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Tall’s story of growth – and why it’s stopped calling itself a digital marketing agency

tallagency

Despite its name, size isn’t everything for Tall.

The Leeds agency occupies an extremely plush new office alongside the River Aire on the site of the former Tetley’s brewery.

This part of the city centre feels creative and indeed a number of other agencies are within a short walk.

Tall is one of those under-the-radar agencies that quietly punches above its weight.

Originally launched by Guy Utley as a vehicle for his freelancing exploits – Utley had previously owned an agency called The Digital Consortium before deciding to go solo in 2011 – it steadily grew to 10 staff and in 2016 joined forces with Behrooz Saeed, who had experienced similar growth with his own Huddersfield-based agency, 79.

As well as a meeting of complementary skill sets – Utley the creative, Saeed the operations man – the merger was also a meeting of values.

“Guy’s the yin to my yang,” said Saeed. “I’m very process-driven and very organised and Guy is the polar opposite of that. He’s the left part of the brain. He’s super creative and comes up with some amazing ideas. Our skill sets really complement each other.”

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Tall’s co-owners Guy Utley (right) and Behrooz Saeed


Results were immediate. For the next four years the agency grew at an average annual rate of 30%. Standout projects included the Tour de Yorkshire and the largest ever global campaign by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the world governing body for horse sport, for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

“I always looked at projects from the point of view of: how do we make this look the best or sound the best, while Behrooz was focused on how it could perform the best and how it could be the best experience for the user. Getting that balance right meant that we were creating experiences that were better than our competitors,” explained Utley.

Success led to growth, but in a controlled way that expanded the core senior leadership team, rather than bringing in a raft of juniors. In came Lucy Evans, Daniel Maw and Andy Beckwith, heading up client services, operations and design respectively.

“It has meant we can keep a senior level of engagement with our clients and focus on strategy. We’ve created something we call Gravity® to solidify that way of working,” added Utley.

Another more recent conversation has involved the identity of the agency itself.

For most of its 12 years, Tall has described itself as a digital marketing agency. But that term has become less and less appropriate for the type of service offered by Tall.

“It certainly seems to have changed over the last three years in particular,” said Utley, “with much of the rest of the marketing world – social media, PR, digital marketing, full service – labelling themselves the same way. It’s become quite difficult for us to define ourselves away from everyone else.”

Increasingly during Covid, companies were coming to Tall having deduced that their brands were no longer fit for purpose.

But the more traditional approach to digital transformation – throw together a doorstep-sized brand guidelines document with a token chapter on digital – was increasingly ineffective given the growth of digital outlets and opportunities for a brand’s marketing strategy.

“The problem for brands was that their brand needed to be translated into digital experiences, products, apps, websites and communications, but they didn’t have the guidance for the different teams to use,” said Utley.


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The Tour de Yorkshire has been a standout project for Tall


The result was a hugely inconsistent digital strategy.

Saeed explained: “Take a product team in charge of a mobile app, for example. If there are no rules or guidance around how to use the brand in a mobile app, they’ll just interpret it in a way that they think is relevant. Same for a comms team in charge of an email marketing campaign.

“If you’ve got email, website, motion, sound, all these different things, and there are no rules, then people interpret their own thing. You end up with massive inconsistencies across digital channels.”

So step forward Tall, the digital brand experience agency.

“It’s a new term for us but we’ve essentially been operating like this for the last three years,” said Utley.

“Once we realised what we actually are, we scaled up, tooled up, added the processes in to allow us to offer this service earlier on. Digitisation of brand and digital experiences has become key pillars of what we do.”

He added: “Tone of voice is a really good example. It’s the nearest thing a brand does to help explain their personality. Some brands go to the next level, and they’ll present personality through imagery or graphical elements, but that’s where it stopped with a traditional branding agency.

“Our job is to communicate that personality through the whole digital experience, such as websites, sound, videos, movement, illustrations and all different types of ways. We work out how to translate that personality online, what the guidelines are and how you keep the consistency.”

Tall can point to its recent rebrand of GAP insurance specialist ALA Insurance as a perfect example of this approach.

The North Yorkshire firm wanted “clarity and peace of mind” for its customers, and perhaps the best testament to the success of Tall’s work came from a 91-year-old customer who felt so satisfied with her own experience buying GAP insurance on the site that she sent a complimentary email to ALA.

Tall’s story, Utley and Saeed hope, is only just beginning. Currently at 13 staff and revenue of £1.2million, they have enough room at Brewery place for 25 – but growth for them isn’t just a numbers game.

“It’s not our business model,” added Utley. “Our model is about getting our core team right and then expanding through freelancers when we need to. Boutique to me is fine. Being smarter doesn’t just mean being bigger.”

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