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Getting to know - Doing digital differently with David Wharram

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For this week’s getting to know, I sat down with David Wharram, the CEO of Coast Digital - a digital marketing agency that prides itself as an agency that thinks about digital marketing “in a different way.” 

What does that mean exactly? Who better to ask than David himself.

Tell us a bit about Coast Digital and how its three main services - digital marketing, UX design, web development - complement one another

In 2020 we must think about audiences and what makes them tick rather than individual channels and digital creativity. Our job as Marketeers is to profile audiences, understand them and then consider their entire user journey, both online and offline. 

We should be thinking about how to get in front of audiences at the right place and the right time with content that’s personalised to them, in a personalised journey. 

Our services are all underpinned by research and Digital Strategy. We help organisations transform the way they think about their Digital ecosystem by putting ‘Users’ at the heart of everything we do. 

Where are you from and how did you get into the industry?

Having studied Marketing at Degree level in Canterbury I got accepted on a graduate intake scheme with e2v (formerly Marconi) working in their Marketing and Comms team. It wasn’t long before I was seconded to the sales team whilst project managing the very first, agency-designed, website.

Despite enjoying working in the manufacturing sector, my passion was always for Marketing and I joined Coast Digital as an account manager in 2007. Managing clients, selling to new prospects and learning more about Digital Strategy gave me a really good grounding in agency life. 

I left Coast to learn about UX at an agency called Tobias and Tobias that specialises in the finance sector – in UX I found a passion – designing for audiences rather than turning out the same old templates – designing user journeys just made sense!

Explain the creative style and process of Coast Digital

Our creative style is formed by User Research. We take data really seriously and spend a lot of time analysing digital performance. This quantitative research is the foundation of most of our projects – even creative ones. We then move on to tools that give us a visual layer on the data, making it easier for us to inform our clients. 

Finally, our audience understanding comes from a mixture of traditional UX techniques such as contextual research where we sit with audiences in their own environments, and technology such as Biometrics that allow us to understand users emotional reactions to digital stimuli.

This process means we understand what the perfect digital experience looks like for customers – it’s tested in a scientific way. That doesn’t mean to say creative isn’t important, it's just heavily tested and refined before we go live.

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How has technology affected the way you guys operate (if at all)?

Technology plays a huge part in our offering, we use a range of tools from Artificial Intelligence-driven marketing channels such as programmatic, to research tools such as Biometrics.

The digital ecosystem our customers operate in changes daily, it's our job to research new entrants to the market and assess everything available to get in front of a prospect at the right place and the right time.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I would like to think I would be working client-side, focusing on the charity sector. I love working with our charity clients and the work is always exciting and makes a difference.

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

I think it's really simple, meeting people. Everyone I get to meet gives me an idea of how we should evolve Coast Digital. Digital Marketing moves at such a quick pace I go into meetings thinking I can learn something. I don’t think you can ever be a (self-titled) ‘guru’ in something that changes so quickly.

Tell us something about your professional life we don’t already know

In my early career, I used to hate the idea of people listening to the calls I made and I was nervous about picking up the phone. 

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

The growth of Coast Digital over the last 6 years is my proudest achievement. It was all about getting the basics right – the right team, belief in our offering, putting the client front and centre and thinking about digital differently.

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How important do you feel individual user experience is in this current creative climate?

I think along with technology, UX is right up there as the most important thing we focus on. We have adapted UX Research and Design to work in both Digital creative and Digital Marketing. 

What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

That we solve the issue with personal data so we can deliver a truly personalised experience – it is the next thing for us to explore beyond what already exists which I still do not believe is fit for purpose. 

Data needs to be understood by policymakers and consumers – it’s an agreement between technology and consumers but trust is involved and our industry hasn’t always been the most ethical place to do business. Imagine how creative we could be if we could truly personalise.

If you could change one thing about the industry what would it be?

That we stop thinking of Digital as a place where we can push content and creative to without much thought because we think it ‘won’t last forever’. 

It’s true, we should think of the digital space as a place to test and learn but we should equally think about how our message resonates with audiences and what part of the message resonates and why. Questioning the ‘why’ leads us to better design decisions and ultimately better campaign performance.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives in the industry?

Push back on client briefs, ask questions, use technology to help research what audiences actually need rather than what’s defined in a brief.

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