Core Competencies

The agency landscape is rapidly shifting. Many claim to do everything. Some do one thing very well. At Traction, we focus on the things we do best and leverage an ecosystem of existing partners to do the rest.

I was recently asked what our core competencies are. The answer is Strategy, Advertising and Innovation. We refer to the discipline of these three considered together as Brand Experience Design. In our view, it's the experience that matters.

We leverage design thinking and observation of human needs and behavior to inform our strategy—from brand and product strategy to communications planning in a socially connected world. This overlaps with media strategy, but we do not do large-scale media planning and buying. We focus on what we're good at and bring in partners (or work with your existing ones) for the rest.

We are fully integrated and very strong at digital. Our approach is to try to create breakthrough ideas that align your business objectives with human insights and then choose the right tactics based on media consumption habits and creative opportunities. For instance, our campaign for Alibaba.com won the 2010 IAC award for best Integrated Campaign for Small Business and included print, TV, banners, rich media, video and a microsite. Here's a WSJ story on the campaign.

We are successful in this area because we have both the in-house capability to deliver digital experiences and the strategic insights to understand consumer needs. This is reflected in the mobile app concept we developed for Intuit that won that company's Innovation Competition. Traction is a very strong digital partner in this space: last year we created a prototype of Bank of America's next generation user experience online. We've also developed very successful social media programs for brands like Adobe, Livescribe and Clos du Bois.

In addition, we have been very successful at developing production models for our clients at scale. For one consumer technology client in Cupertino, we develop hundreds of pieces of email creative each year and have even created a proprietary "Email Builder" application to make that process more efficient. For an online photo-sharing client, we are producing approximately 150 pieces of banner creative this quarter alone.


Watch this space

About a decade ago, I was cutting my chops at DDB. Theo and I had been recruited to start the San Francisco office of their Tribal DDB office. One day, agency patriarch Keith Reinhard (he of "two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese..." fame) came by and addressed the teams at both "mainline" DDB and us geeks over at Tribal about the coming future of digital.

That day, Mr. Reinhard challenged us to not to be shackled by the limitations of a 468 x 60 banner, but to use those precious pixels as a canvas to create famous work.

I still think about that challenge often. I've brought it with me to Traction and we strive to answer it every time we work on a campaign — whether we're creating a banner ad or anything else. We don't always hit the mark, but it's our ambition.

On that note, I really like the watch this space ad campaign that Google has put out for display ads. Despite the irony of an ad for ads, this effort challenges us to be smarter in this digital space. More relevant. To innovate. Be simpler.

I think it's an inspiring message about the future of digital. Display ads are not just a fishing rod for e-commerce. As a matter of fact, they suck at that.

When we look at the results of our campaigns (and we always look at the results of our campaigns), we frequently see indirect or "view-through" traffic as higher than direct traffic. In other words, more people are seeing and ad, making a mental note and checking out the brand site later than are actually clicking on the ad. We see online ads as effective tools to drive awareness and even purchase intent.

The industry average banner ad click-through rate hovers around a dismal 0.6%. Most brands see that as a reason to invest less in online creative. To slap "25% off" in the brand font on a slab of brand color and optimize their campaigns downward toward "conversions" for as low a cost as possible.

Sure, we need to measure. Sure, we need to optimize. But we're advertisers. We cannot forget persuasion. We cannot forget inspiration. We can't forget innovation. It takes Google, the king of search, to remind us of this.

The irony.

I recommend you watch the videos. How can you be smarter?