Why One Creative Agency is Banking On SaaS (And Big Data)

GinLaneEmmett Shine’s Bowery-based agency Gin Lane Media is not your everyday 25-person creative shop.

The agency had early roots in women’s apparel; its founder and CEO began T-shirt company LOLA New York in 2005 while circumnavigating the downtown New York design and art scene.

After securing a number of small projects that landed SeamlessWeb and Rocawear as clients, one thing led to another and Shine’s agency, which ramped up in 2008, was retained as creative and digital agency for Adidas by Stella McCartney.

“We bid on it, won and we had no technological understanding of what we had just gotten in to,” Shine said. “It was a global account with local markets and translations. … That really kicked us off going down a more digital route, which beget a lot of more progressive, minimal interfaces for websites and getting into some native application installations that we did with some of the fashion brands.”

This project led to interactive work such as Kors Concierge, which brought handbags to life at the Michael Kors shop at Macy’s Herald Square. Gin Lane also developed a personal style app to bridge the worlds of virtual and physical for J. Crew. Now, with more than 10 engineers on staff, Gin Lane is developing a software-as-a-service tool for businesses to connect commerce data with mobile apps and other loyalty data. It will go by the name “Pattern.”

Shine spoke to AdExchanger about developing a B2B tool and why data is critical to the creative.

AdExchanger: How are you thinking about offline and online creative?

EMMETT SHINE: We did work in Macy’s for Michael Kors and as we did these storefront initiatives, we realized the real play [for commerce] was inside the store, which led us to an in-store application with J. Crew. What we determined was that we could not access a lot of the black-box data that brands had. You play with an application in the store and you wish you could, after seeing a cool editorial piece, see a live planogram of where those items are in the actual store or do in-store purchasing off of a more robust, customer-facing application or save the information to a unique profile and access it on your mobile phone or when you’re on the ecommerce site later.

So, behind the scenes, there’s a lot of disconnected data siloes for these legacy and third-party solutions and, coming from a very design-oriented background, we’ve become more like back-end framework engineers and plumbers in the last year because we needed to solve the disconnect between data for [our customers]. Commerce can be very disconnected kind of space. … They’re all consumer-facing and they have the behind-the-scenes, enterprise kind of SaaS software solutions that don’t always speak when you’re in the physical with the digital and the mobile.

We’re not doing as much campaign work anymore. I’d say we’re more productcentric. But when you do a campaign with L’Oreal or Michael Kors and you have your toolkits and translations and social, and all that that encompasses with the satellite properties –  you have your Facebook, your microsite, your ecommerce and you’ll have something out-of-home and in-store – trying to synchronize between all of these not just for messaging and timing and logistics, but technologically, that’s where you can run into problems when you’re transacting this piece of data and it goes to Macy’s [for example] and Macy’s inventory doesn’t speak with the proper brand, which goes to a third-party partner for fragrance-licensing, which doesn’t speak to the social information, it can definitely be a mess if you’re a fan of balancing the qualitative with the quantitative.

How does your large-brand client mix stack up against the startup – from a data perspective?

We’ve [worked] with Reformation and Harry’s [and Saturdays] – [some of which are] multimillion-dollar businesses that are — quote, unquote — ‘smaller businesses’ and we can start from scratch a little more in solving their infrastructural problems and as we do that, I think we’ll have more proven theses of connected commerce that can help out a lot of comparable businesses with their needs. A lot of them will use Magento, Shopify, Xcart for Web or, if they’re smaller, maybe Lightspeed or Breadcrumb or ShopKeep. If they’re a little larger, they’re using Demandware or Micros. The integration can happen between the APIs, per se, but they’re not done in [a way that integrates] information for all of the stores, ecommerce, CRM, wholesale, interactions with customers and then giving them a connected kind of experience with the unique identifier, for example, loyalty customers — online and in-store and having information that transfers over.

More brands are looking for a one-point entry in admin, where if you’re managing rich content that’s put out, or if you’re looking at analytics for what’s going on online or in-store or what that customer’s profile information is. I think that’s not even the future. I think it’s about to be ‘the necessary to have’ to retain the competitive edge.

You’re developing a platform yourself.

We are working on a proprietary middleware solution that is kind of a hub-and-spoke piece and we are using components of it now with some of the brands we’re working with. The plan [to develop commercially] is next year. We have been working on it for over a year and it is tricky to build up the code set and having it working in the wild and having all the different integration points that make sense. We have some of the feature sets up and running, but having it shiny and out of the box for base mode, professional model, enterprise model – that’s what we’re working on.

Do you want to be known as a creative agency with a technological underpinning?

My background is art and design and I sold clothes with LOLA for awhile. It’s a lot of fun connecting with fans and customers. … I think commerce is cool because you can bring additional context to inanimate objects, but you can also see the results. There’s real data. We’ve done a ton of portfolio sites and are working an interactive art show this fall, but commerce is a good way of gauging, ‘Can you make this work?’ It’s transactional. A transaction is a piece of information or data that goes between many different systems. It comes back and has to check, check, check and approve, approve, approve and, as a customer, will they actually go through that process and what percentage did statistically? There’s a lot of quantifiable metrics of how effective you can be.

Do you think creative can design and absorb and use data equally well? Do you push your team to get more data-driven?

Look at the history of the Internet and adaptation. It started at the enterprise level and then it became consumers first adapting new technologies and businesses following. Now, you have a blend where enterprise solutions like a Salesforce.com or a Dropbox, etc., have more of a blended consumer type of approach and model. It’s like the food truck models that whiz around using Twitter and Square and they’re reinventing the traditional ways one would think a business would operate. I think adopt and die is the only way you can deal with how exponentially fast the landscape is changing. Anyone who doesn’t pay attention to data is a fool. Catch me at a gallery any time, but only a fool doesn’t look at the numbers.

Our whole thing is [to] go into an arena we don’t know. It’s taking a macro look at the space and the opportunity. In 2013 and 2014, being in the digital creative space in New York City, you can sit here and modularly pump out sites and marketing campaigns and make some money, or you can really be a part of change. Not to say that I am, but the space we are in is reappropriating the way we interact with the world around us. In that regard, were always trying to put ourselves in places where we can move beyond a little, even if it’s just a couple of percentage points. I look at the creative industry as a dinner party or a cocktail party – can you add to the conversation and advance it?

What’s on the roadmap for the next 12 months?

To build out more in-the-wild tests as a cohesive piece and start releasing the product we’ve been working on early to mid-next year, which is essentially starting a new business.

The solution will be a SaaS product businesses would use to help connect their commerce, data and CRM for in-store, online and mobile that will hopefully be powerful and easy. And then, the other goal is to continue to do more innovative experiential initiatives combining that which is digital and physical from machinery to spaces to diving more deeply into gesture, I think, is so fun. The Internet of things.

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