind-set on these and you open your mind to a whole lot of possibilities.

innovation leads to new, useful and surprising outcomes that allow our customers, and their customers, to better have their needs met. i’m a firm believer that innovation comes from within – changing your perspective – and that’s why strategic inventive thinking really appeals. the next step is for us to give sit a go. what if…..?

sit, strategic inventive thinking, innovation, creative thinking

Wider opening jaws: it’s what clients really want.

26 Mar 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

  A hang-up from my client-side days is that I expect my agency to be all about delivering on my goals. After all, business results – not big ideas and clever design - are what I’m paying for. Agency...

Marketing & Communications
wider opening jaws: it’s what clients really want. steven giannoulis

 

a hang-up from my client-side days is that i expect my agency to be all about delivering on my goals. after all, business results – not big ideas and clever design - are what i’m paying for. agency leaders have a responsibility to ensure their teams understand the basics of business so they work on solving the problems that really matter to clients.

we recently launched a series of staff training presentations to ensure all staff have the skills to live our client-first value. the first two sessions were run by actual clients. now that was cool. the first session focused on the client/agency relationship and what clients value. the importance of strategy, transparency and accountability came through very strongly. the second looked at the client decision-making process from business planning, budgeting, business case development right through to sign-offs and how the effectiveness of our work is measured. 

for the third session, i went back to my uni days to cover the fundamentals of business strategy. clients often tell us that they want a brochure, a website or something similar without explaining the why. it’s this why that tells us what they really want, how best to approach the challenge and what results we need to deliver.

"the importance of strategy, transparency and accountability came through very strongly"

we started the session with milton friedman’s free-market theories and gordon gecko’s ‘greed is good’ philosophy before easing into triple-bottom line thinking. this sparked lively debate on the real purpose of business, with few siding with a pure capitalist mindset. we have a variety of clients from small, medium and big business, government agencies and ngos, so the discussion quickly identified that long-term value (both real and perceived) means something different for each of them.

we then focused on profit using the old-fashioned ‘opening the profit-jaws’ analogy to understand the decisions our clients might make around profit. we boiled it down to three basic drivers: (1) make more profit today; (2) make more tomorrow; or (3) create more certainty of making profit. broadly, all decisions are about more revenue, less costs and/or less risk. economic theorists are no-doubt horrified by this naivety but simplicity was crucial here.

for revenue, we used the classic pie metaphor to address market share, share of wallet and new market segments. for cost drivers, we first discussed productivity and efficiency and how companies try to do more with less. we then talked quality and how it helps reduce wastage, rework and ultimately cost. we related this back to how we approached our own work.

"we spent time pondering what some of our clients cared about most by considering their value chain, their sustainable advantage and competitive strategies"

and we talked about the reward maximisation vs risk minimisation trade-off companies face, the competitive forces they operate within and the various factors that add to their uncertainty. we considered some of the client briefs we work on and how they drive profit by managing risk.

we spent some time pondering what some of our clients cared about most by considering their value chain, their sustainable advantage and competitive strategies. 

we finished by discussing some of the key work we do – brand, websites, campaigns, staff engagement programmes and annual reports – and how we might approach each one differently if the client driver is revenue, cost or risk management.

to provide effective client solutions agencies need to understand the real business problems they are trying to solve for their clients. design people don’t naturally take to numbers and business concepts but it’s knowledge that all design agency leaders need to invest in if we are going to elevate our industry from ‘making things pretty’ to true business enablers.

design, business, creative investment, creative agencies

Get personal or don’t bother

19 Mar 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

I recently got a ‘Dear Valued Client’ letter from a supplier offering me a discount for the next time I used their services. It’s a supplier we work with lots and have done for a long time. I suspect they’d be...

Marketing & Communications
get personal or don’t bother steven giannoulis

i recently got a ‘dear valued client’ letter from a supplier offering me a discount for the next time i used their services. it’s a supplier we work with lots and have done for a long time. i suspect they’d be horrified to know that their letter was the catalyst that finally led us to look elsewhere.

