“Experiences have become way more important than before,” Bettina Olf says when musing about her decision to join Geometry Group Germany in March as its new chief creative officer. Her career has taken her to some of Germany’s top agencies - Jung von Matt, Springer & Jacoby and, most recently, thjnk Hamburg, where she spent seven years as a creative partner. And that’s not to mention her time as a creative director at Apple, tasked with launching the iPhone into the German market. But she was recently tempted over to Geometry and the world of activation and behaviour after years of working with clients like IKEA, who are focused on the entire customer journey instead of the constraints of traditional campaigns.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Bettina to find out more.
LBB> Since Geometry formed, the industry really has changed and ‘activation’ has become more central in people’s thinking (perhaps in terms of behaviour change or effectiveness). What are your thoughts on that?
BO> Experiences have become way more important than before and we have a whole new understanding of the relationships people have with brands. Once a better dialogue was made possible through digitalisation, the feelings people had toward brands became more important than mere transactions. People want to engage with a brand and, even more importantly, they want to participate. So we are in a collaborative process now and that is a big game changer.
LBB> Why was it a field that you were keen to get involved in?
BO> In the last couple of years I worked closely with clients who were really keen on starting a true dialogue with people across the whole customer journey. For instance, I worked with IKEA for seven years and with them we looked at the many touchpoints that people encounter on their path to forming a relationship with the brand. Understanding how to foster a true give-and-take communication across devices and weaving it into a seamless conversation became much more interesting to me than just running a campaign. When you work that way, you enter into a more collaborative partnership with your clients rather than working in a traditional agency-client structure.
LBB> Did you feel you had to change your mindset or creative approach when you moved over?
BO> Not really. The main task remains the same: finding an idea that can span many channels and inspire people. The way Geometry operates in Germany is that we have technologists, business strategists, innovators, storytellers and retail experts under one roof. They all contribute to shaping a brand and telling its story. The interesting thing for me, and what is different to other agencies I have worked at, is that there are also people who are performance focused and trained in driving conversion. People developing programmes for short-term sales, looking at automation, distribution channels, clever SEO, retail OOH advertising, real-time marketing, promotions at retail, and so on. This diversity ignites interesting discussions and drives the success of our work.
LBB> Which projects since you joined have you been particularly proud of and why?
BO> After two months it is too early to say. Though, we have started a collaboration with Visa and Roland Berger, which has been really interesting as we are showcasing different technologies - like augmented and virtual reality, digital and interactive displays, location analytics - that will help connect online and offline experiences better in the future. It has been really fun and I think it will be a great playground for co-creation.
LBB> How did you get into advertising in the first place? Was it always a plan or more of a happy accident?
BO> My father worked abroad a lot. We went to Algeria, Italy and France and I spent time in a kindergarten in India and later in Sweden. Being exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking so early fostered an interest in communication and learning how to be understood by everybody. The fact that people use different ‘languages’ like music, art or even something like cooking, in order to tell you something, was a realisation I had very early on.
LBB> You spent a chunk of your career at Apple, developing the campaign for the launch of the iPhone into the German market. I’m intrigued to know your thoughts on that experience, working in-house at a brand like Apple? How did it differ from life at an agency?
BO> Working for Apple on the iPhone launch was the first time I worked with a group of people handpicked from five different cultures to come up with something that translated into all these cultures in a similar way. It was almost like a lab – but in a very good way. It was really interesting as we all got along really well, but still realised where we had different thoughts on topics and where those came from (different cultural framing). That was definitely very different from any agency experience I had before.
LBB> What were the biggest lessons you learned from that time?
BO> I learned a lot about teamwork and leadership, not the least of which was listening – really listening – and trying to understand somebody else’s perspective. On a different level, I learned about the nearly tribal relationship that people form with a brand that represents certain values. The way you can interact with consumers, speaking with them directly was really something Apple did way before any other brands I had worked for previously.
LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about advertising right now?
BO> Clients are making new demands and agencies are making big efforts to meet the challenge. We are redefining what the best manifestation of creativity actually is. The industry and people in it are all reinventing and I find that very exiting.
LBB> And the most frustrating?
BO> Reinvention is quite scary to a lot of people. There is always somebody that resents change and wants things to stay as they are. Probably also because adapting to something new takes a lot of energy and not everybody has that energy.
LBB> How do you see the state of the German market right now? Is it healthy or are there things that you think need to change?
BO> Germany is becoming more open as a country. The market used to be quite static but is becoming more fluid, open and varied now. Globalisation and technology are playing much bigger roles than before and disrupting the old agency world. Traditionally that has been met with some discomfort, as Germans have never been at the forefront of embracing new things. But I trust the German capacity for self-reflection and think therefore that we are in the middle of a very healthy process.
LBB> Outside of advertising, what inspires you? And who are your creative heroes?
BO> There is so much that inspires me! I love reading books and enjoy being part of a discussion-oriented book club. I also go to a lot of exhibitions. And of course, given my upbringing, immersing myself in different cultures remains very important to me. I guess you could say that listening with my eyes is my thing since paying attention to life around you always gives you the best ideas. I wouldn’t say I have creative heroes, but I have a deep respect for anybody who can communicate without using words.