Proximity: The future is customer

If you’ve been anywhere near the marketing industry’s abundant awards scene this year, you will have heard about Spark NZ’s Made For You Review programme. We chat with Proximity, who played a vital role in pulling this piece of award-winning work together, and ultimately creating a win-win for client and customer.

With a belief that technology will liberate individuality and fuel customer growth, it’s no surprise that Proximity has been behind some highly awarded pieces of marketing work this year. 

The 2023 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards Supreme Winner, Spark’s Made For You Review was one such piece of work. The result of Proximity’s smart use of technology and data, drove business wide transformation, created a blueprint for how to launch and embed a new proposition, and created a true brand experience across multiple channels. Importantly, it also helped Spark customers see which plan was right for them. 

Proximity has made a name for itself as the holistic tech and data-savvy agency, suited for clients with complex tech and data problems that need to be solved. “Traditionally agencies are anchored in content creation and Proximity offers a much broader range of services than content on its own,” Managing Director Clint Bratton says. “We’re part consultancy, part data partner and part agency.”

Proximity offers a skillset that covers data analytics, MarTech, AdTech, performance media, and creative content, prioritising problem-solving and embracing technology to create meaningful brand content for every moment in the customer journey.

“Made For You Review is a perfect summary of how these disciplines and our business come together,” he says.

While Clint has only been in the role of Managing Director at Proximity since August 2023, it’s safe to say this is not his first rodeo.

About twenty years ago he was the Director of Strategy at Proximity, before moving to Sydney where he worked in a number of agencies, most recently with DDB, running its personalised marketing agency.

In fact, 30 years ago, he was also behind the decision to buy a piece of software that allowed Proximity to be the first in New Zealand to personalise email content. And not being afraid of change has resulted in a hunger to be at the forefront of technology, where it betters customer outcomes.

“Change – and what’s possible with technology – is constantly evolving, and culturally, we embrace that,” Clint says. “We love being at the forefront of innovation and our people are all curious and constantly engaged in sharing what’s new, what’s coming. The core belief is that we love transformative technology, always have.”

Nathalie Philippsen, Proximity’s Director of CXM, says over the course of her career she has seen the business evolve from its roots in the CXM space to brand and retail and refocusing on tech, data and CXM.

Unlike other offerings, Proximity is focused on working closely with clients to determine a business problem then embedding the team across the entire business to solve it.

“We don’t work like a traditional agency, where someone just gives you a brief and then you execute on it,” she says. “Our process starts with customer strategy consulting. So for this example, we’ve partnered with Spark to understand the customer, identifying common truths we need to solve for.”

In the case of Spark and Made For You Review, it was clear that customers didn’t feel as though telcos were being sufficiently transparent.

“For us it was about really digging into why people were leaving – because it’s very murky for people to understand whether they’re getting value. How we approached this project comes from that customer insight, and then going, okay, what is actually going to be the right approach from there?”

She adds that a key part of Proximity’s work is advocating for the customer, then unifying siloed departments, to get the entire businesses on board.

“I often call it the translation layer. There can be really complex conversations, so it is how do you be that translator between your clients and those teams or those capabilities, but equally for the customer as well. They can be very complex products. So how do you translate that in a customer-centric way and simple way?”

A key part of being effective at this work is just grasping an age-old, and perhaps one could argue, underutilised, skill, she muses – listening.

“It’s funny isn’t it? It’s really just about recognising that we are all people and everyone just wants to do a really great job. For me, it’s not about telling a client what to do, it really is about listening to them and their capabilities and their team, and our own team, to really understand what we need to do to make it work. I think listening is really underrated.”

Measurement is another key part of creating a successful piece of work in this world, she adds.

“We do a lot of business casing for clients, to make sure that we are really clear on what we’re going after. I think teamwork is all about coming together around measurement as well, and not making that scary, but making it something that we can all work towards no matter who you are in
the business.”

Executive Strategy Director, Kate De Marco, says her work is very much focused on the big picture and this was a big part of creating the Made For You Review programme.

“We are in a great position with Spark where we really have a deep partnership with them. More than traditional agencies where something starts with the client coming up with a brief and then briefing you on the problem. We’re really involved with them and their business, and so this piece of work came out of deep conversations with them.”

Right from the beginning, Proximity focuses on finding the sweet spot of solving business and customer challenges, offering innovative solutions beyond traditional communication agencies, emphasising, and enhancing customer experiences and relationships by considering broader factors that impact customer relationships throughout the project.

The agency plays a pivotal role in bridging various touchpoints within the organisation, including in-store interactions, call centres, and internal processes, to create a unified customer experience. Here the focus is not just on communication but on driving substantial results and transforming customer relationships.

Its success lies in overcoming the challenges of organisational silos by aligning the entire business around the common goal of delivering exceptional customer experiences.

While this might not necessarily sound creative by traditional standards, creativity, by definition, is required when thinking outside the box and solving problems.

“When you’re pushing into new territories and doing something new, you have to be creative about how you knit things together, so that definitely plays a part. Everyone bringing that approach,” Kate explains.

She says the Made For You Review programme required Proximity to think about the relationship the client has with its customers and how that comes to life.

“You can liken it to any relationship with a human being. Traditional mass campaigns are doing a different job to if you’re having an intimate one-to-one conversation with a customer. In one-to-one conversations, you shouldn’t just talk about yourself, you shouldn’t shout at them, you shouldn’t act like you’ve never met them before. It’s all of those basic etiquettes in a relationship. We apply all of that to our thinking.”

She says while some might question whether relationship is too strong of a word for the interaction between a company and a customer, customers are emotive when they are unhappy with a service.

“You just have to look at social media,” she says. “The comments that people write when they’re upset with a business, it comes across almost like a breakup. ‘I can’t believe that you did this to me, or you treated me this way.’ So very clearly, customers are emotional about how they’re interacting with businesses.

“The more businesses can recognise that emotion in the relationship, I think it can be quite powerful.” 

This article was first published in our December/January 2023/2024 issue.

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