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Finally, a Brand That Understands Me

Finally, a Brand That Understands Me

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

January 18, 2018

Sam Hornsby, CEO of TRIPTK, explains how his team helps companies understand and actually succeed at tapping into consumer culture.

TRIPTK is cracking the culture for companies. But what exactly does that mean for advertisers? It means that brands can be more relevant and meaningful to the people they’re trying to engage—finally. Sam Hornsby on cracking the culture code.

Tell me a little about your journey.

My fascination with people and culture began as a student of anthropology at Oxford University, where I was able to study social theory and spend time with extraordinary communities, such as yak-herding nomads on the Tibetan plateau and tribes in the Amazon.

Later, I joined Omnicom Group and completed their exclusive Accelerate Management program. It was in that program that I worked across a variety of agency disciplines, and then ultimately landed at Flamingo Group—a global insight and strategy consultancy.

So, I became fascinated by the intersection of research, corporate strategy, the power of big ideas to shape brands, and extension culture. In 2008, I moved from London to New York. And in 2015, I headed up Flamingo New York, where I was proud to see it flourish into a well-regarded agency with a thriving culture and the best client list in the business.

I also lived and worked in Shanghai, studied at Columbia Business School, wrote a few screenplays, earned my skipper’s license, and got married to my wonderful wife, Alexandra.

Honestly, I feel like the real journey is just beginning.

"Focus on building great relationships; these will last longer than you think."

Why Havas?

Havas is making bold moves, and the leadership isn’t afraid to do things differently. I admire that. Havas Group was ahead of the curve in moving to an integrated structure and Village model: I’ve seen the big holding companies suffer without that kind of agility. Now with Vivendi, Havas is uniquely positioned at the intersection of content, entertainment, media, and technology, which brings outsized power to shape cultural conversations. With more than 40 global offices, the joint venture partnership with TRIPTK provides us with an exceptional operating platform for growth amidst a culture of breaking tradition.

So, tell us about TRIPTK.

In the simplest terms, TRIPTK helps companies understand and succeed in consumer culture. We describe that as “decoding and recoding culture” for brands. Essentially, we develop strategies based on real insight into how people think, feel, and act.

What does Triptk mean, and how did you decide on that name?

Well, we were bored stiff by typical agency naming conventions—in our space, there are endless unimaginative variations on words like “labs” or “insight.” We didn’t want to follow that formula. We actually didn’t want a typical brand name at all.

The idea behind TRIPTK is that our brand is composed of three design elements that combine and recombine to create a non-static visual identity. In addition, we’ve always been inspired by the rule of three. It’s a universal cultural phenomena—from the Holy Trinity to the Three Bears—as well as a powerful force in human psychology, and the Rule of Thirds is a guiding force in design. Thirdly (pun intended), it was available.

Define the modern CMO.

Well, obviously the word “modern” in front of a “modern CMO” isn’t defined by how new or trendy their product or portfolio is, although that can be an association. There are plenty of modern CMOs bravely leading strong heritage brands with century-old value propositions into ours, the so-called meta-modern era. The modern CMO approaches the whirlwind of today’s consumer and commercial landscape with curiosity, not fear. With humility, not hubris. With principles, not fixed playbooks. And with the knowledge that contributing value to people’s lives through brands is equivalent to adding value to their bottom line.

What do you believe agencies should provide clients that they’re not now providing?

I’m interested in how agencies can examine client organizations with the same rigor they apply to understanding consumer audiences.

“Brands don’t have to suck. I see better insight as a key way they can improve, and improve people’s lives.”

I’ve often joked, “Clients are people too,” but underneath is an important reminder: Take the time to understand what clients genuinely need, how they want to engage and shop for services, and what their experience is like at every touchpoint. What’s often missing is a genuine spirit of service.

What do you hope to change about the industry?

I hope to disrupt the way that insights—rather than data or information—are obtained and strategically applied. My ambition is to make powerful insights accessible and exciting for all kinds of businesses, from startups to multinationals. Brands don’t have to suck. I see better insight as a key way they can improve, and improve people’s lives.

How do you plan to promote the Together ethos here at Havas?

Since launch, we’ve already rolled up our sleeves alongside Havas teams and departments on new and existing business, and had some great wins. The best way to be Together is to work together and we’re committed to being a productive family member—not a screaming baby or a drunk uncle.

What’s your biggest source of inspiration?

My team. Not a day goes by that I’m not delighted by their ideas and their company.

How do you inspire others?

If there’s anything, I hope it’s the small things—the quality of attention given, the recognition, the awareness, and the care for those around you. It’s your privilege as a leader to have tools to understand your strengths and to receive feedback. I’d like to think we inspire and push each other collectively.

What advice do you have for those just starting their careers?

Many intelligent people enter the world of work and are, perhaps justifiably, underwhelmed. There doesn’t always appear to be an abundance of meaning behind the machinations of corporate life.

My advice is to focus on building great relationships; these will last longer than you think and yield all kinds of rewards. Personally, I’ve also learned that restlessness is a double-edged sword and that patience holds huge power.

More tactically, when I started in the industry the role of strategist was a little different; we were trained with a mining mentality of collecting insights and delivering strategies. Today, we are seeing massive technological disruption to the models of human resources, and that makes those entering the workforce more vulnerable. The strategist of tomorrow acts more like an architect than a miner: weaving data, harnessing technology, and drawing on diverse sources of inspiration to create a blueprint for change.

