April 20, 2018

4 Lessons in Hindsight: Our Tips for 2018

Lee Steely

It’s that time again: time to examine 2017 for the big themes, the best recommendations, and all the things we want to keep in mind as we move into the new year. Sometimes, the best lessons are clearest in hindsight. Looking back, here are some of our favorites.

Invite the Neighbors

Hospitality matters, y’all. 2017 was our first full year in our new office digs at King Plow Arts Center, where our neighbors are often creatives, technophiles, and innovators in their respective spheres. Connecting with other movers-and-shakers in our field has always been part of what we do, but as a digital agency with in-house and remote workers, our focus hasn’t always been heavy on the IRL. This year, our new surroundings spurred us on to find our neighbors–in King Plow, in our corner of the southeast, and our industry. On-the-fly coffee meetups, drop-ins, and onsite tours will probably always be a big part of how we connect face-to-face with clients and collaborators, but some of our most memorable moments from 2017 came from our forays into more traditional mixing and mingling: we’re talking about playing the host.

We kicked off the first ever Atlanta Marketing Meetup to celebrate our new space and cross-pollinate with like-minded folks in April, the first of several rotating meetups this year. We shared, we learned, we had great fried chicken from our friends at Bantam + Biddy. We began to notice how many of our longtime friends, clients, and new connections have shared goals and values, and to brainstorm about building community from that seed. This led to the first “Hungry for More” event in partnership with Industrious coworking space after we realized how many clients and connections are in restaurant and local “foodie” industries (perhaps no surprise, given this city’s amazing food scene). In scheming to get a lot of our favorite people in a room together, we took our first big steps in connecting our online and offline communities, reinforcing both.

Hosting these events still counts as a step outside our usual comfort zone (at heart we are still, mostly, a bunch of nerds), but keeping the focus on others and providing a forum for respected speakers made it a whole lot easier, a lot more enjoyable, and a no-brainer way to give back.

In-person connections can’t be quantified, but if we can give just one recommendation for 2018 strategy, it’s this: find ways to connect your online and offline strategy and build community. There’s no better way to build out an anti-fragile support network and gain the insights data alone can’t provide.

Branding is a Verb

Looking back at our roster of work this year for this post, one thing stood out for sure: 2017 was the year of complete website redesigns, complex build-outs, and refreshed branding for many longtime clients. This kind of work occupies a good chunk of our time every year, but this one was especially redesign-heavy, and given the state of the industry, it’s no big surprise. The past two years have brought a lot of major changes in digital marketing options and SEO best practices, and more businesses are also feeling the pressure to incorporate personalization techniques and changing user interface expectations. Getting this right often means zooming out for the long view of your business, conducting customer research, and potentially being willing to upend a lot of foundational assumptions about your site structure, content, brand persona, logo–essentially, every aspect of your website and branding.

Some businesses find this process frustrating, and we get it–it is! It’s hard to explain why a well-designed website and branding strategy can work wonders for a few years, only to one day suddenly give people a Mesozoic era impression. The truth is it’s in part down to changing fashions, and part the exponential growth possibilities of the web. It might not always be important to stay on the cutting edge, but more and more we’re seeing that businesses are getting how important it is to at least not be seen as falling behind. It’s become a digital marketing cliche, but your website and other digital properties truly are as important to maintain as your physical storefront, and maintenance costs will always be part of the picture.

Branding is a verb, and good design never ends: both should grow along with you.

Surround Yourself with Inspiration

Good design isn’t always just for your clients: it can be an important motivator and morale-booster for your internal folks, too. That’s why we commissioned a favorite local artisan for some hand-painted sign art to decorate our office walls and (hopefully) deliver a jolt of inspiration before we even get to the room with the coffeemaker. Our creative efforts may mostly be destined for the digital, but we think finding inspiration in the real and the tangible helps to cut through the noise and ground all of our work.

It also gives us a chance to support local artists, which we always love to do. Think about design touchstones or small unexpected touches that might help to motivate or define purpose for your internal team. (Okay, we’ll be honest: this one is mostly an excuse to show off our awesome walls again.)

Don’t Be Outfoxed

“The only truth is Change.”–Octavia Butler

Anyone in digital marketing and web design in 2017 will tell you: for an already-chaotic industry, this year has delivered more than its usual share of shake-ups.

Martech has proliferated past all expectation, but sharing data across multiple platforms isn’t always possible.

We’ve seen the potential of available data explode, but methodology for gaining the right insights is still in the growth phase.

Google’s algorithm underwent its biggest changes in years, leading SEO strategists back to the drawing board in some cases (keywords alone won’t do the trick anymore; “useful content” will).

Advertiser outrage drove major changes in advertising policy and guidelines on major platforms like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Instagram.

Cheap web design farms proliferated, shifting customer cost expectations while at the same time offering less data security.

At the same time, new reports of hacking and security vulnerabilities filled the news.

When we chose the wily fox as our inspiration for the coming year at the end of 2016, we had only an inkling of how apt a mascot it would be. Foxlike cunning and agility were exactly the qualities 2017 would demand of us–with a little “crazy like a fox” mixed in for good measure.

Change is a churning constant in this industry, and that won’t be changing (heh) anytime soon. Evolving is nonnegotiable–but staying grounded in what you’re best at is just as important to inoculate you from passing fads. The internet, like the fox, can be a trickster. And maybe it just takes one to know one.

Cheers to your 2018–from our humble den to yours.