It started with a KISS: Agency embraces the digital age
A case could be made for Cambridge being the UK capital for digital business. Arguably it has the world’s biggest cluster of online games developers. It certainly has one of the country’s leading ecosystems of digital health services specialists embracing psychological health issues, genome sequencing, DNA database creators and Big Data pioneers.
And it has built the largest network of AI, machine learning, virtual reality, deep learning, speech recognition and autononous vehicle sector contributors outside of the United States.
Creative agency KISS expertly read the tea leaves. Long before its 10th anniversary year dawned in January 2017, KISS had already sculpted its business into a fully-fledged digital agency capable of transforming brands even for globally established clients.
Focusing in a major way, but no means exclusively, on science, technology and education KISS has a client portfolio of genuine world beaters.
Managing director Sarah Reakes said KISS some three years ago began to re-evaluate the local business landscape and adapt its services to reflect the way the Cambridge market was evolving.
Client views of what marketing entails vary massively, according to Sarah. And most clients and resulting projects for them are complex in their own way. “But there is a clear common factor: all of them come to us to avail themselves of our marketing expertise. We act as consultants and are best placed to do so because we can see the wood from the trees. We determine what they are seeking to achieve and control the process to deliver the most effective strategy to enhance their brand.
“The first step is always about knowing the customer, doing an immersion exercise and formulating a strategy that articulates what their brand is about. There is a huge human element in marketing; it is about emotion – understanding human insights and delivering a campaign that reflects the real ethos of a client’s business. In our experience no two clients are the same.”
Head of digital Adam Andrews takes up the point: “People who work for KISS need to be curious. Not only do they need to get under the hood of a client’s business but also they have to understand the target audience for a specific customer.
“The digital age has brought an incredibly exciting time for our clients. Online content in terms of stories, videos, promotional opportunities has become increasingly powerful and interactive; handling online campaigns for clients is also more measurable.
“We are in the business of identifying, mapping, crafting, and integrating the experience a customer has of a brand across the entire customer lifecycle.”
The analogy to map reading is a usp for KISS. It involves working out where a client is now, establishing where it wants to go and deciding how to get there.
Reakes adds: We believe that a successful brand is rooted in sound, strategic thinking. Successful businesses are clear about what they stand for, where they are heading and how to communicate their story.
“Being clear about their purpose and direction will allow companies to create a distinct and consistent brand which resonates with their customers and employees.”
KISS works across all strands of media – and it works internationally, which is crucial given that every startup on its UK patch orbiting around Cambridge, Oxford and London, are global from Day One.
It partners with the impressive PROI Worldwide organisation, which has a network of over 5,000 marketing professionals across five continents, 50 countries and more than 100 cities.
This collaborative approach provides UK support to international projects and on the flip side of the highway leverages the network to pull in global expertise.
Andrews computes that KISS’s work is split 70/30 between B2B and B2C with the vast majority of campaigns embracing a technology element. The agency also studies the communication habits of young people, the technology they are using, the social media sites they access and the way they interact with them. They are all potential future customers.
Andrews says KISS recruits new staff and trains current employees so they are attuned to “the KISS way” of enhancing client brands but stresses that it is their people that often drive the agenda.
“They are bright and highly curious people and they keep management up to speed and on their toes in an ever-changing business world. The way the agency has evolved has been driven to a large extent by our people. Their input has helped us become very fast-paced.”
Reakes is proud of the fact that KISS is able to deal with clients very much on a partnership basis. “We will recommend what we believe to be the best for their business; if they choose not to listen we won’t turn the discussion into World War 3.
“We are very upfront with clients from the off; they are involved in the marketing process at every step and we welcome full and frank exchanges of views because that way we can ensure we deliver the desired outcomes.”
Based at St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge, KISS formerly had two neighbouring but separate offices with clear divisions of labour between PR and marketing. The walls came down literally and figuratively as the agency evolved its offering but a symbolic (note to landlord, extremely neat!) hole in the wall remains to highlight one team with a unity of purpose.
Right on our doorstep is a new ‘hole in the wall gang’ but with all respect to Butch and Sundance, this band of brothers and sisters is purely interested in outcomes that make people money rather than relieve them of it. Clients of this particular agency really do receive the KISS of life.
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Sarah Reakes (managing director) with Adam Andrews (head of digital).