Chris Koller, bluemarlin’s new Managing Director EMEA, explains exactly why he’s returned to agency life and his ambition to use design and systems thinking to build relevant brand experiences for today and for tomorrow.
In a meeting in London last week a potential client at one of the world’s largest FMCG companies told me that whilst his job title lists sustainability and innovation, he wakes up every day to be a human behavioural change expert.
My reply was clumsy and sounded like it belonged in a maths or engineering class, not a conversation with a marketer, but the cornerstone of my response was design and systems thinking. A system has rules and those rules govern behaviour for its agents. Those behaviours are limited mathematically by the rules. As business owners and marketers we may run out of options to change behaviours unless we can change the system and change the rules. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. This perspective on the modern marketing challenge is why I have gone back to a design agency.
Systems thinking has multiple facets to its definition but in it’s most simplest form a system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs.
As a brand strategist, I’ve been trying to transform inputs into outputs my whole career.
Design thinking is a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions, with the intent of an improved future result. It is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking — starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem.
For me, going back to a design agency is about tapping into the very thing that defined the modern brand consultancy — design thinking. It’s about unleashing that practical, creative resolution of problems and the creation of solutions in a way that is relevant for today’s saturated consumerist reality. Pulling together business strategy, creativity, design, technology and systems thinking to understand human behaviour. It is about focusing on the system itself. Bringing together seemingly unrelated perspectives to achieve new insights, not only changing the behaviour but perhaps even changing the actual need. It’s about applying insights from the fashion industry to a nappy/diaper brand. It’s about using performance cues from the oil & lubricants industry to develop a solution for the beauty sector. It’s about employing the ergonomics of one-handed-operation of a fighter jet for a milk powder scoop for Mum-with-screaming-child-in-arms-at-3.15am in the pitch dark.
It’s about ensuring the marketer I spoke to last week can indeed close his eyes at the end of each day having actually changed human behaviour (for the good).
So yes, after several years, I’m going back to where I began – a design agency. To be clear, it isn’t a design agency like design agencies were when I started. We have a collective of experts with diverse skill-sets. (Whether a marketing director of a large beer brand, a management consultant, a scientist, or a supplychain management expert — it’s their seemingly unrelated perspectives we relish.) We have added commercial strategy and transformational thinking. We have added full customer and brand experience for the digital age, ensuring full end-to-end creative realisation. All this, yes, but at our core we are a design agency. Design thinking that liberates a saturated marketer’s toolkit. Design thinking that enables us to build relevant brand experiences for today and for tomorrow.
Chris Koller has recently joined the bluemarlin Group as Managing Director of our UK studios with primary focus on EMEA. An award-winning marketing and digital agency executive, Chris has over a decade of results-driven, international experience driving transformational business and brand growth.