The Three Things I’ve Learnt… | Mark Bower, Executive Creative Director at Woven Agency

What did you learn from 2020 and how this will inform your 2021?

In our new interview series we pose this question to Walpole members, and today we kick-off with Mark Bower of Woven Agency. From a professional perspective Mark’s learnings included the discovery that geography doesn’t matter, but that company culture is more important than ever. Read on to discover what Mark learnt personally in 2020.

Three professional lessons Woven learned from 2020:

1. Culture is more important than ever

As the saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. But the less you see of your team, the greater the risk to your team’s culture. When you’re not all in the same physical space – when you swap face-to-face for face time – people can hide their problems more easily.

When you see your physical office drop away, you have to confront the notion that you and your team face problems around isolation, loneliness and mental health.

I’ve gone through a lot in my life and have grown a thick skin for it. But 2020 has taught me that not everyone has the tools they need to cope with such tumultuous change. So I’ve had to shift more of my thinking away from the business and towards supporting the well-being of my team.

That means staying in touch with both the team and individuals through regular video calls. It means promoting a culture of candour – letting your team know they can come to you with anything, professionally or personally. It means revealing your weaknesses, too; setting an example that it’s okay to share problems and raise concerns. And it means cascading  this attitude to team leaders so that it reaches all levels of the business.

2. Trust our brand positioning

People have asked how we’ve been winning business during the pandemic. Truth is, we’ve just stayed the same. We spent a long time building our brand and positioning ourselves in a way that appeals to our target market of luxury, high-end, and design-conscious brands.

This separates us from the many other agencies out there, who might offer similar services but who don’t target accounts as well as we do and who don’t look and sound like we do.

You could call it luck. But, as they say, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. We spent years preparing our brand so that we’re well positioned when opportunity knocks.

Nailing our position is also about focusing our efforts; about knowing exactly who we want to work with. We’re not aiming at every market. We don’t want any kind of client. We know the benefits we bring to luxury brands and we’ve positioned ourselves with that in mind. To the point where I no longer say, we’ve won some business. I’ll say, we’ve found someone who was right for us.

3. Geography doesn’t matter

Just like our physical office, geography kind of disappeared in 2020. Technology has obviously made things easier for a long time now. But, in trying to survive and thrive during this pandemic, businesses are looking further afield for opportunities, which has opened doors for us.

We’ve won work in the US this year, which is something we wouldn’t have pursued previously. But when a huge clothing brand like Hanes International comes along, you don’t say no.

And thanks to our amazing team, who have adapted so well to Covid, we’ve taken it in our stride. Late-night calls on our side, early-morning meetings on their side, stunning creative work turned around in double-quick time – both us and the client have made it happen.

Because of our success with Hanes, we’re now saying, hey, why don’t we hire someone in New York and take our operations Stateside? Why limit ourselves to the UK or even to Europe? It’s like we have more belief now – and this could open up markets we’d previously only dreamed of operating in.

Three personal lessons I learned from 2020

1. Take responsibility

Even though these are uncontrollable, macro-level changes we’re living through, as a business leader you’ve got to take some personal ownership for the effects they cause. And that starts with taking responsibility for your own state of mind.

For me, that means doubling down on picking books up, taking inspiration from others, going back to reading stuff I’ve previously leaned on in tough times. It means drawing on all previous experiences when you’ve got through rocky times. It also means doing little exercises to help you through moments of doubt and frustration.

Take Sam Harris’s mindfulness ‘gratitude’ exercise. He explains how you could be stuck on your own, feeling isolated, miserable, but even at that point there are billions of people who’d swap places with you in an instant.

The purpose here isn’t to downplay your problems; it’s to reframe your situation so you feel more positive, more motivated to overcome your challenges, and also more empathetic of the plight of others.

2. Appreciate the value of your time

Ah, the daily commute. Two or three or four hours every day burnt up in traffic jams, freezing our arses off waiting for trains, having our faces squeezed into strangers’ armpits…

Do any of us want to go back to that?

Before the pandemic hit, if someone had offered me the chance to spend an extra ten hours a week with my kids, throwing sticks for my daft dog, playing guitar, actually taking a lunch break – I’d have snapped their hands off.

2020 has made me reflect on how well I use my personal time, which in turn has seen me do things I should have done years ago. I’ve grown even closer to my kids, spending more time – better time – with them. I’ve finally bought that Triumph I’ve always wanted – and passed the test (look out, Leeds…).

From a Woven perspective, too, I’ve put more time into business development, talking to clients, and working with our creative team to produce drop-dead gorgeous work.

Working from home does bring its challenges, but maybe too many column inches are spent on those instead of the positives it can bring – so long as you appreciate the value of your time.

3. Do good – and use your team to help you do it

More than anything, 2020 has (re)emphasised the need to be a good person, to do good things. Helping clients, growing businesses – that’ll always be important. But not in the same way as helping those who truly need it.

A couple of us at Woven are mates with a guy called Pete McCleave. Pete’s this hardcore ultramarathon runner. Super-athletic, a dad, a husband – an all-round great bloke. But he’s got myeloma, a bone marrow cancer that will kill him unless he finds a stem cell donor match.

So Pete set up 10,000 Donors to get more people to donate their stem cells and help save lives. Last year, we decided to throw Woven’s collective weight behind it. We wanted to do something inspired by empathy, by humanity. Something vital. And as we say in our campaign messaging, helping Pete is the most important work we’ve ever done.

That’s not just a marketing sentiment, either. It’s true. When I think about what I want to spend more time on and what people at Woven are really about, this work is it.

What are the opportunities for luxury in 2021?
We can probably sum that up in two words: digital transformation.

Covid has made digital a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have. As more brands are (finally) investing properly in digital, they’re cutting out the middleman and talking directly to their customers. So they might not know how to create an effective customer journey. They might not be able to replicate the beauty of their products on their websites and digital platforms. They may not spot opportunities to reach new audiences.

As a branding agency, our mission is to make brands work beautifully. We work with design-conscious brands who want to present the best version of themselves. But what sets us apart from others is that we can combine incredible creative work with bucket loads of digital nous.

Which means our opportunity in 2021 will be in speaking to high-end brands who understand the need to replicate their true selves across all their branding touchpoints – and particularly, in light of a pandemic that’s seen online shopping go through the roof, their digital ones.

2020 caused a knee-jerk reaction that highlighted how slow many businesses, particularly luxury ones, have failed to take digital seriously. When Covid hit, and its implications became clear, the rush was on to migrate online, to make digital the key element of their marketing mix – and quickly.

Having done all that, what 2021 could now be for these brands is an opportunity to make digital engagement an integral part of their customer journey.

For years, luxury brands have had amazing above-the-line campaigns. They’ve captured people at the top of the funnel. But then their message is: Now go buy it . Which means they’ve missed out a huge chunk of the modern-day buying process – online research, ecommerce, digital storytelling and so on.

The potential to build digital brand engagement with wealthy and aspirational audiences is still largely untapped. And with Covid changing things, it’s likely that marketing managers will need to spend 70 or 80% of their budget on digital.

On top of that, digital is fully accountable – the data it generates is almost as worthwhile as the sale itself. And if you have a niche audience, digital becomes even more relevant because of its targeting capabilities – you can’t hit niche segments with traditional media.

From a marketing perspective, we think Covid’s biggest impact will be that of a million CMOs across the world having collective Eureka moments and exclaiming: “This digital thing, it really works. Now let’s do more of it.”