In the market for disruption: SapientNitro chief executive Nigel Vaz on consumer expectations

Will Railton
Follow Will
Brands must leverage their assets and cultivate trust, says Nigel Vaz
Most disruptive companies have certain characteristics in common. They adapt constantly to stay ahead of the curve, they are dedicated to digital and deliver excellent customer service. Nigel Vaz, global chief strategy officer and European chief executive of SapientNitro, likens such businesses to gryphons – mythical hybrids with the wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. Mysterious to other apex predators, they target those that sit back and graze.
Part of Sapient, which was bought by Publicis Groupe for $3.7bn this year, SapientNitro was appointed by British Airways as its global digital agency this April, and has established itself as a leader in digital innovation. Vaz tells City A.M. that modern marketing must be about finding ways to make products and services more efficient and usable, and not just ad campaigns.

How can businesses ensure success in the era of disruption?

First, they need a best-in-class digital offer which can compete with the likes of Amazon, but they also need to learn to leverage the assets they have. Many of our retail clients have physical stores where customers can access products immediately. In the case of Marks & Spencer, customers get the opportunity to feel the clothes, try them on, and engage with the staff who can offer recommendations and advice. So we set about creating an ecosystem around that. We moved M&S off Amazon so their products were only sold in their stores and on their site, and helped them to rebuild their platform to deliver a more tailored digital experience. But it is also about cultivating trust. Generations gone by were accepting of a dissonance between what brands say and do, but millennials want authenticity and transparency.

How can brands cultivate trust?

They must devise projects using technology which fulfils the brand’s promises and helps customers. Banking and the fintech space is an interesting example. There is a growing number of startups which allow you to transfer your money and look after your investment portfolio. So how do banks compete? Their strengths are stability and regulation – offering customers peace of mind, whereas fintech firms’ apps and services often just connect customers with lenders.
Our work for RBS and NatWest tried to deliver on their respective pledges: “Here for you” and “Helpful banking” using digital technology. Most people are dissatisfied with not being able to access money if they’ve left their card at home, or wait a week for a new card if they’ve lost theirs. We also identified that people are more likely to leave home without their wallet or card than their mobile, so we came up with “Get Cash” for NatWest. It allows customers to generate a secure code on their mobile to access cash at the ATM. This spawned the idea of texting money, and other innovations which are genuinely helpful to customers.

Is the agency model also facing disruption?

The worlds of consulting, technology, traditional and digital marketing are suddenly converging on a space which puts them into interaction with each other. Customers may buy a product online and want to return it at a store. Traditionally, these services have been siloed, but customers don’t care.
Agencies must build a service-based relationship with clients, rather than one which is built on communication alone. We want to help clients transform their global marketing through digital, and also ensure that whatever they’re advertising fits into a real-world context. We eschew the linear approach of most agencies and we triage a multi-disciplined set of people to come up with a unique solution.
The answer may not be a campaign at all. For example, we worked alongside tech specialists for an Auto Trader project. It had no link connecting those browsing the vehicles with owners looking to sell. So we launched an app which allowed people to take a picture of any car and it would tell them who was selling that car in a five mile radius. It’s about making products and services work in the real world, not just communication.