• Transform magazine
  • November 30, 2020

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Five minutes with Andrew Carlson

Andrew Carlson

As Covid-19 drives our brand experience ever more digital, companies are needing to quickly adapt. Omnicom-owned agency Organic has focused on building resilient brands through digital transformation since 1993. Transform magazine spent five minutes with Organic’s chief experience officer Andrew Carlson to find out how he was coping in the current crisis.

How are things right now? How is your agency coping in these difficult times?

Things are ok. We’re very used to working on distributed teams for remote clients with distributed tools, so the switch to working from home hasn’t been as disruptive as you might think. It’s tough for team members suddenly having to manage personal life (family, pets, chores, workspaces, etc.) at the same time as their work.

As an agency, we’re going forward by over-communicating, emphasizing flexibility and keeping our focus on the work. That and a healthy dose of zoom background jokes.

 

What advice would you give to brands that are struggling to keep up with digital transformation right now?

The most important muscles an organization needs are resiliency and velocity. Resiliency because whatever your plan is for digital transformation, tech-driven disruptions will appear and force you to change course. You will only succeed if you are constantly evaluating and updating your plan as you encounter new information. Velocity because the speed at which you can execute work and change direction will determine your margin for error when those disruptions come.

 

Other than ensuring the health and wellbeing of your staff and other stakeholders, what do you think the biggest long-term challenges are for brands from the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The biggest long-term challenges will be systemic but I think it’s way too soon to know what they are. Think about the Great Recession and how it impacted millenial’s views of ownership. The auto industry, among others, still hasn’t really figured out how to make up for that shift. Meanwhile, entire new categories were created around the sharing economy. Will categories like business travel or cruising ever recover from this? Will remote work and ballooning subscription content uptake stick?

Brands need to be on the lookout for lasting changes in consumer tastes and behaviors and steering into where their audience is going to be when this ends.

 

How has digital changed since you first began working in it?

The two biggest changes have been the professionalization of the work and the expectations of the clients. Twenty years ago we were in the room to execute things clients didn’t understand very well (often we didn’t either) and we were seen more as a necessary distraction than anything very important. A lot of things were being done for the first time and we were making it up as we went along. Can you do that on the web? What tool should we be designing in? Can we use Flash for that? Nobody really knew. We were all just figuring it out as we went.

Today digital-first agencies are incredibly sophisticated. The tools, techniques and theory behind a solution can be staggering. Along with that, clients see digital competency as a strategic necessity, have developed it in house, and expect digital partnership at the highest levels of their organizations to keep them relevant.

 

What does it mean to be a chief experience officer? What are your main objectives?

At Organic we believe the customer experience is the brand. Shaping that on behalf of clients means leading a team of designers, more traditional creative roles and technologists.

My objective is to create delightful experiences on behalf of our clients that solve real business problems. It’s important for brands because when customers have access to instant, perfect information about their products, the only thing that really matters is the customer experience discovering, shopping for and using them. The experience is the brand.

Brands and marketing departments spent decades being built through communications. Through telling stories in interruptive channels. Now customers ignore the story because we’re all just a google search away from finding out your product is overpriced, your app has one star, your packaging is wasteful and no one answers questions to your support chat.

Today a great experience is the best marketing you can have.

 

Can you see brands changing their use of user-experience as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis?

Yes, both from a practical and philosophical perspective. Practically, we are having conversations with multiple clients who need to invest in digital experiences to replace physical ones that are no longer practical or possible. Events that were fixtures of their marketing calendar now can’t be held. Retail experiences have been replaced with online shopping and delivery ones. In these cases, marketing dollars spent on digital experiences can quickly lead to ROI and act as a hedge against uncertainty about the end of the pandemic.

Philosophically, I expect to see clients take pause as messaging centric appeals get dragged by customers for being tone-deaf. Now more than ever the burden is on brands to create value for their customers. To do things instead of saying things. Empowering your audience through customer experience is a great vehicle for that, and doesn’t face the same risk as shouting into a cultural moment defined by justified fear and uncertainty.