 

i’m sure they had good intentions – after all they were trying to reward my loyalty by giving me a discount – but little did they realise that this communication reinforced my niggling feeling that they really didn’t give a shit about me or what i wanted.

the problem started at the top of the letter when they didn’t even bother to use my name. the dear valued client introduction suggested this was a mass-mailing to all their clients, and i was ‘important’ enough to be a line in their spreadsheet. this did nothing to make me feel known, let alone valued.

the truth is they know who i am - they used my name on the address sticker – so how much effort would it have taken to address the letter dear steven?  it’s just an extra field in their mail merge that could have set the communication off in the right way.

secondly, the letter gave me no indication that they understood the nature of our relationship. they talked about how long they’d been offering their services and proceeded to list them all. we use some of these services but most of the stuff on their list had nothing to do with us. i would have liked to see something that acknowledged that we’d been working together for x years and that they partnered us with services x, y and z.

and finally, the simple percentage discount offer failed to acknowledge what was important to me in working with them. they might as well have offered a free set of steak-knives in terms of relevancy for our relationship.

here’s how i think this should have gone. first, i would have chosen a different communication medium. we have a relationship manager and i think something that is designed to make me feel personally valued should have come from them, face-to-face or at the very least by phone. this would also avoid the generic message issue, as the relationship manager can talk about specific things that demonstrates how they value our relationship.

for a while i’ve been talking to this company about a couple of things that were bugging me. they could have easily rewarded me by addressing just one of these things. now that would have told me that they’d listened and understood me (and probably cost them less than the discount).

technology has made communicating much easier but the fundamentals of thinking about your audience and what you want them to think, feel and do hasn’t. relationships are always personal so if you want to tell me i’m valued, show me and make me feel it, otherwise don’t bother.

marketing communication, personalisation, reward loyalty

Can you resist?

03 Apr 2017 by Steven Giannoulis

Over the weekend, I read a great book called  Hidden Persuasion  (Andrews, van Leeuwen & van Baaren). It’s a book about the persuasive techniques used by clever marketers to get us to buy or do...

Marketing & Communications
can you resist? steven giannoulis

over the weekend, i read a great book called hidden persuasion (andrews, van leeuwen & van baaren). it’s a book about the persuasive techniques used by clever marketers to get us to buy or do stuff.

every day we are bombarded by hundreds of messages designed to persuade us how to feel, act, do and be. most of the time we lack the conscious awareness to process them. but some of these really get through, changing our perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. often we don’t even know it’s happened.

so what is that hidden persuasion technique that creates this cut-through?

the book outlines 33 persuasion techniques (many i know and use already) including metaphor, humour, scarcity, attraction, authority, fear, disruption, self-persuasion, social proof, promised land and of course, sex appeal. these techniques have been proven again and again and the authors give us lots of examples of results delivered in advertising.

i particularly like ideas like decoy: where consumers are choosing between two options, and a third option is introduced to create a bias. you often see this in cafés with a small, medium and large coffee offered. the large option costs just 50 cents more that medium, making the medium the decoy designed to make the large look like the best value. end result, we end up upsizing (just as the café wanted us to).

what strikes me about these techniques is that they’re not just gimmicks but rooted in psychology and social influence. as you read through them you can practically hear maslow saying “see, i was right about people’s basic needs and the priority they come in!”  these techniques work because they operate at three levels:

  1. they appeal to our hardwired responses, such as the fight or flight response, which are core to what makes us human;
  2. our deep social needs like love, respect, popularity and belonging; and
  3. our self-needs like self-worth, identity, pain avoidance, wealth, safety and survival.

when marketers use imagery and language that taps into these fundamental needs, resistance is futile. and our unconscious bias for attractive faces, symmetrical design or humourous copy means we don’t resist because we don’t even know we’re being persuaded.

the other thing that i like about these techniques is how they still apply today, even though the way we reach and engage audiences has changed. they work on websites, in video, on social media pages, in smm and sem campaigns, e-marketing and they still work just as well across traditional marketing and communications mediums.

persuasion, marketing

Identity in White

20 Feb 2017 by Steven Giannoulis

Immigration and the so-called identity dilution that diversity apparently brings is a hot topic on local and global political agendas. As a brand strategist and a descendent of immigrants I naturally have a strong...

