Chris Gokiert - Critical Mass Agency

Building a Competitive Edge on Experience

We caught up with Chris Gokiert, President of Critical Mass, about the agency and how it’s navigating the times we’re in. Chris reveals that Critical Mass is staying true to its roots and values, finding innovative modes of resilience, and helping clients evolve naturally with a shifting marketplace.

Critical Mass describes itself as a “digital marketing and experience design agency with a relentless focus on the customer.” In other words, they can apply their expertise across a brand’s entire digital ecosystem—technology platforms, media, marketing, social, site, apps, digital commerce, online-to-offline, and beyond. The agency started in Calgary in 1996 and is now operating from 11 offices with over 950 employees.

Read on to learn insights from Chris on how the agency capitalized on building quality digital experiences that transcend brands.

CM growth over a little more than two decades is an excellent achievement in itself. Do you think such growth would be possible if the story would be rewritten starting in the 2010s?

Yes and no. Pretty much everyone had a major reset in 2008, including us. So, in a way, our story (like everyone’s) changed from that point onward. We’ve spent the last decade or so providing what our clients needed and what their customers demanded. So, I’m sure we would have followed a similar path no matter the timeline. That said, we had a great head start and a solid reputation thanks to the prior decade.

What market dynamic will shape the future of the industry for agencies and marketers in the long term (10 years)?

In a word—technology.

I’m sure that’s not a surprising answer. But technology has always had, and will always have, a massive impact on customer habits and consumption. On the other side of a coin, a company’s ability to deliver their products, services, data, automation, and so forth is also enabled by technology. It’s one of the most pervasive and disruptive forces our clients and industry face—which can be positive or negative, of course!

In July, CM launched a new practice centered around Employee Experience. Did this new offer come from existing clients’ requests? Is it linked with the pandemic?

We’ve actually been delivering employee experiences for years—well over a decade. Last fall, we stepped back and looked at the depth of experience we’d accumulated and had an epiphany. Why not pull it together as a formal offering? When the pandemic hit, we monitored the situation on a lot of fronts. As our clients increasingly expressed interest in something like digital employee experience improvement, we decided to roll out the practice area officially.

Adding to this, in which ways have client demands evolved over the past few months? 

We’re seeing clients get focused on their digital experiences in a broad sense. For clients with many channels, digital was always important, but it was one of many. Now, digital has moved to the center. All of the work we’re doing, along with the fact that we’re very busy, speaks to the macro shift we’re seeing.

How have agency-client relationships evolved during this period?

Almost all of our relationships have gotten deeper. Like I was saying before, digital is at the center of our clients’ brands like no other time in our history. And clients are looking for us to help them out. We’ve always been a company that built strong, long-term relationships with our clients. We trust each other and push each other to get better. That type of relationship flourishes in our current environment.

What challenges and opportunities do you see coming in 2021 (short term)?

From a leadership perspective, I see uncertainty on the home and business front—all being disrupted. In addition, our home and work worlds have blended. The impact on each of us is all encompassing and sometimes overwhelming, and there are changes every day. In general, uncertainty also makes it difficult to plan. That said, it looks like the challenges we are currently facing will continue to evolve. That means we’ll need to keep being there for our clients. Some will need us to help them make the digital improvements they had been putting off, while others will need our help in taking a leap forward in an increasingly competitive digital landscape. One of the things we’re doing extremely well is helping our clients grab hold of the opportunities that exist at the frontiers of both data and design. For example, we’re using advanced insights-generation thanks to proprietary tools that are powered by automation and AI. We can create precision marketing programs that guide customers through the digital marketing funnel all the way to the landing page (or home page or e-commerce experience). And we’re designing advanced product experiences through the aid of emerging technologies to make sure that commerce amounts to nothing less than a unique brand experience in itself.

What is CM planning or doing to prepare for the future?

Our values are the foundation of how we treat both each other and our clients. Motivated teammates and clients provide stability for the future. On top of that, we have a deep (and evolving) toolset and set of services that helps us provide experiences that will improve customers’ lives. This mindset has always put us in a strong and future-focused position, and, now, it’s more important than ever.

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