Q&A: Wayne Deakin – ‘Our Industry is Still Working off a lot of Outdated Myths’

“It’s essential we rethink what it means to be customer-centric, addressing what brand and experience is through the real lives of consumers, not based on how businesses are organized.”

Following his recent talk in South Korea at the Mad Stars awards show, Branding in Asia caught up with Wayne Deakin, Global Principal Creative at Wolff Olins. Deakin joined the agency at the beginning of this year following his departure from Interpublic Group global experience agency Huge, where he was Executive Creative Director.

At his Mad Stars talk, Deakins discussed the importance for brands to “think human-first not frictionless-first when it comes to brand experience” – or risk becoming irrelevant if they “keep drinking the UX Kool-Aid.”

Over the course of our conversation, he talks about what brands must do to succeed in a rapidly, changing world, including being “more Kardashian”,  adapting to evolving human identity, addressing what brand and experience are through the real lives of consumers, and more.

 
 

You gave a talk at MadStars called “Don’t Believe the hype. Rethink experience”. You discussed how brands wanting to succeed need to challenge the conventional hype. Can you unpack that for us?

I am being provocative, but our industry is still working off a lot of outdated myths, formulas, and playbooks that are holding brands back in today’s post-digital, post-covid world – a landscape that’s very different in how a brand surfaces and how consumers intersect with brands.

“We have seen an arms race for speed and frictionless experiences as we digitally transformed but fast forward to today and everyone is working off the same UX rules and myths (probably without even realizing)”

Having started in classic design and then made the move into digital and experience design for several years before moving to Wolff Olins, there’s an obvious and widening disconnect between UX, CX, and brand design. Past rules and hype is tripping up so many brands.

 
 

Product and marketing departments are too often working on very different approaches and there are big gaps and disconnections.

This means the CEO/CFO are having to backfill with supplementary investment and spend when – if they just got their brand and experience in more synch, and really understood the new landscape and consumer (also the employees in their own cultures!) – they could easily be a leading brand that would leap ahead.



We have seen an arms race for speed and frictionless experiences as we digitally transformed but fast forward to today and everyone is working off the same UX rules and myths (probably without even realizing) and they have done this at the expense of engagement and brand love.

My talk highlighted the shifts happening now and how rethinking friction, speed and openness can dramatically accelerate a brand to a more iconic level.

You also talked about the evolving human identity saying that “Male, female, Gender Neutral, or fluid. Self-identifying as non-human as an avatar is now a thing.” How do you think brands are adapting to this change and what advice do you offer?

Gen Z and Gen Alpha are rewriting the rule books on this as we speak but that’s just the start. We’re used to people rejecting pronouns, rejecting gender boundaries, rejecting even their physical boundaries for digital ones. People are acknowledging their multiple identities – the different personas they have online, offline, at work, with friends, in the metaverse. It’s become more ‘blurred’ as we like to call it.

“Like the Kardashians invited you into their world – brands are going to have to be more open and invite you in.”

Think about your own identity for a moment and how it’s different on LinkedIn to FB, or from your Insta profile projection to your choice of messaging platform to close friends. We all have ‘Blurred Identities’ and each one of them is an opportunity for brands. This means you need to be able to deconstruct and reconstruct a brand and experience in many ways and not fight against this behavior.

You discussed how top-down traditional linear techniques to establish or build brands aren’t going to work moving forward. Tell us more about that.

It’s essential we rethink what it means to be customer-centric, addressing what brand and experience is through the real lives of consumers, not based on how businesses are organized. It calls for a new approach that breaks down silos and takes a more human and holistic CX view. It means getting a wider and more multidisciplinary team together and finding opportunities to really join the dots for the customer. It also means real collaboration without egos.

The recent work Wolff Olins did for the BBC or GSK highlights what’s possible when you design outwards and not in a traditional top-down manner. From experience design to visual identity design to physical environments – you get a brand that can stretch and be truly meaningful.



You’ve said that one way that brands can evolve is to “be more Kardashian”. What do you mean by that and what are some brands you see doing well at it?

A new mindset that breaks down legacy practices and sees the world as consumers do. Like the Kardashians invited you into their world – brands are going to have to be more open and invite you in. This means building in a more systematic way that you can personalise, reconfigure, and continually update. One that is more receptive and adaptive. Brand as more of an invitation to the consumer, and not something that is static or fixed. A modern approach to create more co-ownership with the consumer and also give more control for the employee to create deeper engagement in multiple opportunities.

What are some lessons you learned from managing and motivating your creative team during social distancing that you carry over into your strategies post-pandemic?

Everything I have ever learned about leadership was tested during these covid times. I think there’s no wrong or right way here as different things work for different people – so I guess one of the biggest was around giving flexibility and understanding of the very different environments your team works within is fundamental for success.

Understanding that but then setting out clear and simple set of priorities, and locally implementing them with a high degree of autonomy.

Giving more ownership to people (especially the younger ones) creates trust and respect. Likewise, I felt it was important to be full of energy and use humour as a tool to create team unity.


Quick Hits

Book everyone in the industry should read

Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff

Favorite show you’re watching lately

I am guessing everyone will say ‘Stranger Things’

So let’s say ‘Love, Death + Robots’ by Deadpool director Tim Miller on Netflix.

One album you would take to a deserted island

AC/DC – Back in Black

Something you want to learn or wish you were better at

Cooking. I love the idea of cooking and have a bunch of cookbooks and do my best but I’d love to get the time to really get good at it. I think creative departments are like great restaurants.

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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