A digitally-led approach: Little Giant’s Mark Hurley on bringing digital, strategy and creativity together

Little Giant CEO Mark Hurley

How has Little Giant grown since being founded in 2011?

When we started Little Giant it was just the two of us in a big empty office, and I had another business that was, at the time, my priority. So it was a very small side venture. In terms of service offering, we were purely a development company. We actually worked as a digital development partner for many well-known traditional creative agencies in our first couple of years.

Seven years on and Little Giant is a team of 46; an agency that blends creativity and technology to transform and grow our clients’ businesses. We do this by combining strong strategic and creative thinking with expert data analysis and a deep understanding of current and emerging technologies.

Since then, what are the biggest industry changes you’ve seen?

Today, people adore and endorse brands with the customer experiences that best meet their needs and preferences. Look at Netflix, Tesla, Airbnb.

They didn’t build their brands through a communications-led approach. They built their brands by providing innovative services, that provide delightful user experiences based on the needs and preferences of their customers, they then amplified their customer’s advocacy to a targeted audience, through primarily digital channels. Customer experiences are more powerful than ever before because people are more connected than ever before, good and bad experiences are shared faster and further.

This means you can no longer deliver a substandard product or service and use a heavy communication budget to win market share. In most instances, the best product or service gains the most market share, which is obviously great for consumers. And I think it’s great for marketers as well, marketing is now more truthful than ever before, simply because it has to be.

This form of brand building through customer experience has massively disrupted how and where clients spend their marketing budgets and ultimately, what they need from their agency partners.

How is Little Giant responding?

We were built to take advantage of these industry changes, so rather than responding, we are looking ahead to the possible next wave of changes in our industry and strategising about how we can continually modify our approach and service offering to ensure we are a valuable partner to our clients for a long time to come.

What are the benefits of working with a digitally-led agency versus a full-service agency with digital capability within it?

I’m not totally convinced that these are different things, but fundamentally I think the question marketers need to ask themselves is ‘why would an agency in an age in which their customers live their lives through digital, ever be anything other than digitally-led?’ Our mantra is that we are led by customer behaviour, and given that the majority of that behaviour is now played out on digital, it’s imperative for us to have a deep understanding of how digital technology can create meaningful connections with those customers.

Where traditional full-service agencies fall short is that digital is often an afterthought, relegated to a siloed “digital department”. What a true understanding of digital opens up is an opportunity to connect with customers on a level beyond simply communications and advertising. Solving problems through a digitally-led approach gives a brand so many more options, and we often find that the most effective answer to a business challenge is a new digital platform, service or product rather than just a communications campaign.

One of the key things marketers look for in a digital agency, according to the Agency Perceptions research is strategic capability and understanding of the client’s business needs, as well as creativity. How does Little Giant combine strategic and creative thinking?

I believe that to unlock real innovation opportunities, it takes a blended mix of strategic and creative thinking. In the connected world’s increasingly cluttered marketplaces, for brands to find genuine differentiation it takes fresh perspectives and brave, unconstrained thinking. So we don’t really subscribe to the idea that strategic and creative thinking are two separate disciplines – we think it’s important to bring creativity to the table when solving strategic problems and vice versa. The traditional viewpoint of seeing creativity as the touch of magic that gets bolted on at the end of a strategic process simply doesn’t work, for us or our clients. Bringing creativity – and creative thinkers – into the process at an earlier point is really the key to our collaborative human-centred design approach and has proven highly effective for us.

How has the Isobar Network, which Little Giant is part of, helped the agency’s capability in the local market?

Being part of Isobar has been massively beneficial in regards to our technical capability in part. As a New Zealand based independent digital agency, you can’t possibly service all current popular technology stacks locally, there simply isn’t the local demand to maintain that capability. So while we continue to grow our local technology team, through the Isobar network we can now call on additional capability and expertise across a majority of technology stacks, including emerging technology such as AI, AR, VR. Essentially this means there is nothing we can’t build, which for our creative team, is a very exciting prospect.

We are also now incredibly well positioned to help New Zealand brands grow into overseas markets. We utilise the other 88 Isobar offices globally to offer our clients on the ground capability where ever they need it. For example, we have run qualitative research on the ground in the US with a client looking to expand into that market, ensuring they gain local insight, but maintain a cohesive global strategy.

Ultimately, being part of Isobar network gives us the best of both worlds, we get to maintain our independent heart and identity, but we now have global resource and capability of one of the world’s leading digital agency networks.

Are there any myths about digital agencies you would like to see busted?

Honestly, I would like to see the idea of digital anything laid to rest. Digital marketing is just marketing. We need to stop differentiating marketing efforts between digital and non-digital mediums and just focus on the customer experience across all brand touchpoints.

In a similar vein, I would like to see the concept of a “digital agency” disappear completely. That label has connotations and stereotypes that are now outdated and unhelpful. For example, most clients presume “digital agencies” are just purely digital production, that they don’t carry strategic or creative capabilities. And they would be right, based on past experience.

That’s why at Little Giant we use the “digital agency” moniker begrudgingly at times because the commonly held assumption as to what a “digital agency” is, is taking away from the world-class strategic and creative capabilities we have internally.

So let’s forget about digital this and traditional that. Little Giant is ultimately just a “creative agency”, but one that has been built from the ground up for what brands need in the connected age.

What’s your advice for marketers looking to increase digital knowledge within their businesses?

Understanding new and emerging technology and how to leverage it to maintain or gain market share is critical to all business functions, not just marketing. It’s important this is understood and supported at the C-level and embodied within the company culture. So if I was a marketer working in a company that didn’t prioritise innovation (in particular marketing innovation), I would likely get a new job.

  • This story is part of a content partnership with Little Giant.

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