The Soda Academy
"We’re shaping our teams around the biggest challenges we see clients tackling, so we can partner to solve those challenges with a cross-functional toolkit."
"Clients that demand collaboration, transparency, and efficiency in how we complement their teams make us all better."
"Data is a critical part of how brands will build relationships with users and provide real value. It will be the driving force behind successful anticipatory experiences and connected retail environments that will give you what you want, where you want it, and when you want it."

SoDA speaks with Huge about the dual superpowers of data and design, the creation of smart environments and the value of digital roots in tackling end-to-end business transformation

For the past 10 years, the talk of digital disruption has been focused on traditional businesses and brand marketers. Our Global Digital Outlook Study with Forrester suggests that even "digitally native" agencies are now under increased pressure to adapt and that the disruptors are ripe for disruption themselves. Traditional agencies are evolving, holding companies have acquired significant digital capabilities (like Huge), production companies, design studios and start-ups are in the mix and consultancies like Accenture, Deloitte and IBM have gained ground quickly. As a global, integrated agency, how does Huge view this competitive landscape and how do you continue to evolve beyond your digital roots to grow and stay relevant in this crowded landscape?

There’s a real opportunity right now for agencies to differentiate based on a clear vision for the future. Huge has significantly broader capabilities now than we did when we started out, but our focus is still very deliberate: we partner with clients to drive end-to-end business transformation.

In addition to broadening our multi-channel fluency, we’re deepening our capabilities in specific business-critical areas like AI, machine learning, conversational interfaces, omni-channel data, AR and service design. We’re shaping our teams around the biggest challenges we see clients tackling, so we can partner to solve those challenges with a cross-functional toolkit.

All of this is absolutely an evolution built on top of our digital roots, not away from them. Even as more and more of our transformative initiatives require bringing work to life across all channels, including above the line, we win the work because we understand that successful businesses today are inherently digital. We’ve also always been user-centered and that continues to be our anchor. Users are no less digital than when we founded our agency and neither are we, we’re just applying that point of view to a broader remit in terms of where we play. A focused point of view, combined with the breadth of our toolkit, is a key part of our strength in the market today.

Client-side marketers are steadily building their in-house digital capabilities and agency leaders seem to agree that this trend is having an impact on their business. In this year’s study, we found that Social Marketing Execution, Analytics, Media Planning and even aspects of Digital Experiences (web and mobile) were marketers’ top priorities for in-sourcing. Have you seen this trend impact your work and the way Huge collaborates with clients?

This is a pendulum that swings. Right now, clients are investing in hiring talent internally, specifically design and technology talent, as a way of modernizing their work force. I think that talent, once in-house, sees incredible value in agencies so I’m not particularly worried about our survival or the continued opportunities for agencies with those clients. What I love is that those new, in-house teams challenge agencies to think about collaboration models and teaming strategies. Clients that demand collaboration, transparency, and efficiency in how we complement their teams make us all better. I’m excited to have strong Social, Digital, Analytics and Media teams client-side who push us and make our work together even stronger.

The growing importance of data and the way it feeds the marketing ecosystem is creating a greater tension in how client-side marketers (and agencies) balance the dual superpowers of data-driven insight with the more intuitive creative inspiration. While some tend to view data and design as opposite sides in a tug-of-war, the reality is that marketers demand excellence in both. How does Huge approach the “data + design” equation and do you find the obsession with data to be a constraint or an enabler for great creative work?

If there’s one part of our agency that is critical to our future it’s our Data Science practice Data can be a reactive measurement tool, but that’s a small fraction of the bigger picture.

The real power of data is how it will inform and enable the connected experiences and ecosystems of the future. Data is a critical part of how brands will build relationships with users and provide real value. It will be the driving force behind successful anticipatory experiences and connected retail environments that will give you what you want, where you want it, and when you want it. Content will be contextual and brands will be living in service of user needs instead of disrupting their lives. Data will make all this possible and it’s not going away, it’s going to drive the future success of businesses.

I’m excited about the next decade because I think through using data effectively we’ll do work that is new, absolutely changing consumer expectations, breaking down silos between experiences and making an “ecosystem” something people will really experience and fall in love with.

Huge recently announced the launch of an integrated physical/digital design practice out of your Toronto office. Can you tell us more about the intention behind this move? Do you see the physical and digital worlds converging in a way that it’s impossible (or, at least, ill-advised) to think about the experiences separately? We’re also curious to know what you think are some of the best physical/digital designs you’ve seen (or produced) recently?

We have been working to bridge digital and physical experiences for years now, but the way technology is changing is creating so many amazing opportunities to bring those worlds together and make them better. This is becoming such a big part of how we think about the complete digital ecosystem for our clients and where the future is headed that we’re investing in physical design across our network. We’re trying to create single systems that work around their users, no matter where they are, to personalize those experiences and anticipate user needs as much as possible. You can’t do that effectively without thinking about where they interact.

One of the things we’re most excited about is the ability to create smart environments that enable new, and better, services based on the data they collect. Huge Cafe is an example of this and we created it specifically to prototype these experiences and serve as a testing and development lab for our physical design and retail practices. Eventually, people are just going to expect the kind of seamless system we’ve created at the cafe, or the kind of experience Amazon is prototyping with Amazon Go where everything works better because of digital, without digital creating unnecessary interactions or inefficiency for customers. Another example is our work for Capital One. We are helping to plan and develop content for their cafes in a way that both advances their brand and delivers real value to their customers (in this case by way of financial education).

This Q&A with Patricia Korth-McDonnell of Huge was informed by several key findings in the 2017-18 Global Digital Outlook Study from SoDA and Forrester.
  • 77% of marketers indicate a strong openness to hiring traditional management and IT consultancies for digital agency assignments... a complete change from 2016 where 60% indicated strong resistance or ambivalence to consultancies.

  • Nearly 50% of client-side marketers have entirely in-sourced digital capabilities for Social Marketing Execution, Customer Insights/Analytics and Digital Experiences (websites/mobile web) and 58% of agency leaders agree that this growing trend is having an impact on their business.

  • "Better creative/design" and "stronger data capabilities" top marketers wish list for what they’d like to see more of in their agency partnerships.