Bernadette - Doing things a little differently
We are launching Bernadette today, a new product and service innovation company. We are doing this advisedly - there’s more digital agencies out there than you can shake the proverbial at. So in adding another one we have a strong desire to do things differently. That in itself you could call a driving purpose - it’s important to know why you get out of bed every day to do this stuff - but what does ”doing things differently” mean? Differently HOW? Differently WHY? Differently WHAT FOR? Three good questions to interrogate any defined purpose with.
People don’t typically get into design and technology to have “a nice job”, or “make a living”. They get into both because they are excited by a world of possibility, to learn something new every day, and because design and technology bring the genuine potential to change lives, and the world, for the better.
Being part of an agency is an awesome vehicle to play in an environment where fresh challenges for design and technology are presented daily. But are agencies the best vehicle to drive innovation and change things for the better?
We’re not sure. In fact, we believe that the agency business and operating model is fundamentally flawed. Across these dimensions…
The Full Service Digital Transformation Fallacy
Our industry is dominated by the full-service digital transformation agency/consultancy/integrator. They will tell you “we do everything”. That they have “every capability under one roof”. Unfortunately, those statements are “fake news”.
Things are moving too fast and are too complex for any one entity to know it all, to be expert or specialist in it all, to be able to build it all, or lead it all. Agencies and consultancies and integrators and strategy firms talk a good talk about collaborating, but when it gets down to who gets the retainer and who bags the biggest number of billable hours it all falls apart and we tend to stop playing nice. This is a barrier that needs breaking through.
Launching great products might need many collaborators, or it might need five people. What we do know for sure is it requires diverse, inclusive teams and the best mix of expertise possible for the outcome we are aiming for.
So at Bernadette our primary super skill is being able to blend that expertise - the best of us, the best of you, the best of we. By the way, working this way doesn’t just deliver landmark products and services, it usually delivers positive results for everyone involved too. Hey, we might even make some new friends.
The gap between strategy and execution
Strategies, like ideas, are worthless to brands if they cannot be executed. Likewise, isolated and incremental improvements are highly unlikely to make a big impact.
The big digital transformation consultancies typically lack practical execution experience, are short on velocity, and struggle to innovate through iteration. The smaller digital execution agencies are typically forced to act in small increments, are divorced from brand purpose and lack access to business leadership. That’s not to say great results don’t happen, but there’s a lot of waste in the gap between those two things.
Bernadette has been engineered to join the two - to avoid one passing to the other - to join solid thinking to direct execution at the customer touchpoint - with a focus on helping brands break through - whether that’s the design and delivery of digital products and services that truly stand apart, or helping clients break through the many internal barriers standing in the way of getting there in the first place.
Our teams and ways of working are engineered to achieve BOTH rapid progress in the customer experience AND material impact on business growth.
Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well. Theodore Roosevelt
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. Colin Powell
At Bernadette, we are gearing everything we do to helping our clients launch breakthrough products and services. For us, breakthrough products and services have a few key things in common - they:
Set a new standard for everyone to follow.
Are indispensable, you can’t imagine life without them.
Disrupt their categories, or invent new ones.
Are talked about and highly advocated by the people that use them.
Deliver positive outcomes in a variety of ways - eg not just the financial ones.
Products and services with those characteristics tend to be the ones that stand out from a sea of similar ones. Quite often they aren’t just the fit for purpose ones, though that truly helps, they are the legendary ones.
Those are outcomes we want for all our work at Bernadette - for us, for our clients, for our partners. The outcomes you can hang your career on, that made you proud, that made you shed a tear or two.
So of course, we gear everything we do, and everyone we hire, and everyone we collaborate with, to delivering those types of outcomes. Who would want to settle for less, right?
Sadly, another by-product of the agency model is compromise. Settling.
Because shit happened. Because one month you got less picky. Because you needed the money. Because it was easier to say yes than no. Because it felt impossible to break through that internal barrier or persuade that tricky stakeholder. We’ve all been there - it’s human. But those kinds of compromises don’t typically add up to legendary outcomes.
The agency model, built as it is on payment for time, means you can effectively be paid - sometimes quite handsomely - for settling, for acquiescing, for choosing a quiet life over making a stand. There’s some safety there, but not much glory.
