Q&A with Dan Gardner, CEO and Founder, Code and Theory
As part of our Back to the Future webinar series, the Stagwell Group is hosting a series of monthly webinars, roundtables, and written analysis aimed at connecting leaders in the marketing industry for transformational discussions about what is happening across the business ecosystem.
Following our November events that focused on the business imperative for digital transformation, Alexis Williams, EVP of Marketing, sat down with Dan Gardner, CEO and Founder of Code and Theory to learn what he is seeing across the global marketing landscape.
Q: What is the biggest transformation you’ve seen your clients make in relation to how they engage with consumers?
DG: I think that we often get caught up in focusing on the word digital, when it’s more important that the focus for us be on direct relationships between clients and consumers. When we focus on the one-to-one direct relationships, digital (and social) becomes the mechanism that we turned to when more traditional engagement with consumers was disrupted or, in some cases, those who were forced to expand their digital engagement with consumers because of the current landscape. Focusing on that one-to-one direct relationship has really allowed us to help clients reach the next level because there is so much more opportunity because of direct relationships.
Q: How have you and your team adapted your products and services to meet the needs of your customers/consumers?
DG: At Code and Theory, we’ve always been pushing clients and companies to make the leap to digital, but now, companies have to do it and they want to do it because it’s what’s best for business right now and moving forward. Previously, digital transformation was always a component that we would incorporate when working with clients, but now, it has become the project itself.
Q: How has your team or employee relations practices evolved from or adapted to changes brought on by COVID? How has your team and the way you work changed in response to the pandemic and what changes do you see lasting after the pandemic?
DG: For us, as a service company, COVID has meant a more distributed workforce that has allowed us to be more effective and bring more value to our clients. There are the obvious drawbacks of having a more distributed workforce — creativity can suffer because our employees are creatives who have spent their lives and careers being creative together, so creativity has evolved. Since we’re unable to be in the same room at the same time, we utilize a lot of tools like Miro and Figma that enable us to collaborate virtually in real time. But, a more distributed workforce has opened up the talent pool for us — we no longer have to search and hire based on geography, we can focus more on talent.
I think that we often get caught up in focusing on the word digital, when it’s more important that the focus for us be on direct relationships between clients and consumers. When it comes to one-to-one direct relationships, digital (and social) become the mechanisms we turn to when there’s a disruption in the traditional consumer engagement model. In some cases, the current landscape has forced brands to expand their digital engagement with consumers, and quickly. Focusing on that one-to-one connection has really allowed us to help clients reach the next level because there is so much more opportunity when you’re engaged directly with a consumer.
Q: The push to digital has companies across the board looking more to digital solutions. What considerations do companies need to make to address accessibility and access so they don’t unintentionally exclude portions of the population who may not have the latest software, fastest Internet speed or latest gadgets?
DG: We focus a lot on diversity and inclusion within our organization and encourage companies to do the same. Whereas companies have formal policies that address diversity and inclusion, the products and services offered by these companies must have the same discipline and formality. Companies need to take this very seriously and budget appropriately to make diversity and inclusion a priority. We know that this takes time and happens in increments, so companies must stay disciplined and keep working.
Q: Many think of digital transformation as a journey rather than flipping a switch and “going digital” — they would innovate and the business would follow, but this no longer how it works. How is your company driving innovation out of necessity?
DG: We definitely see digital transformation as a journey, but we may have had to flip that switch more quickly because of the circumstances we’re living and working in. Amid the uncertainty that surrounds us today, one thing we can count on is that consumer behavior is constantly changing. More often than not, these changes are slow and evolve over time, so you always have to be on that journey with consumers as their behavior changes and adapt to those changes. If you don’t go on that journey with consumers, you’ll be left behind.