THE HUMAN TOUCH: JAMES DAVID ON INNOVATING WITH EMPATHY

Sep 19, 2019

James David

 

James David is Director of Innovation and Brand Experience at DIJGTAL, a strategic innovation agency based in Sydney helping brands to transform through experience, strategy and design. He’s also a graduate of our Cannes Creative Leadership Programme. We spoke to James about innovating from the heart, building creative bridges through technology, and the need for brands to step up and recognize the potential to make a positive impact on the world around them.  

 

 

Tell us a bit about the work you do at DIJGTAL…

DIJGTAL is a strategic innovation agency that focuses on human behaviour to help solve our clients’ challenges. In saying that it’s all about crafting exceptional brand experiences, we use a blend of design-thinking mixed with research and analytics to define cultural trends relevant to our audience, so we can communicate to them effectively, whether it's verbal, written or visual.

The notion of 'the big idea’ doesn’t have the same impact it once had. For me it has to be a relatable brand story where the creative and mediums are connected to produce memorable experiences. Due to this shift, our creative process is unlike traditional agencies. I have built our creative teams to include marketing, strategy and content so our solutions are not just ideas, but brand stories that link over different mediums to make a positive impact for our client’s whole business. 

 

Why is it important for you to differentiate between the terms ‘clients’ and ‘partners’ when you work with a brand?

Clients tend to indicate a vendor-supplier relationship and they are mainly project-based. DIJGTAL prides itself on influencing the marketing and creative culture of the brands we work with. We are just as invested in helping their business become a success as they are. We learn and understand their business so we can help to actively innovate and progress the business forward through all verticals. What we are also trying to change through our approach is the authenticity of dealing with partners. We don’t sell the ‘A Team’ and then supply the ‘B team’ for our partners. That has really hurt the industry and the relationship between brands and agency and has created this master-servant mentality. For me, true creativity comes from partnerships and trust in the relationship, and you can see this in the work being produced for brands like Burger King – there’s a deep trust between the agency and brand. It’s not answering one-off briefs.

 

To many, the word technology is akin to ‘automation’. How do you feel technology can empower creative collaboration?

Technology is the definition of connection. There are no more walls, buildings, cities, countries between us. If I need to bring a team together to help solve a problem, technology enables that. If one of our brand partners requires a specialist skill that isn’t in the local office, we connect with our global teams. We couldn’t achieve this 10 years ago. If we could, it was in its infancy and the technology wasn’t fully capable, but today the ability to easily share screens, have brainstorm sessions across countries – time-zone permitted – is business as usual. Imagine what the next 10 will bring for our industry.

 

We are living and working in an era where change is happening fast. Brands, old and new, can often find themselves persistently treading water rather than riding these rapid waves of change. What are the most fundamental, perhaps uncomfortable questions you need to ask a brand that seems to be stuck in this state?

I find that fundamentally the most unanswered question that brands are still struggling to answer well is the “Why”. Why do you exist outside of making money often causes brands a lot of confusion and discomfort, especially when they have been doing business for some time and they still don’t know how to bring value to their customers or the world. Most companies can quickly tell you what they do and how they do it, but with cultural changes - the role of social, who influences who - impacting the decision-making process with consumers, brands are becoming the guideposts. The need for brands to step up and understand how they can make valued contributions to improving lives and the world is currently the most important thing to know.

 

What are some of the common pitfalls a brand or company can fall into when they’re looking to innovate their business?

There are two major pitfalls I have come across. The first; a legacy mindset. There are companies out there with leadership teams who are set in their ways and are afraid to rock the boat. Just because something has been done and seems to be working doesn’t mean you can’t learn, reiterate, test and evolve. This is where DIJGTAL's foundation of design-thinking comes into play, whether it’s brand, marketing or product innovation, we believe there is always room to improve. The second; is confidence. We have all heard about, or as creatives talked about, having brave clients. Unfortunately, more often than not, they aren't. It’s quite common to meet companies who know they need to innovate but are afraid to do so. This is usually in fear of cannibalising their existing audience. This is why our strategy team is so important when it comes to our brand partnerships. We analyse and dissect the current cultural landscape and try to position our partners with the best possible brand platform that can pivot or evolve when needed.

 

Collaboration is at the heart of your work at DIJGTAL. How do you on-board other businesses to embrace this at their core? What are the possible challenges?

For us this isn’t as hard as some might think. In the initial ’dating’ phase, there is an understanding of who we are and what we do. Once the partnership begins there is a process where we learn and get up to speed on who they are and what they are trying to achieve, and vice versa. It’s a partnership. It’s about aligning our mindsets and behaviours. Some challenges come from the process of working with an agency, where in the past processes aren’t necessarily the same as ours, so some bad habits need to be weeded out.

 

Looking through your website, the word ‘human’ is a running thread. Is there a particular project you’ve worked on (or even one you haven’t!) where you’ve really seen the power of human empathy to drive a business forward?

We are currently reframing the creative platforms for two of our clients where human empathy plays a huge role on the campaigns we are delivering. Unfortunately I can’t divulge the details at this stage. But in the last couple of years there have been some great examples; Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’, a rallying cry to make a difference, or ‘Palau Pledge’, enforcing visitors to Palau to understand the importance of looking after their beautiful country. Then, there is one of our local banks Westpac’s ‘Help’ – showing that they understand the struggles of their audience. Watch this space for our own partners getting ready to innovate their industry by empowering human empathy.

 

 


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