Auckland agency Amplifier has been in the design and marketing game for 17 years. We caught up with director Sean O'Brien on the challenges they've overcome in order to stay on top of a rapidly evolving industry.
Amplifier Design is a creative-led agency with a multi-disciplined team. Why is it important to be creative-led with designers first and foremost?
At the core of any brief we get, there’s an objective to communicate a message— whether that’s a simple sales CTA, or communicating what a brand stands for. Creative thinking and design principles enable that communication, allowing the message to be delivered as effectively as possible.
Leading a team of people who are designers first and foremost means everything we do is underpinned with an understanding of what the brand/ customer is trying to achieve, what they stand for, and where the work fits within the broader marketing strategy—regardless of the medium we are working in.
The agency has been open since 2002 – over the years what are the biggest changes you've seen in the industry and how have you adapted to them?
The rise of social media platforms has been wonderful in terms of establishing real connectivity with your audience instead of purchasing it through traditional media channels, but it also means you can’t just bombard people with what you think they want to hear. User experience is now as much a consideration as composition, so marketing in general has become a lot more user-centric.
Designers are adapting their thinking to align with these changes. Much of our work is now about creating useful and honest content that people can relate to in order to experience a brand in a positive way.
The continuing challenge is how to create that connection in a market that is arguably running out of communication mediums, with the demise of print, increasingly unpredictable TV and radio audiences, and social media rules that are constantly evolving and narrowing.
As marketing budgets have tightened, some clients have found a possible solution in taking skills in-house. In the face of this, how do agencies and designers stay relevant?
By continuing to add the kind of value that only an outside perspective can provide. It is very hard to stay ahead of the curve when you are working in a silo, and ultimately an extremely hard ask for creativity to not stagnate when you are constantly working on the same project/brand.
For us the key is to really understand the business we are working with, their competition and their goals so we can act as a defacto arm of the business. We still have active clients that I’m proud to say have been with us since day one 17 years ago, and in all cases we have become trusted brand ambassadors.
Furthermore, being a relatively small agency forces us to be incredibly resourceful and deliver work that historically would have come with much larger budgets and dedicated skill sets attached. This makes a compelling case when we are pitching to marketers who are used to dealing with a brand agency for one thing, a digital agency for another, etc.
On top of your work as director of Amplifier Design, you are co-founder and marketer of startup MyHR – what have you learned from this experience?
The MyHR experience forced me to look at branding from a completely different perspective: initially as an identity-building exercise, where I was ‘reverse engineering’ the brief as we developed a product and vision of what MyHR is and why it existed; and then as we built momentum, from a marketing strategy perspective where the responsibility for our spend, ROI and leads pipeline sat with me.
I had to look at how the marketing landscape was changing, and ultimately upskill to really understand inbound marketing, content marketing, SEO, database growth and retention, etc.
This experience has provided a knowledge and experience base that we now leverage for other clients and has delivered new work streams that didn’t exist for us three or four years ago. It has also enabled us to add value to our clients’ broader marketing strategy and help them understand marketing concepts which are still relatively new in New Zealand.
Pre-MyHR our approach to, say, building a website would have been “how do we make it look cool and innovative and really easy to navigate?”. Now our approach is more “what are the objectives of the site and how does it fit, support and integrate with the broader marketing strategy?”.
Implementing Hubspot as a marketing and CRM platform for MyHR has also been hugely beneficial in understanding what modern SEO strategy and best practice inbound marketing looks like, and I think integrating this as an agency partner for other clients in the future will be massive for us.
This article is part of a content partnership with Amplifier.