Five Minutes With Daniel Edmundson
Transform magazine spent five minutes with Daniel Edmundson, strategy director at Gretel to learn about the rise of user-generated content and how it affects brands, how to keep a brand relevant and build engagement against shorter attention spans.
Users today expect to interact with responsive brands. What’s the biggest challenge to responsiveness right now?
The biggest challenge is the rate of change. New habits form every day, unique contexts are shifting cultures quickly, innovative platforms are shaping the behaviors around communication. Historically, brands haven’t necessarily been built to be their most responsive. The rigidity around strict systems have held brands back from being more adaptable. Design today needs to feel like it’s living and breathing, not inert.
I think expectations have also changed. Consumers aren’t necessarily waiting around patiently for a brand’s POV or response, unless it’s personally pressing. Everything a brand produces needs to feel more purposeful.
How do you remain relevant as a brand?
Today we’re not just competing for relevancy as brands, but for busy people’s time and attention. It’s tied to a bigger shift in our culture–that consumers are no longer subservient to brands. Where in the past, consumers may have depended on companies or organisations to tell them how to think or what to feel, today, individuals and communities determine a brand’s value and vitality.
At Gretel we talk about the need for clarity. We live in busy times with new distractions appearing every day. So when we’re lucky enough to receive anyone’s attention, every brand interaction needs to be quick and understandable. When nobody has the time to deconstruct or decode the intrinsics of your brand, we need to be clear.
What’s the advantage of having users as ambassadors of a brand?
Ambassadors maintain normality. Their voices cut through and somehow feel more real than any marketer’s message possibly could. There’s a lot to learn from those behaviours.
A major shortcoming of our industry is the perceived desire for brands to speak in overly clever or quippy ways. It has a bit to do with points around clarity, but even when we’re developing internal strategic language, we encourage simplicity. Anyone should be able to read it and understand very quickly what to do. That goes the same for external audiences and why those outside advocates are so important to progress brands forward.
Why is user-generated content on the rise? Do you think it’s essential to build solid brand communities?
There’s a fluidity between consumers and communications platforms today that allow us all to become fans and critics. Consumers will continue to create more and more on behalf of brands every day, with or without them. If brands can somehow be part of that conversation, that’s great.
Admittedly, I don’t think it’s essential for every brand and that truth should be evident within the brand’s core ethos and essence. If community building or behaving with a sense of belonging somehow connects to the brand’s purpose, then it needs to be practised, not just preached. But if it doesn’t, we shouldn’t force it. Not every brand is the same and not everyone should feel the need to build community. Jumping on that bandwagon, especially today, can actually be detrimental in building the kinds of connections that cultivate community in the first place.
How can you render users co-creators of the brands they love?
Like community, co-creation shouldn’t be a mandate for every brand. But to do it successfully, consumers need a clear role. In rethinking Nike’s customisation offering last year, the idea of co-creation was central to Gretel’s strategy.
Nike’s heritage has always been to uplift all athletes. And the creation of Nike iD twenty years ago was the brand’s first entry into augmenting that momentum. Today, customisation has become even more meaningful and consumers have even greater control. People want to inject personal stories and individuality in everything they purchase--they want their input to affect the brand’s output.
These insights led us to evolve Nike iD into Nike By You, which stands to flatten the field, serving all athletes and empowering expression through a true sense of co-creation with the Nike brand. So that a local football star in East London can feel on the same level as Lebron in collaborating with the brand.
The new name reflected this shift but so did the visual identity--essentially a system constructed of two layers. One layer represents Nike as the technical innovator, making their components and expertise available to all. The second layer was the “You” layer, which adds the creativity, expression and style expressed by all kinds of athletes and creators. Together, these elements form the new world of Nike By You and give consumers a very clear role as a collaborator in the co-creation process.
How do you build engagement against increasingly shorter attention spans?
As consumers and cultures become more fluid, the way we design brands needs to reflect that reality–creating identity systems based on principles rather than rigid rules, allowing brands to adapt and respond around consumer shifts and needs. By designing brands to navigate around consumers rather than asking audiences to do all the work, we can be designing engagements that feel more intuitive, presenting less opportunity for distraction.