“Marketing is Not Messages. It’s Behaviors”

Ana Andjelic, Head of Digital Strategy @Spring Studios talks design, testing and her influences.

THE GUARDIAN NAMED HER A DIGITAL STRATEGIST TO WATCH, GEORGE PARKER NAMED HER A DOUCHENOZZLE. But nobody would argue that Ana Andjelic has been sitting on the fence when it comes to debating where (digital) strategy should/could be heading...

We sat down with Ana to get her views on design, the value of testing and how to prosper in the creative industry.

“Everyone was obsessed with digital behaviors of consumers.”
Ana Andjelic

Q: Ana, first and foremost, we'd love to know how you got started in advertising and why you picked advertising?

Ana Andjelic: I don't consider myself working in advertising. Advertising is about communication and messaging. I am more interested in designing experiences that are improving people’s lives.

I ended up in digital design from that point of view. It was a direct extension of my academic interests (I got MA in Media Studies and PhD in Sociology) as it combines technology, behavioral economics, interactions between people and technology, organizational studies, network analysis and digital media.

I first entered digital marketing industry via the ethnographic research requirement for my PhD. I was first at AKQA and then at Razorfish. I made a really good pitch to Lars Bastholm, who was then AKQA’s ECD.

It was getting him on the phone to hear it that took 3 months.

I have to say that 2006 was an incredibly amazing time to both study digital technology and to work in the digital industry. YouTube had just exploded and UGC became a new format; advertisers figured out they can go beyond banners in reaching their audiences.

Facebook was gaining momentum. Twitter soon showed up. Everyone was blogging; media companies started redesigning their websites. Everyone was obsessed with digital behaviors of consumers.

I think I have been incredibly lucky to both participate in the industry as a Strategist and to explore it as an academic.

Q: As I went through your blog I noticed a shift in your writing and observing. It leans more and more towards the human experience of (digital) services and brands, encapsulated in this quote

“Great digital brands are built around great customer experience”.

Are too many people, agencies and clients still focused on technology (process) instead of behaviour (outcome), that it needs additional highlighting?

If so, why? (if you disagree with the premise of the question, feel free to say so )

Ana Andjelic: I don't think there’s a shift in my writing. The description of my blog that I've written back in 2008 is “marketing is not messages. it’s behaviors” or something like that.

So I always had this strong focus on human behavior as the starting and ending point of digital marketing.

I think that in traditional advertising agencies, when it comes to digital, there is too often a fascination (real or not) about a new app, a new website, a new social network.

There is much less thinking about why a new app/website/network is interesting and the impact on business bottom line and consumer behavior.

This point of view translated in recent years into the obsession with “making things.” So you have agencies obsessed with creating apps, websites, games, etc. for their clients.

Too often it happens that what they build has nothing to do with what consumers are interested in or what they would actually like to use.

My approach is the exact opposite:
instead of asking “what digital thing we should make,” I ask first “what is the problem and how can I use digital to solve it?” How can I use digital to add value to consumers’ lives?
  • Is there a new way to connect products and services that creates new value for consumers?
  • Is there a way to attract a new set of consumers by designing a new kind of value exchange in digital space?
  • Can I transform my clients’ business through digital technology?
These questions should be the starting point for strategists today.

Q: Mike Arauz of Undercurrent wrote that, “The typical ‘T-shaped’ team member is no longer adaptable enough to keep and maintain their value in a market that evolves as quickly as today’s market does. The ideal evolving skill set for today’s digital strategy world is shaped more like an expanding square than a ‘T’.” What is your take on this assessment?

Ana Andjelic: Sure. Why not. But I distrust models of all kinds. Too often they don't serve to explain the world, but to fit the world into a container.

More than that, they are value judgments. They don't approach the world as something to be explored but something that needs to be described. I prefer experimental approach of making and testing hypotheses.

Q: In the same piece he also mentions a few areas that people should dive into if they want to be of “value”. What are some rabbit holes that you are diving in to these days to stay interested and interesting?

“Behavioural economics
Bruno Latour
Design (thinking)”

Ana Andjelic: I like behavioral economics, because it’s based on testing and because it explores human behavior from a thoroughly experimental point of view.

More than its method (which is a general scientific method, really) I like the field it covers: the fuzzy zone between the emotional and the “rational,” the economic and the social; the individual and his/her context; humans and technology.
I also always enjoy Bruno Latour’s writing.

He is a French sociologist who founded Actor-Network Theory to explain interaction between humans and technology. He calls those human-tech interactions socio-technical networks, and explains the entire society through them. His entire point is that not only humans are the source of action, technology is an active participant in our social life too.

The way things are designed defines how we are going to use them.

For example, Facebook’s privacy settings changed our entire society’s notion of privacy and expectations around it.

I like reading about design and design thinking, too, primarily because of its human-centric approach. And the focus on testing — it preaches always iterating, always testing, always learning.

I like design because it premise is to be useful, to improve human life in some way. There are a lot of smart and very interesting people working in the field of design, so that helps too.

Q: What areas of focus should students and graduates, looking to up their chances of breaking into the creative/communications industry, focus on?

Ana Andjelic: I think they should focus on what they are interested in and passionate about. I don't think that there is a formula for success.

I was passionate about media, technology, networks analysis, organizational studies.

For a year, I was reading everything I could about Complex Adaptive Systems, responsive organizations, advantages and disadvantages flat organizations, industrial clusters, information flows through organizations.

This led me to digital technology, and that led me to my first job.

One thing led to me the next, so the most important thing is to be just passionate, really.

Q: With the way that tech, design, comms and product development are merging, what would you advise a 20 year old Ana, if she asked you where to work and in what location: advertising agency, client, tech startup, something different? Why?

Ana Andjelic: I would advise her to choose a field she is passionate about. Back then, I was studying psychology, which led me to experimental psychology, which led me to social psychology and behavioral economics, which led me to media studies.

Some 20-year olds who are very passionate about culture and communications should go to an advertising agency; those who are passionate about user behavior and technology may have better time at a startup.

But these are not the rules to live by — the opposite can be true as well.
Thank you Ms Andjelic

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