As founder and CEO of KNOCK, a creative agency, Lili Hall wants to bring her advertising clients on a trip, but not one with a normal roadmap. There isn’t a start and end point for this journey; it’s the path of the modern-day consumer, and it’s not easy to define or predict. But Hall and her team at the hybrid agency, which offers brand positioning, design, content strategy, and social communication services, thrive in that uncertainty.
“The one thing that we need to communicate with our clients of all sizes, is that we don’t know where that consumer journey starts and stops,” Hall says. “That’s the biggest change that we see in the customer experience. Traditionally it was TV, radio, at home; now you’ve got local devices, desktop, all of it. That experience can start with anyone at any point.”
People used to experience a brand in a linear way—perhaps they’d see a national television ad, then a billboard pointing them to the local mall, and finally to the store itself to make a purchase. Now consumers can interact in a number of ways, taking an active role in shaping the relationship by providing online reviews, talking directly to brands on social media, and getting location-based updates straight to their phones.
Owning that experience, no matter where it begins, is the goal Hall sets for all of KNOCK’s clients. She founded KNOCK in 2001, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to offer a fresh, nimble perspective that large, established agencies might not be able to provide.
“Our roots are in design and in retail,” Hall says. “I didn’t want to compete with the big traditional agencies. The hybrid model is more common now, but fourteen years ago it was not.” Hall takes the agency’s specialty seriously—she requires that everyone on staff has some retail experience and is digitally-minded.
The agency works with companies as big as Target—KNOCK has designed many of the retailer’s in-store experiences, including the launch of the Lily Pulitzer for Target line, which saw a complete sell-out of merchandise within fifteen minutes—and Levi’s, for which KNOCK was hired to name, brand, and market a new line of jeans aimed at women called Revel. It also takes on smaller accounts, which Hall says helps set KNOCK apart and ensure both agility and a wealth of resources at its clients’ disposal.
“We’re constantly curating and sharing with our clients big and small,” Hall says. “Because we have clients of all different sizes and budgets, we can share with our smaller clients the lessons we learn from working with our bigger clients, and vice versa.”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Lili Hall prides herself, and her company, on being open to new ideas—a mantra that many CEOs adopt, but only the best know how to put into practice. Here are a few ways that Hall and the KNOCK team make sure they’re always learning.
They’ve built a culture of asking for help.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover, because we’re really taking care of our staff and checking in with them and making sure they’re okay,” Halls says. If staff members don’t feel supported and encouraged to reach out for assistance, they’ll stagnate. “We see that when we hire people with more experience but who haven’t been in an environment where they’ve been able to ask for help. I’m constantly asking for help, so I use myself as an example.”
They stay up-to-the-minute on news and trends from around the world.
At KNOCK, part of everyone’s job is to keep informed, and share that information with the rest of the team. “We are all trend curators, and together we function almost like a newswire,” Hall says. “We’re gathering all this content and twice a day sending out reports, which could be related to something we’re working on or not.” The staff gets newsworthy details related to fashion, film, pop culture, food, digital innovation—anything that one member of the team finds inspiring or worthwhile.
Hall also travels frequently to conferences around the country and the globe, bringing back nuggets of information and new sources of inspiration for her team.
They hire people who want to know more about the business, and the world.
“The people that we hire are by nature curious,” Hall says. “We don’t have to have all the answers; we can get people in to help us figure out how it works.” KNOCK also employs a flat management structure, which is one of the ways the staff can learn from one another. “It’s great to have all those different lenses,” says Hall. “We do a lot of regrouping—here’s what I’m seeing and hearing from my lens, here’s what you’re concerned about, etc. I love those kinds of meetings because they’re so productive.”
They learn from real life.
Hall is always thinking about how to better serve her clients and has taken vital lessons from her personal experiences as a regular shopper. She recalls taking her daughter to a retail store and asking a sales associate for a certain size in a skirt. “The only skirt [in my daughter’s size] was on the mannequin, and they wouldn’t take it off,” Hall says. “No one should treat their customers this way.” It was an important reminder, she says, that no matter how slick a company’s website or advertising, if they don’t follow up with a great in-store experience, they’ll lose customers.
For example, the agency recently invested in some software and hardware it wanted to test out with smaller clients, before determining if they could scale for bigger ones. KNOCK’s developers created a custom iBeacon—a device that will trigger an offer to download an app on a smartphone when a person enters a physical space—that KNOCK tested at an open house in its offices. More and more retail stores are using iBeacon tools to offer promotions, get customers to move to different areas of a store, change promotions throughout the day, or update customers on new sales or limited stock alerts.
KNOCK offers this kind of expert knowledge of the latest technology, but the company also understands the importance of more traditional consumer experiences, too, like in-store branding. Halls says that KNOCK is always faced with the challenge of convincing tech-focused clients that physical retail experience is just as important as a great, well-designed mobile app; on the flip side, brick-and-mortar-based companies might need nudging to understand that customer service doesn’t stop once customers leave a store, and that a positive online environment is crucial to success.
“We’re able to have those conversations because there is a lot of trust built with our clients,” Hall says. “We’re not trying to make them do something because it’s the latest and greatest technology; it has to work for their business, it has to work for their budget.”
That balancing act is built into the history of the agency. KNOCK started with two clients—a startup and a Fortune 500 company. As they continue partnering with both new and established brands, Hall says her staff is always working to understand their clients’ markets and target audiences, and to create custom strategies to tackle those areas that could otherwise go overlooked.
When working with smaller or mid-size companies, KNOCK may run an entire brand campaign, from concept to advertising to package and in-store design, as well as custom mobile and social media experiences. With larger companies, the challenge is getting all the departments on board with a particular strategy, and working within parameters already set.
KNOCK may be called in to help manage a single aspect of a brand campaign, like an in-store experience or a global packaging system. By leveraging state-of-the-art technology, they help create intuitive experiences and efficiencies that offer measurable results. KNOCK’s clients rely on both the big-picture outlook and the attention to detail the firm brings to all of their initiatives.
“We’ve been involved in creating naming conventions, [creating a] digital asset management system, setting up an FTP that’s secure,” Hall says. “We’ve been responsible for hiring photographers and negotiating their rights, usage fees, streamlining all that. We’ve got a whole checklist. It’s just being really proactive.”
Hall says her team excels at anticipating what clients need, even if that need is a piece of yet-untested technology, or a new niche they haven’t explored in retail innovations.
“We’re always looking a few steps ahead of where the client is looking,” Hall says. “We feel it’s our responsibility, having these conversations.”