Austin, United States
A trio of former ad execs recently formed Current Forward, a consumer insights and brand strategy consultancy. We spoke with the company’s founders to learn more about Current Forward’s one-of-a-kind blend of strategy, creative and analytical insights, and why three brains are better than one.
Please tell us about Current Forward and the three partners – what do you do and why did you form the company?
We’re a consumer insights and brand strategy consultancy that helps brands find fresh ways to be relevant. Using consumer and design research as a foundation, Current Forward develops brand positioning and communication approaches that help companies drive culture and business.
Brands most often partner with us to conduct research, establish or evolve their position in the marketplace, or create a holistic marketing experience strategy.
We started Current Forward in 2019 at the very beginning of what we saw as the “great reset” in the marketing and advertising industry. We anticipated that industry dynamics would start to shift towards smaller, specialized shops built to support internal agency teams. That’s how we see ourselves — as an extension of a consumer insights, brand marketing or experience design team. We love that we can come in as a small SWAT team, bring an outside perspective, and quickly get work done that makes an impact.
Can you elaborate a bit on your specific positions and the role you each play within Current Forward?
We’re strategists and therefore generalists, but we play to our strengths.
We can all flex across different types of research and strategy but our backgrounds and past careers often direct who leads each project.
For example, Ashley is a former Creative Director who worked across advertising and digital products, so she most often leads our creative, messaging and experience design projects.
Scott, a former Strategic Account Lead and Business Strategist, leads our qualitative and quantitative research projects.
Lillian, a former Comms Planner and Product Marketer, leads our brand positioning and marketing campaign projects.
One thing that’s true about everyone at Current Forward is that we have an insatiable appetite to learn, both striving to excel in our respective areas but also to expand our skill sets.
What is it about the advertising world that you love and that keeps you in what is admittedly a difficult business?
In terms of the work we do, we’re motivated to make a positive impact on the end consumers we’re building and designing for, and ultimately communicating with. Everything we do starts with audience work. What we care most about is adding value to their lives, understanding them deeply, and doing no harm.
In terms of how we do the work, it’s all about collaboration with good, solid partners who are human in their approach. Fun meetings, good attitudes, and motivation through positivity.
How often do the three of you collaborate together on projects and how does that process play out and influence your work output for clients?
We collaborate on every project. We truly believe that three minds are better than one. We build our partnerships and projects to first and foremost deliver on our clients’ needs, but also to provide value through our collective expertise. For example, we’re currently working on a brand positioning initiative where one of us is leading and the other two are constantly thinking about and contributing to the work. We care first and foremost about being proud of the work we deliver, not on maximizing our margin. We’ll spend extra time on something, even if it’s not in scope, just because we care and won’t settle for something we’re not proud of.
Speaking of clients, why do they hire Current Forward?
Our clients are leading big brands. They’re busy. They are dedicated to their teams, partners and their companies. Their calendars are jam packed.
Brand marketing leads tell us they need more hours in the day to think strategically about where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. They hire us to do that thinking with them and to get our outside perspective based on our work across lots of different industries.
Consumer insight teams tell us they need a partner who can think innovatively about research methods while creating deliverables that truly engage their internal teams. They hire us because we deliver succinct, multi-sensory reports that get internal teams to truly empathize with their audiences and are extremely clear and actionable.
The work we do with our clients gets put into briefs for other agencies to execute against so we are hired as co-creators and collaborators who give our clients time back.
Is there one project you’ve done that bears the Current Forward strategic stamp of excellence?
WW (formerly Weight Watchers) came to us asking to better understand men’s approach to weight loss and wellness. Using our proprietary mobile diary tool, we designed a remote study to go deep into men’s routines, needs and beliefs both at large and within the WW mobile app. We worked with both their consumer insights and behavioral science team to craft the prompts and activities we asked participants to complete. While we’re not at liberty to share the findings, the project exceeded even our expectations. The insights were extremely rich and actionable for both product and marketing teams, and our output resembled more of a highlight reel of opportunities than a typical findings report.
Pick a category where Current Forward is an expert. What do you see as the biggest challenge or opportunity for that specific market?
We’ve done a lot of research with Gen Z lately. This might sound trite, but if you don’t understand how Gen Z is discovering, engaging with and shopping for your brand or within your category, you need to do the work to get smart. We’ve learned some really eye-opening things about how Gen Z shops for beauty and skincare products and athletic apparel, for example. If you’re making assumptions about how to reach and engage Gen Z, or worried about being relevant to younger generations, let’s connect. We’re extremely passionate about talking to this group, and we’re structuring our research methods and tools to mirror how they already connect and communicate in order to increase interest and engagement.
Look into your crystal ball: where do you see marketing going and are brands ready?
Like everything we do, it starts by looking at the consumer. We anticipate an exponential acceleration of people finding new and different ways to connect with one another and brands.
And we see people’s behaviors, preferences and patterns changing at an increasing rate. Are marketers ready? Those who are having ongoing conversations with their audiences, and at the same time investing in marketing innovation, might be. And of course each brand has to think about their resources vs the financial upside of a more splintered approach as consumer attention continues to become decentralized. But the right answer for your brand starts with always-on discussions with your audiences. Not just listening, but a true two-way dialogue. We’re working with brands to set up communities that they can engage with on an ongoing basis — not communities that feel scientific or anonymous, but rather, intimate and connected communities that are living, breathing focus groups who are invited and enabled to co-create the future of brands.