Why big brands need small agencies: AMEX and B-Roll

chello, agency, designers, creative, workshop


“Agile” is the word du jour of start-ups wheeling and dealing in software and creative processes. It’s the antithesis of big brands with plenty of reputation at risk; “agile” is the war-cry and natural mantra of small teams that have little to lose, plenty to gain and a hell of a lot of drive.

But that’s not to say that larger brands can’t participate in fast, iterative and fallible creative practice. This is where the (right) small agency thrives. As a middleman between big brands and creative products and solutions, multidisciplinary agencies offer a world of quick, risky thinking to tap into. That’s what struck me at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival held in New York City this week when I heard about B-Reel  – a full-service production come creative agency –  and their “flat, fast and fun” process. It might be what struck American Express when they called on B-Reel a few weeks ago.

Amex had an interesting challenge: how could B-Reel make their Concierge service more relevant to the way people communicate today? Concierge is a pivotal feature of Amex’s cards, allowing you to call or e-mail and request almost anything that’s possible (and legal). Entertainment tickets and dining reservations make up a significant part of their incoming requests.

There was no creative brief, no particulars, just the challenge to make an existing service more in tune with today and increase interaction.

B-Reel gave themselves two weeks to put together their first prototype. It’s majestically simple in concept: spend time on delivery, not promises. There’s only a certain level of excitement a client can have for a timeline, but the idea of having a functional product in only two weeks? That’s far more tantalising.

First B-Reel considered the communication environments that people are already embedded in. We all know how to send an e-mail or pick up the phone, but most of us are glued to messaging platforms all day and night. And if you’ve only given yourself a fortnight, you go to the platform that’s open to integration. B-Reel landed on Slack.

Next they looked for APIs that were open and documented. Bingo! Ticketmaster had exactly that. An Amex Concierge Slackbot was born.

By looking to what was already available B-Reel didn’t spend time inventing a bespoke messaging platform for Amex. They had the double advantage of playing in a space that was already populated (we all have enough login details to remember...) and didn’t waste time building a ‘destination’ product which would need to attract an audience.

So how does it work? Send your Concierge a Kanye GIF and it’ll tell you the dates for the Life of Pablo tour. Tell it you want to go to a concert next week but you’re not sure what to see and it’ll offer suggestions based on what you like. Or just tell it you want to see a particular concert and it’ll process the sale. And if you’re buying tickets with a friend and it’ll manage splitting the cost too.

Two weeks to prototype doesn’t mean you can neglect testing, role-playing, and customer-empathy. All of this was necessary to create a bot that responds to and uses natural language. It’s a lesson for all product, content and experience design: never forget your end-user and you won’t ever have to retrofit the human element.

Approached only three weeks ago, Amex and B-Reel debuted their Slack bot this Tuesday at the Innovation Festival. While they’re still improving and iterating the product, by making that first step a big leap (instead of a timid toe in the water) they can spend more time refining and detailing the product. Their agile and partnership approach to a blurry brief got me very excited for the future of big brands working with the little guys.

B-Reel’s process is a series of lessons for small teams working with big brands. First, use your size to move fast. When without a detailed brief, give yourself the limit of time, so that then instead of reinventing the wheel you’ll spend time connecting the dots between existing points. Also? Be your own customer instead of philosophising about them. Lastly: spend the minimum amount of time getting to your first iteration so that your time can be spent making something that is beautiful, not merely functional.

After all, a prototype is much better than a slide deck to prove the idea, amirite?

After a week of intense fast-track sessions all throughout NYC, I have come away with so many insights, answers, and thought-provoking conversations. B-reel are one example of a small agency who don't hold the same risk as the big guys, they can bring ideas across sectors together to experiment, explore and expedite creation, and that is something not even the worlds best concierge can deliver.


Lindsay RogersComment