Marketing & Communications
identity in white steven giannoulis

immigration and the so-called identity dilution that diversity apparently brings is a hot topic on local and global political agendas. as a brand strategist and a descendent of immigrants i naturally have a strong view on the subject of identity. 

being from immigrant stock is actually what makes us kiwis. the nz story doesn’t just take in english and maori heritage but also incorporates pacific, indian, italian, dalmation, chinese and many more cultures. this eclectic tapestry of ethnic backgrounds has today fused together forming the unique kiwi identity we have today.

people came here in search of a better life for themselves and their families. this spirit of improving our lot is still alive and well in our culture today. most endured long journeys and tough beginnings to establish a life here and this sense of working hard for self-made success is something we still celebrate. and because of, and not despite of, our distance, we’ve learnt to improvise, think differently and find new ways to create the lifestyle we all enjoy.

immigrant culture is also the lifeblood of what our identity is evolving into. most of us live a life which embraces the best of our parents' heritage and our kiwi upbringing, creating the new cultural norm. let’s encourage and welcome all those who add to our kiwi culture, finding ways to celebrate the richness diversity brings. without it, we’d be a very dull place indeed.

all this diversity talk extends into the workforce and i’m all for it. diversity offers broader experiences and perspectives and therefore leads to better thinking and decision-making, greater creativity and innovation. at insight we have a great mix of nationalities, ages, interests, beliefs and personalities but we still need to do more. so we promote an active policy to encourage diversity in recruitment while not tolerating reverse discrimination.

i grew up in a cultural minority so i get frustrated at being lumped into a generic european majority or being told i don’t understand bi-culturalism or what it’s like to be different. we ‘white folks’ are not homogenous and interchangeable, all expressing one view and a single perspective. my background, growing up greek in new zealand, is very different from my colleagues who are dutch, german, scottish, south african or russian. we may all be white but we all have unique identities and cultures and each one of us brings a distinctive perspective.

so let's encourage, foster and celebrate the diversity we also bring to society and the workplace, remembering that everyone contributes to greater diversity.

diversity, kiwiness

User journeys - more than a web thing

27 Oct 2015 by Steven Giannoulis

A great article by Steven Giannoulis in the November/December issue of Idealog. This one explores UX (User Experience), and tracks the notion beyond the website to its application to any customer experience in any,...

Marketing & Communications
user journeys - more than a web thing steven giannoulis

a great article by steven giannoulis in the november/december issue of idealog. this one explores ux (user experience), and tracks the notion beyond the website to its application to any customer experience in any, and across many, channels.

 

design, user journeys, user experience

Pause all of life's chaos

19 Dec 2014 by Steven Giannoulis

It’s the end of a very full on year for us and our clients, so we wanted to create something which championed the idea of temporarily pausing our hectic lives in order to truly appreciate life’s beauty. We...

Marketing & Communications
pause all of life's chaos steven giannoulis

it’s the end of a very full on year for us and our clients, so we wanted to create something which championed the idea of temporarily pausing our hectic lives in order to truly appreciate life’s beauty. we started working with the nz symphony orchestra for the first time this year and were thrilled that they were open to incorporating the wonderful music they make into our video. the result is a solution that moves from chaotic to a delightful piece of story-telling. a reminder to take a break, re-energise and re-connect with the people and things that are important to all of us. that means you too. have a great xmas and summer break. see you when you are ready to press play again in the new year.

http://www.insightcreative.co.nz/pause

insight, pause, marcomms, nzso, video
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