Five minutes with Jenny Sagström
Jenny Sagström, CEO and founder of Sköna, a B2B creative agency based in San Francisco and Stockholm, speaks to Transform magazine about the process of branding and designing tech companies, how to bring creativity in a corporate sector, and how the agency's design strategy reflects the influences of both the Silicon Valley and Scandinavia.
What differentiates design and branding for tech companies from other types of brand work?
Branding is traditionally a time-intensive and long process. You can spend months contemplating the impact of minute differences and options. I’m not saying those decisions aren’t important, but in the fast-paced world of technology - we simply don’t have that luxury. Spend six months working on a logo and by the time you’re done, your client will have either gone out of business or pivoted - making all that strategy moot. n other words, the biggest point of difference between branding for B2B technology companies and the rest of the world, is time… or the lack thereof.
How do you bring creativity in a sector which is often viewed as corporate and dull?
The most important decision we can make as B2B marketers is deciding to think of our buyers not as their titles, but as human beings with likes, dislikes, worries and desires.
Of course their purchasing decisions have larger price tags than say a can of body spray, which means the risks are also higher. When we think about creativity in B2B, we need to think about it from the angle of educating our potential buyers on what we’re selling. On using creativity to solve business problems - not just create shock and awe. In some ways, I think B2B advertising is actually more creative as we have to use intelligence to get our messages across and we don’t get to rely on cheap tricks.
How does Skona’s design strategy reflect the influences of both the Silicon Valley and Scandinavia?
We’re a fine hybrid! We use the Scandinavian model of flat organizations and we understand that the best ideas can come from the unlikeliest of sources. We try to veer towards functional design. But where we’re different is our experience in helping our clients scale. Most of our clients have recently gotten a Series C+ round of funding and are at a stage where they need to quickly scale. In order to do that, that means also scaling the marketing department output. From experience, we have learnt that this usually requires more assets and executions than your standard Swedish minimalist design. Hence, the hybrid that allows us to bring forth the best of both worlds.
How has the world of B2B creative agencies changed over the years?
I would say the 2000s were hard for B2B creative agencies.. If not do or die! Marketing departments hired new functions such as marketing optimization specialists and performance marketeers. Focus was 100% on ROI. Now - we’re not saying that either ROI or marketing automation is bad. In fact, we love both of those disciplines. However, in the process, B2B companies forgot about brand building. On an intuitive level, we all get that a brand that is understood and known will automatically convert better. It’s our mission to bring that brand thinking to the forefront of marketing automation and performance marketing. And I think we’re aligned with most of the industry. Today, we’re surrounded by B2B marketers who have rediscovered the importance of brand and together, we will help build the next generation of brave B2B brands.
What are the challenges in designing for brands that have to compete against the likes of Apple, Google, etc., which have well-known, very simple but easily recognisable visual identities?
I believe that the merge between consumer and business worlds are actually a good thing. Today when we start rebrands, many of our clients will point to traditional consumer brands for inspiration. We’re also seeing this in the growth of SaaS businesses where business users now also expect an Amazon experience - even if they’re buying office products.
This goes back to the idea of putting our users first - and getting away from thinking of them in terms of just their titles. We need to be designing for human beings, whether they’re buying shampoo or virtualization software.