Behind Thread Scenes with Adam, Strategy Director & Partner

 

At Thread, we believe that it’s the people that you “work” with (both colleagues and clients) and the challenges you take on that make “work” exciting and worthwhile. We’ve put work in quotes because we also believe that if it feels like work, then you’re doing it wrong. There is a purpose to all this madness, it’s not just a rat race over here. 

If you’ve ever wondered who makes up our team of Threadsters, here’s a chance to get to know us a bit better and have a peek into our world. If you want to experience it in real life, drop by our office for a chat and see for yourself!


 

Tell us a bit about yourself, what brought you originally to China?

I’ve been fascinated by the ‘far-east’ since a young age, like many boys growing up in the 80’s obsessed with kung-fu movies.  But the main reason I came, was not to study at the Shaolin temple. I came simply because, like many young graduates that we see now, I saw that there was growth and therefore opportunity to be found here, and I’m extremely grateful that China has delivered on this many times over.

I came over as a Graphic Designer originally, but within that role, I have always been more excited by the design thinking process itself and how teams collaborate to craft stories behind design execution.

I came over as a Graphic Designer originally, but within that role, I have always been more excited by the design thinking process itself and how teams collaborate to craft stories behind design execution.

So once our clients started to come to us with more in-depth needs for strategy (as the market matured and became more competitive here in Shanghai), it made sense that I would transition into a more strategic role, and it has been my honour to develop that side of things here at Thread, and eventually to become a partner in the business.

 

Can you tell us something that happened at Thread this week that made you smile?

I’m not the most compulsive smiler in the world I have to say, but one thing that is always guaranteed to bust one out, is one of Harry’s so-bad-it’s-good jokes! On the other hand, I’ve also been told my commitment to costumes have people cracking a few smiles. 

Green Giant for last year’s Halloween party and ‘The Jock’ in the Making of Thread’s Dead

 

What exactly does a Strategy Director do and what keeps you inspired in your role every day?

There is a tendency in the industry to present branding as more complicated than it needs to be, and everyone in this industry will give you a different answer as to the solutions they provide, promise you a different magical process, etc.

In my opinion Branding is simply the job of going beyond the functional benefits of a product and to understand a brand’s competitive strengths, in order to articulate a purpose, then make it clearer and more compelling.  The thing is, that story is already there to be told. In other words, you can’t ‘design’ brands.  

In my opinion Branding is simply the job of going beyond the functional benefits of a product and to understand a brand’s competitive strengths, in order to articulate a purpose, then make it clearer and more compelling.  The thing is, that story is already there to be told. In other words, you can’t ‘design’ brands.  

As a strategist, I see my role as helping teams uncover and align around a story (which is actually much easier said than done!). I use a combination of skills to help stakeholders overcome bias and align around a simplified understanding of the brands purpose in the market and what communication challenges there are in telling that story to the consumer. However, it is that consumer who ultimately decides what the brand stands for.

Once you understand that, you can start designing, working with what you have, getting creative, having fun and prototyping some ideas until you find something that sticks.

 

Are there certain books you’d recommend to someone who is striving to be a Strategy Director? What are you reading right now?

As a strategist I see it as a responsibility to keep my interests broad, therefore I generally shun internet content when it comes to learning (which tends only to put things in front of you that reenforces your current view of the world).  I usually have a number of books on the go at any one time. If you took a look at my bedside table now, you would find a book on the resurgence of formal psychedelic research by Micheal Pollen, ‘A History of China’ by John Keay, and a ‘Let my People go Surfing’ by the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard.

 

What’s been the most challenging or exciting working in this market, day in and day out?

Most exciting thing is the entrepreneurial nature of communications here, it’s so easy to get out there and make connections with people who are doing really interesting and inspiring things.

Pre-client workshop with Justine and Harry

 

Foreign brands used to have a huge advantage entering China, but this isn’t necessarily the case anymore. What’s your take on how the landscape has changed and where it’s headed? 

I wouldn’t say it is true that foreign brands had (or have) a huge advantage, there have been few examples of large corporations that have had big success based on brand value / recognition alone.  The organisations that have thrived, are the ones that have built on the initial intrigue, firstly by actually staying true to that brand value in the early stages as they gain an understanding of the market, then transitioning to create a unique and meaningful connection to the Chinese consumer through innovation of their products or business model.  This is as true now as it was 10-15 years ago.

Interestingly, in contrast, where foreign companies have had to focus on localising for the consumer here in China, when Chinese companies look to move into global markets (which is where the market is heading), their focus for branding is likely to be internal and less external, as they try and adapt traditional eastern business culture and practices to suit international expansion. 

 

What do you imagine China will be like in 10-15 years?

I wish I had the foresight to see how China would develop when I first arrived 11 years ago (I would now be a very rich man), so I’m unlikely to predict precisely the next 10 years.  What I can be sure of is that, unlike many countries, it will be very different than it is today; whether for good or bad, the pace of development and growth is relentless.  

That said, there are a couple of trends that I see continuing.  Firstly, the perception of ‘Made in China’ has shifted in recent years, and if things continue the way they are then the world will increasingly look to China as the innovator.  Linked to this, Chinese are (rightly) becoming more proud of Chinese brands, and will be relying on a rapidly growing local talent pool to continue to drive innovation here. Therefore, it will become increasingly difficult for more traditional foreign products looking to enter the market, and the same can be said for individuals that come looking for work here, unless they have a business idea of their own.

 

What’s one piece of advice you would share to yourself as a fresh graduate?

The industry as a whole is in an interesting place right now, where the definition and role of marketing more generally is being challenged and redefined.  A result of this, for example, is the role of the marketing executive, that is shifting focus from communication tactics, to one of business growth in the broader sense (so we see the introduction of job titles such as Chief Growth Officer).  Alongside this, we see design being integrated more and more into business practices and decision making, and designers having a seat in the boardroom. This is likely only to increase as organisations look to innovate more quickly in order to compete, and also, more importantly for the future, so they can tackle complex issues related to sustainability that will soon become a necessary requirement sooner than we think.

So my advice would be to think more broadly about the role you want to play as a designer / strategist / marketer, and therefore to try and gain experience or knowledge across a range of specialisms or industries before beginning to focus.

Co-Running a Business Design Thinking workshop at WeWork Labs

 

Enjoy the interview with Adam? We’ve got more coming up over the next few months or just drop by our office to get to know us in person!

Up next, Thread’s Managing Partner, Justine Lefebvre.