Q&Agency: Acquity Group

Welcome to Q&Agency! Each week, I talk to agencies small and large and get to hear (in their words) what differentiates them and the experiences they create. To help bring some of that information to you, I'm showcasing an ongoing series of interviews with small and medium-size interactive and design agencies. If you'd like to see your agency or an agency you work with here, let me know!

On November 16th, I talked with Rick Nash, the VP of strategic marketing at Acquity Group. Edited excerps from that conversation follow.

Forrester: Tell me a little bit about Acquity Group?

Rick: Ah, that’s a long story. Our founders owned a company that rolled up into USWeb in Chicago. As many people know, USWeb saw explosive growth in the late 90s. It then merged with WhittmanHart and became marchFIRST. Before marchFIRST imploded during the dot-com boom, our founders left to found Acquity group. That was in 2001. It was the same four guys, along with a number of their colleagues from the dot-com era whom they had met along the way. I came from Sapient. Now we’ve grown to 450 people spread across nine offices including [those in] Irvine, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Scottsdale, Dallas, Kansas City, and Boise. We’re looking to expand into Asia, and we’ve begun that process with a Beijing office. We work with brands like AT&T, Motorola, McDonald’s, Best Buy, and General Motors. Our clients are big-name global brands, and we’re really proud of that.

Forrester: What is your elevator pitch?

Rick: Acquity group is an interdisciplinary digital consultancy. We create award-winning, multichannel, multidevice, multinational digital solutions for complex organizations. Our approach brings together strategy, creative, and technology to create differentiation and value in the digital space.

Forrester: What are the three key things that differentiate you from your competitors?

Rick: The first is that we’re execution-focused. A lot of people in our space tend to be more idea-focused. And I don’t want to say we don’t value the idea, but we like to focus on a compelling idea and quickly take it to the market for iteration. Instead of spending time perfecting an idea and then taking it to market, we believe digital lends itself to in-market iteration. So really we’re focused on execution and delivery.

The second is that we’re big believers in in-context design. Whether it’s mobile, B2B, or eCommerce, we try to understand the context of the audience or persona that’s using the service our clients are offering. We do a lot of work with personas, low-fidelity prototyping, and iteration to make the digital systems we design fit into the context of how users work.

And finally, there’s a concept we call “simply complex.” The digital world is getting more and more complex. Multichannel, multidevice, and multinational solutions require complex technology to hold it all together seamlessly. Meanwhile, consumers are demanding simplicity. So our challenge is to take the complexity away from the user and hide it in the back end. Given our technology roots, we’ve excelled at making the complex simple for our users.

Forrester: Why is your agency well suited to deliver a great customer experience for your clients (and their customers)?

Rick: The people we hire, the way we’re organized, and the methods we put in place all help us deliver a great customer experience. Everyone has strategy, design, and technology as part of their arsenals, but the bigger you become, the more siloed you get and the less those teams work together. Even though we’re 450 people, we’re spread out geographically, which means we retain small working teams. That helps us maintain a collaborative environment where various disciplines work closely together and come to understand the other disciplines and the constraints they work against. For example, if we have great design but it doesn’t address a business problem, it’s not useful. It’s important that those three disciplines understand each other. We also use a repeatable process that we can apply to lots of business problems in a lot of industries. And of course a solution might be great on paper, but until you get it out in the field and iterate, you don’t actually know if it’s going to work.

Forrester: What’s it like to work at your agency?

Rick: It’s a work-hard, play-hard culture. We ask our consultants and staff to travel a lot because we like to work on-site collaboratively with our clients. That puts stress on the people, but we think it delivers better results. Working hard with a client, at the client site, [and] always being on and ready is tough so we try to promote some blowing off steam on Friday when we’re all back together. We think it’s important to keep a high morale and a good culture so we can cultivate good ideas. All we have is our people and ideas so we take hiring very seriously. We tend to hire more experienced folks but also have a mix of younger Gen Y folks who work with us to help interject new ideas into our culture. Irrelevant of age, we try to balance ideas and experience.

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