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The secret to digital success? Tribal says it’s you

Tribal Haydn Kerr James Blair

Tribal’s Executive Creative Director Haydn Kerr and Managing Director James Blair share what they think is the secret to digital success.

Becoming a digitally innovative company is no walk in the park, with many reportedly struggling to find the right talent, time and culture to drive innovation. A survey conducted by Chief Executive last year revealed nearly half of the CEOs polled (47 percent) either feel like they’re “hanging in there” or are simply “out of their depth” when it comes to digitisation.

So, what’s the solution? For DDB Group Aotearoa’s digital experience agency, Tribal Aotearoa, it’s simple.

 “Everyone is worried about technology, but the secret to success in the digital world is actually focusing on the humans you want to reach” says James Blair, Managing Director of Tribal Aotearoa. “And that’s something any business can do.”

This simple insight has catapulted Tribal onto the world stage. The agency is only three years old but has created some game-changing experiences for brands as big as Samsung, Volkswagen and Jonnie Walker – collecting some major international awards along the way.

The secret to this success isn’t a secret at all. It’s all down to Tribal’s founding belief that people are at the centre of the digital world.

While many digital agencies focus on technology, Tribal executive creative director Haydn Kerr says they like to focus on the person they’re trying to have an impact on.

“People often feel confused about doing work in the digital world and how you can connect with people there,” he says. “We’ve shown you can do it successfully by concentrating on what you know – people connecting with people. Websites are just places where people meet, customers want to get something and businesses want to sell.”

Tribal created a digital experience for Samsung called iTest.

The most powerful illustration of this belief is Samsung iTest – a digital experience created by Tribal that has achieved the extraordinary. With a brief to launch Samsung’s newest smartphone to the New Zealand market, the team at Tribal managed to produce a campaign that had enough legs to hit the big time globally and reach 200 countries. Dubbed by Screenrant as “Samsung’s greatest stunt ever,” iTest is a mobile shortcut that gives Apple users a chance to experience Samsung Galaxy. 

Blair says the idea came about from concentrating on what it would take to get a customer to switch from iPhone to Samsung. “The technology is relatively simple, it’s just a website, but the magic comes from the human truth that iPhone users need to experience the Samsung interface before they can make the switch. And the only place they’re ever going to do that is on their iPhones.”

“When you’re in a tight market, your next customer is super important. You need to get someone over from the other side,” Blair says.

When Tribal first pitched the idea to Samsung, it wasn’t immediately picked up, but the team decided there was enough value in the idea to explore its feasibility. Eventually a partnership was agreed and a developer spent three months replicating the Samsung Galaxy operating system, so it could be experienced from the Apple homescreen.

A soft-launch was decided upon, backed by a $200 spend on social media.

“This led to the most incredible meeting of my life,” Kerr says. “We got together around a meeting table to talk about how to actually launch iTest and someone checked the analytics. There were already 10,000 people on the website and when we checked Google it was in the news.”

That $200 spend resulted in two million hits to the website in the first weekend. iTest is now at 12 million downloads and Tribal is now a technology partner with Samsung Global – rebuilding the site for over half a dozen markets with a plan for more.

Haydn Kerr Tribal Aotearoa
Haydn Kerr.

“It very rarely happens that a little campaign at the bottom of the world gets to operate on a global level,” Kerr says.

“Samsung iTest is the purest form of humanity and technology coming together,” Blair adds. “It’s not just about giving people a guided experience with a different interface. Users feel like they’ve got a brand-new phone and there’s a lot of thinking that goes into that experience.”

A big part of Tribal’s offering is injecting creativity into traditional e-commerce platforms to avoid falling into the trap where the online shopping experience becomes dull.

“We run a similar process to a creative agency,” Blair says. “We have art directors and copywriters throughout all our processes and we couple that with amazing technical practitioners. These processes can mean creating a website that’s 30 percent better than otherwise, it’s a form of quality control for our clients.” 

Some clients come to Tribal looking for communications or campaigns, but they also want an agency that can think digital first – like Samsung, Triton or Skoda. These clients want agencies that create standout creative campaigns with a digital focus, Kerr says.

The other side of Tribal’s roster is the classic digital web clients who appreciate the creative spin Tribal injects into all its work. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Plant and Food Research, Lumino and Volkswagen have all worked with the team to rebuild or refresh their websites. 

Tribal’s innovative website for Volkswagen customers enables them to configure and purchase their new cars through a purpose-built digital experience.

The team built a series of online tools to help customers find the right car, customise it, reserve it and even finance it. The aim was to meet the individual needs of buyers and customers and guide them through the process to make the right choice for them.

Blair says the work is an example of how digital work can be creative and functional at the same time. 

“The Volkswagen website gives people the opportunity to shop for a vehicle online in their own way, looking through the lens of what they’ll use the vehicle for. It’s a good representation of humanity coming to life in our work because it’s giving consumers exactly what they really want. They will still visit a dealership, but doing their own customisation, searching for stock etc now all happens online.” he says.

The proof that Tribal’s creative digital approach works is in the results, with 80,000 monthly website visitors and more than 800 new and used car listings

A lot of the work Tribal produces focuses on how they can help clients share the right moments with their customers. They built the Johnnie Walker Voice Edition Father’s Day campaign as the brands first foray into voice technology. The centrepiece of the campaign was a voice-enabled Whiskey Case designed to preserve stories and memories shared over a glass of whiskey.

James Blair and Haydn Kerr reveal that their success lies with what they offer to their clients.

“For the Father’s Day campaign, we recognised the reality that a lot of people pass without passing on their stories,” Kerr says. “When your Dad dies, you can be left with a bunch of possessions, but not what you want most of all, which is his stories – that’s what you can pass on to your kids. This is not the sort of thing that developers usually think of.”

A website tool was built so anyone could record their stories online and share their recordings with loved ones. The best storytellers had their tales built into whiskey cases and delivered with a function to record more stories. The campaign proved so successful, the website is still active and it will be rolled out again for Father’s Day 2022.

The Johnnie Walker campaign was launched alongside fellow group agencies Mango Communications and DDB Aotearoa, integrated across digital, social and PR. While Tribal does work with many of its clients as a standalone agency – being able to tap into talent at other agencies within DDB Group is a big drawcard for many clients. 

“Working in the Group is appealing for clients,” Kerr says. “They get all the love and attention of working with a small agency, but all the resources of a big agency should they need them.”

Blair says the set-up means Tribal can offer clients exactly what they need. For example, Tribal is supporting clients with about five TVCs this year using DDB Group resources.

“Some will use us just for social and they don’t need anything else, while others will start with social and then decide they want to do a radio campaign,” Blair says. “We get challenged to include other channels and we love that.

“We make no apologies for the fact we use the DDB Group creative pool when we need it. It has really strong outcomes for our digital-first clients.”

It’s clearly working for them. Only three years in, Blair says they’re 300 percent ahead of where they had forecasted the agency would be by this point by working with like-minded clients.

“We work with clients who we share the same sort of thinking with. We’ve got strong partnerships with clients who get us and we get them. There’s a lot of digital agencies out there doing things differently to us,” Blair says. “We exist for digital-first clients, but we also want to work with any client who believes in the power of digital.”

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