Integrating strategy, design and technology for a stellar client list, ID Society points the way to the internet's future and, as Mark Penfold discovers, it all comes down to relationships.
Since Jonathan Webb and Adam Berkowitz founded the company in 1998, internet marketing and web design agency ID Society has grown steadily from its humble "cutting-edge Flash design shop" roots. "Now we're sought more as an interactive strategic marketing agency," says Jonathan Webb, the studio's creative head.
From Armani and Lancôme to MTV and Diageo, ID Society's client list reads like a stroll through an upscale business district. The agency knows how to make interactive strategy look good from every angle, and now even brands traditionally shy of the web are fording the interactive Rubicon.
There's an espionage theme to the way Webb and Berkowitz first got into business. "I was overseeing sales and marketing at Communication Control Systems," explains Berkowitz. The company sold spy equipment, including anti-bugging kit, bullet-proof clothing and cars. "We also owned the Counter Spy shop in London's Mayfair."
When the spy game went online, Red Fox was ready to jump on board: "I pitched the owner and he put me in charge of the project. I hired John and we built the first spy portal." That spy portal increased business by 25 per cent each month for the first two years of its operation.
The next thing they new, they were on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine. "Adam's grandmother gave us $5,000 and we started the business in my apartment," remembers Webb. It was daring: an online identity creation kit, not for spies but for small businesses. "We worked out all the logic. You could select industry, logo, typeface and so on." It was an ambitious scheme, agrees Webb. "And you know what? I'm glad it didn't work."
An 'agency of record'
"The flip side was doing more custom work and catering to the client's needs - finding out what our client's needs were and meeting them with technology and so forth," says Webb. And that did work out. "John is great at finding creative talent, and my strength is going out there and winning new business," says CEO Adam Berkowitz. Clearly, they're doing something right.
"We want to become an 'agency of record' rather than just a project agency," says Webb, a goal recently achieved with work for fashion overlord, Giorgio Armani.
The 'agency of record' thing is great. "It means you're looking at giving your clients a plan for what you're going to do over the course of years," explains Webb. "It's all focused on relationships," agrees Berkowitz. "It's not just about the relationships between us and our clients, it's our job to empower our clients to create strong relationships with their clients. It's our mantra. You have to figure out a way to make it personal. There has to be something that makes them want to be part of it."
The nature of the internet is changing rapidly; moving away from the coolest-looking websites in favour of a more considered approach. "My philosophy is that strategy has always been present," says Webb.
If you have a cool website, sure you might get people talking, but will you be making the most of the medium? "Strategy has to be the number one initiative in anything you do," argues Webb. "There must be a goal or objective for you to meet or there's no purpose." Without it you have no way to measure your achievements.
"We have a very adaptive style," says Webb. "We do whatever our client's brand essence requires, that's what we're about." And where the internet is concerned, that's what everyone wants: "It's about big ideas."
A creative mix
ID Society has no time for self-indulgence: people tire of that too quickly. "There are companies with styles and they're usually based on the sole individual working on that project," Webb explains. "Our style is a mix of all the people in our company - strategy, creative, animation, scripting." The internet is no longer the Wild West, and ID Society comes from a breed that wants to build, not just circle the wagons and hope for the best.
"The fact that we can go into a pitch with companies that were in business when we started out, and beat them, is a great feeling," says Webb. The internet is still settling down after the turmoil of the dot. com years. And as the dust clears, there's something different about the creatures that inhabit this still changing terrain. "I'm 33 and considered an expert," says Berkowitz, the sentiment tinged with wonder. In the rest of the business world, most 33-year-olds are considered upstarts. You have to be able to reinvent yourself: "We've just recreated our whole identity," reveals Webb, right on cue.
"Our logo has a lot of meaning," he says. "It lays on a 45 degree angle, which represents growth and upward thinking." These details are like the bread and butter of a consumer society. "The S that links in between the D and O represents relationships," he continues. It all comes back to relationships.
These relationships can pay dividends. Take Diageo, for example, multi-billion dollar owner of brands such as Baileys, Johnny Walker and Martel Cognac. It was a Diageo job that helped the agency turn the corner. It all started online: "It was called Captain Morgan's Wanna Party Sweepstake," says Webb. "We came up with the idea of users creating a party. You picked the space, then you invited a 'Morganette' as your date, added music and invited 50 of your friends." This worked well - after all, who wouldn't want to win a party, paid for by Seagram (later bought by Diageo), with a Morganette and 50 of your friends?
"Remember," says Webb, "this was long before viral marketing. And they don't even call it that anymore; it's 'word of mouth campaigns' now." ID Society is pulling in the right direction. Thanks to the team, and others like them, advertising spending is heading towards the web, and that means more work for everyone - unless you work in a traditional ad agency.
Dealing with high-profile clients is second nature to ID Society these days, but ensuring they're not crushed by the tectonic shift of the internet also means that disciplines must proliferate: "We have two senior art directors, one art director and one designer, and they're all Flash developers, too," says Webb. "We also have two Flash technologists and information architects." That's the nature of the game - developing interactive technology requires both sides of the brain to work together.
"If we launch a program for someone, that's not the end," says Berkowitz. Web technology is such that, "You can monitor things and change them on the fly." Not to do so would be in some way negligent.
"We use focus groups - we do soft launches and ask people if this or that is intuitive," says Berkowitz. "Marketers are shifting money to the online world, and a large part of our job involves convincing traditional agencies that we can produce an online campaign that is faithful to their vision." But the future is different. "Spending online is dramatically increasing and it's forecasted to continue."
But that isn't all new money; it has to come from somewhere. The smart agencies are those such as ID Society, which is positioning itself as an agency of change. It has the creative credentials and the technology is rolling. "We're always learning," says Berkowitz. And that makes ID Society a sound bet for the future.
INFO: Find out more about ID Society at the firm's website: www.idsociety.com.