Katherine Stewart and Kylie Henry are principals of Studio Forum.
Tell me a little bit about Studio Forum. When it started and why? And what it does?
Answer: Forum is a communications and branding studio that was founded in 2012 by its principals Katherine and Kylie. We began Forum because we were hungry to dig deeper into ‘the why’ behind clients asking for communications services – we wanted our work to have substantial impact.
We both had significant experience, but found ourselves limited by the parameters set by companies we were working for in how far we could exercise our own thinking. We also identified a sizable gap in the market between agencies who offered great creative work and agencies who offered brand research and strategy, but not one who was doing both well.
And in our opinion, you won’t achieve optimal results without both of these attributes working in tandem. So we branched out on our own to bridge the gap of using market intelligence to inform creative solutions, which helps our clients meaningfully connect with their audiences.
I understand you were once concentrated on the oil and gas side of the business. How did you make the transition into new territory?
A: When Forum began, oil was well over $100 and we both have significant industry experience, so it was a natural fit for us. The Alberta energy sector will always be one we proudly work in. Especially in these times, our energy clients need our support more than ever. However, when the downturn started a few years back, diversification became a necessity for survival.
At the time it was stressful venturing out of what felt comfortable for us, but it has really been a huge blessing, not only as business people but also as creatives. We transitioned into new industries by literally saying, “Who do we want to work with?”
From there, we cold called, got introduced to companies, attended networking events and worked hard to get our name into new industries. We have gotten to work with some amazing entrepreneurial companies, many born out of the recession, and walking beside them as they hustle and fight for their market share fuels our own creative and entrepreneurial tanks.
What does it mean to create a confident brand?
A: A confident brand has a deep and authentic understanding of who they are as a company, where they’re headed and why it should matter to their audiences. They take an active interest in understanding the needs and priorities of their audiences and ensuring there are active dialogue channels between them.
A confident brand expresses their differentiators in a unique and meaningful way – this is as important as ensuring the books are balanced and operations are running smoothly. This approach transcends the physical features of a product or service offering. It reflects the company’s intangible attributes to capture the minds and hearts of audiences, and seemingly without effort, confidently stands out from the crowd.
What do companies need to do to grow their businesses in this type of an economy?
A: Communications and marketing is often one of the first things to have cut back when times get tough. In our opinion, this is one of the areas that needs to be maximized to keep your audiences educated and engaged so they remain confident contributors as employees, customers or investors.
A proactive company will take an honest self-assessment and identify areas that need to be cut back, leveraged or ditched, and then evolve their business plan accordingly. Part of this planning needs to incorporate their audiences’ needs and priorities – understanding and communicating how the company will continue to serve their audiences is critical. People want transparent communications – as soon as communications channels shut down and people don’t feel their needs are being met, they lose trust and ultimately a company loses a stakeholder.
Employees want to understand how their role is contributing to the larger company vision and customers want to ensure their resources are being spent on a company that reflects their values. And this is where audience research is worth its weight in gold. If you’re able to express your company offering in a way that meets audience needs, and in the manner they like to be communicated to, you’ve got yourself a confident brand set to weather hard times.
What should every brand be thinking of as they plan for 2019 and beyond?
A: Quite simply, confident branding is good for business, especially in Calgary’s current economic climate. Taking an audience-centric and research-based approach to business is where the strong companies excel, and we build brands around this exact premise.
A well-informed and executed brand gives businesses an edge over the competition and the data is there to back it up. Over 64 per cent of audiences attribute clearly communicated shared values as a reason for them to trust a brand, while 94 per cent attribute distrust from poorly constructed, written and designed communications – with a company website being the most notable source of brand communications.
The business forecast for Albertans is uncertain and worrisome for many, but we are a province of resiliency, creative thinking and, yes, confidence. As we move our economy forward during turbulent times, we believe the brands that know who they are and clearly communicate their values will win.
The question today isn’t whether you can afford to invest in communications and your brand, it’s whether you can afford not to.
– Mario Toneguzzi