So we’ve recognised that in forming Bernadette, our purpose and capability - the way we are and the way we work - needs to be as much geared to breaking through the barriers along the way as it is to crafting those higher order outcomes. The capabilities you need to break down barriers, or work around them, or influence a better solution, or just not giving up, are often less about strategic, design or development expertise, and are more about character.
Why is that important? For us, character is about not succumbing to fatigue (“let’s just get this thing OUT”) and more about rising above that (“let’s get something AWESOME out”). It’s also about being brave enough to challenge barriers and roadblocks well and positively.
We have a strong belief that designers, developers, coaches, strategists, business development people, have a responsibility — a duty — to help our clients make deliberately considered design and development decisions, to think through the potential outcomes of those decisions, and to stand up when those principles are being compromised and call things out. We believe that means saying ‘no’ more frequently - something (again) that agencies subservient to an hourly fee find it extremely hard to do.
Challenging the status quo that’s making you uneasy is a tough thing to do. But for us that curiosity, that focus on positive outcomes, that challenge when it doesn’t feel right, that avoidance of compromise, is a big part of helping our clients break through and a fundamental driver for designing more purposeful and meaningful products.
So breakthrough for us has a dual meaning - delivering breakthrough products and services, and helping our clients overcome the roadblocks and compromises in the way of getting there. Nothing good comes easy. Don’t settle. Be brave.
Putting your money where your mouth is
The great Jim Rohn once said “you don’t get paid by the hour, you get paid by the value you bring to the hour”. We’d extend that to ask “if it’s breakthrough product you’re after, shouldn’t you pay us for achieving that outcome?”
There’s been enormous progress in applying Lean and Agile principles to the design and development of products and services in the digital industry. Most brands of any scale have adopted these principles, or are in the progress of doing so. Most startups do it instinctively, because they can’t afford to work in any other way - launching with a minimum viable set of features and then iterating from insight. Team dynamics have evolved to be self-determining and mutually supportive. With everything geared to a set of desired outcomes. There’s a general acceptance that these principles drive more effective products and services to market, and keep them improving.
However, the agency business model is still predominantly based on being paid a fee for the hours you put in. Like any craft or trade. This model is as old as the proverbial hills and just feels out of step with the positive progress we’ve all made in the way products and services are built. It’s tying payment to an hourly or daily unit, and it doesn’t vest anyone in success. It also makes the success of the final outcome really subjective - “we like it” or “we don’t like it”. Liking or not liking something is not particularly measurable.
At Bernadette we will always explore tying a proportion of our fees to a measurable outcome. We think this is fundamental to building one team - us, client, partner - where all are focused and invested in hitting the outcome we are setting out to achieve. It’s hard to do, it’s challenging old norms, and yes, lots of people have tried it and given up on it. But we won’t.
Ultimately we do collectively treat our client collaborations as ventures - we call them missions - and therefore our talent and time is capital. Ideally we’d love to be paid that way. We won’t do this exclusively, or all the time, but we do think this attitude and payment model is another element that drives breakthrough products and services.
Delivering purpose - versus chasing the shiny object
Another agency truism is that we all love the shiny object - the fame generator, the award-winner - the sizzle and the spark. Another very human thing, it’s all about the dopamine rush. However, it’s our strong assertion that though those sparks deliver value, they are often quite momentary. True value in breakthrough products and services comes from longevity and being an essential and useful part of people’s lives.
For us, we get serious excitement from making things that improve an experience, or solve multiple headaches in a system, or help you experiment, or learn things. Things that have a positive outcome for humans built into them.
Most importantly, we believe that breakthrough products and services tend to make the purpose of the brand tangible in every single interaction. You can feel the meaning in them, you instinctively understand what the brand is about - far more than what is communicated via marketing or advertising.
We’ve all had experiences where the advertising tells us one thing and the actual touchpoint experience tells us something completely different. These experiences kill brands and kill the product.
Ultimately we are adherents of the old adage - the product is the brand, the brand is the product.
We Are Bernadette
Got a creative business challenge that’s looking for a breakthrough idea? Or, perhaps you’re interested in joining our collective of digital pioneers? Maybe you just want to know a little more about what we do. In any case, we’d love to hear from you.