TRIPTK is cracking the culture for companies. But what exactly does that mean for advertisers? It means that brands can be more relevant and meaningful to the people they’re trying to engage—finally. Sam Hornsby on cracking the culture code.

Tell me a little about your journey.

My fascination with people and culture began as a student of anthropology at Oxford University, where I was able to study social theory and spend time with extraordinary communities, such as yak-herding nomads on the Tibetan plateau and tribes in the Amazon.

Later, I joined Omnicom Group and completed their exclusive Accelerate Management program. It was in that program that I worked across a variety of agency disciplines, and then ultimately landed at Flamingo Group—a global insight and strategy consultancy.

So, I became fascinated by the intersection of research, corporate strategy, the power of big ideas to shape brands, and extension culture. In 2008, I moved from London to New York. And in 2015, I headed up Flamingo New York, where I was proud to see it flourish into a well-regarded agency with a thriving culture and the best client list in the business.

I also lived and worked in Shanghai, studied at Columbia Business School, wrote a few screenplays, earned my skipper’s license, and got married to my wonderful wife, Alexandra.

Honestly, I feel like the real journey is just beginning.

"Focus on building great relationships; these will last longer than you think."

Why Havas?

Havas is making bold moves, and the leadership isn’t afraid to do things differently. I admire that. Havas Group was ahead of the curve in moving to an integrated structure and Village model: I’ve seen the big holding companies suffer without that kind of agility. Now with Vivendi, Havas is uniquely positioned at the intersection of content, entertainment, media, and technology, which brings outsized power to shape cultural conversations. With more than 40 global offices, the joint venture partnership with TRIPTK provides us with an exceptional operating platform for growth amidst a culture of breaking tradition.

So, tell us about TRIPTK.

In the simplest terms, TRIPTK helps companies understand and succeed in consumer culture. We describe that as “decoding and recoding culture” for brands. Essentially, we develop strategies based on real insight into how people think, feel, and act.

What does Triptk mean, and how did you decide on that name?

Well, we were bored stiff by typical agency naming conventions—in our space, there are endless unimaginative variations on words like “labs” or “insight.” We didn’t want to follow that formula. We actually didn’t want a typical brand name at all.

The idea behind TRIPTK is that our brand is composed of three design elements that combine and recombine to create a non-static visual identity. In addition, we’ve always been inspired by the rule of three. It’s a universal cultural phenomena—from the Holy Trinity to the Three Bears—as well as a powerful force in human psychology, and the Rule of Thirds is a guiding force in design. Thirdly (pun intended), it was available.

Define the modern CMO.

Well, obviously the word “modern” in front of a “modern CMO” isn’t defined by how new or trendy their product or portfolio is, although that can be an association. There are plenty of modern CMOs bravely leading strong heritage brands with century-old value propositions into ours, the so-called meta-modern era. The modern CMO approaches the whirlwind of today’s consumer and commercial landscape with curiosity, not fear. With humility, not hubris. With principles, not fixed playbooks. And with the knowledge that contributing value to people’s lives through brands is equivalent to adding value to their bottom line.

What do you believe agencies should provide clients that they’re not now providing?

I’m interested in how agencies can examine client organizations with the same rigor they apply to understanding consumer audiences.

“Brands don’t have to suck. I see better insight as a key way they can improve, and improve people’s lives.”

I’ve often joked, “Clients are people too,” but underneath is an important reminder: Take the time to understand what clients genuinely need, how they want to engage and shop for services, and what their experience is like at every touchpoint. What’s often missing is a genuine spirit of service.

What do you hope to change about the industry?

I hope to disrupt the way that insights—rather than data or information—are obtained and strategically applied. My ambition is to make powerful insights accessible and exciting for all kinds of businesses, from startups to multinationals. Brands don’t have to suck. I see better insight as a key way they can improve, and improve people’s lives.

How do you plan to promote the Together ethos here at Havas?

Since launch, we’ve already rolled up our sleeves alongside Havas teams and departments on new and existing business, and had some great wins. The best way to be Together is to work together and we’re committed to being a productive family member—not a screaming baby or a drunk uncle.

What’s your biggest source of inspiration?

My team. Not a day goes by that I’m not delighted by their ideas and their company.

How do you inspire others?

If there’s anything, I hope it’s the small things—the quality of attention given, the recognition, the awareness, and the care for those around you. It’s your privilege as a leader to have tools to understand your strengths and to receive feedback. I’d like to think we inspire and push each other collectively.

What advice do you have for those just starting their careers?

Many intelligent people enter the world of work and are, perhaps justifiably, underwhelmed. There doesn’t always appear to be an abundance of meaning behind the machinations of corporate life.

My advice is to focus on building great relationships; these will last longer than you think and yield all kinds of rewards. Personally, I’ve also learned that restlessness is a double-edged sword and that patience holds huge power.

More tactically, when I started in the industry the role of strategist was a little different; we were trained with a mining mentality of collecting insights and delivering strategies. Today, we are seeing massive technological disruption to the models of human resources, and that makes those entering the workforce more vulnerable. The strategist of tomorrow acts more like an architect than a miner: weaving data, harnessing technology, and drawing on diverse sources of inspiration to create a blueprint for change.

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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