Danny Somekh is the founder and CEO of Huddle Creative, an award-winning design consultancy that aims to help transform ambitious businesses into meaningful brands. Danny has over 25 years in the industry with past clients including BT, Samsung, Mulberry, JLL, Mayo Clinic, Skype, and Unilever, among others. He focuses on helping businesses and brands get clarity over the direction they need to take, so they can move forward confidently with pace and purpose.
When I heard about Huddle I was curious about their positioning at the intersection of branding and digital. And after spending a little time on their site, I became even more curious: What are “Daft Assumptions” and “Brandflakes,” I wondered. Add to that the many interesting blog posts Danny has written, and I was eager to get him on the blog for a Q&A and learn a bit more about what makes him—and Huddle—tick. (Spoiler alert: Turns out it’s partly a mix of good coffee, Arsenal football, podcasts, and learning French.)
Huddle is a “branding and digital agency.” Why combine those two service categories? What makes Huddle different from other agencies?
You have “pure play” branding agencies and technology/innovation-focused digital agencies. Our experience from quite a few years back now, when the worlds of branding and digital collided, was that … you can’t have one without the other. So, unless you’ve got a distinctive identity, a really clear strategy, a well-defined culture, values that are lived, not laminated, and you understand your positioning and place in the world, then you can’t necessarily offer the experiences through digital channels that are going to get the engagement that you’re looking for.
In other words, products and services are an expression of your brand, not the other way around.
One of the examples I look at of digital experience, where it’s very intertwined with branding, is if you think about Tinder, with a swipe left and swipe right, that’s as much as part of their brand, if not more, than anything relating to their visual identity.
So, the worlds have collided, and there’s a possibility that sometime in the future, the word “digital” doesn’t really exist because we’re living in a digital world anyway, and it’s not necessarily just a separate channel, but more the environment that we live and work in. This is pretty much where we have reached now.
So, that was the reason why we’ve positioned ourselves as a branding and digital agency. On the digital side, you’ve got the more technology-focused organizations and agencies, but they might not get some of the softer storytelling and psychological factors that we need to understand when it comes to good, effective branding.
In a nutshell, we are talking about the heart and the head really coming together to create a much more coherent and authentic experience for people.
Huddle has been in business for over 10 years. What’s changed? What advice do you have to anyone hoping to start their own agency now?
The first piece of advice is really, don’t do it!
And the second piece of advice (which is considerably less facetious) is: if you are going to start your own agency, try and understand your real motivation behind that. There are other ways of making money, and possibly better ways of making money. So, really try and understand why you are thinking about doing it. If you’re doing it because you’ve got the skills to do it, ask yourself “What else do I need to not just sell those skills, but to actually build a sustainable business that offers value consistently?” Most people don’t realize what they’re getting themselves into when starting an agency, or any business, because they’ve mastered their craft and want to offer it to the world under their own banner. They soon find out the craft is the easy bit—winning work, building relationships, caring for staff—that’s where the real work comes in. It’s classic E-Myth territory.
The third thing would probably be around that value and what it is your agency offers and how special and different is it to all the other thousands of agencies out there?
What is it about your proposition that is different from our perspective? And is that what the world wants or needs? Is it solving a problem or making anything specific better?
[A Huddle Hack] helps you create something that’s really targeted and focused, because you just don’t have time to do any navel gazing.”
—Danny Someckh, Huddle
What’s a “Huddle Hack”? Why was it created? How does it work?
The Huddle Hack really comes from, as it suggests, the world of hackathons. It’s essentially a highly charged, highly collaborative, creative session that would deliver (within a very short space of time) some special value and innovation that wouldn’t necessarily happen through a more traditional process.
One of the things we love about the hack methodology is the fact that you build up so much energy and momentum in such a short space of time, it happens “now” and in the moment, at pace. All those good ideas that you then execute within that session (it could be half a day, it could be two days)—they have less of a chance to get diluted and compromised along the way, because you’re basically thinking and doing at the same time, so it’s a much more linear approach.
With the Huddle Hack, we’re effectively taking those principles and applying it to what we do, which is creating brands, digital experiences, prototypes, content.
They differ from a traditional workshop in the sense that we actually have the people that can do the work in the room with us, which is important as it’s about creating and doing as much as it is thinking and talking. We have a very clear aim in terms of what we want to achieve, set up at the start of sessions.
A good example of that was a few years back, we won a hack for Unilever. We were up against about 27, I think, very decent, very credible outfits and we came up with the winning solution. And that’s really because from vision to tangible execution was a two day hack, whereas no doubt the other agencies were suggesting much more drawn out processes.
The other thing about condensing all of the activity in such a short space of time is that it really helps you focus. It helps you create something that’s really targeted and focused, because you just don’t have time to do any navel gazing.
What are “Daft Assumptions” (I love that name 😂)?
The name has been around for quite a long time! It’s based on the premise that most fuck-ups are caused by misguided assumptions and limiting beliefs. So, Daft Assumptions—the series of events that we run, normally with 60 to a hundred people in a room—they’re very, very similar to the way we run a hackathon.
They are events that are for everyone, and it just helps people to exercise their creativity, open their mind to possibilities, and to collaborate with people that they wouldn’t normally collaborate with. I do a bit of a talk that precedes it, we set the room a challenge, they get together into groups and they produce something that they wouldn’t necessarily have been able to produce on their own.
One of the challenges we tackled a few years back was to rebrand Britain, and it was incredible how many good quality ideas and executions came out of that event.
The ultimate objective was to rename Britain—and the winner was “Brexinda” and “newly single and ready to mingle” was the tagline. We had a logo, a value proposition, everything.
It’s good demonstration that making smart assumptions—rather than daft assumptions—is a must for creativity and innovation.
I see you write a lot of posts for the Huddle blog. What are some of your favorite, recent posts?
In general, I do like blog posts that are educational without being patronizing. I like the ones that help. They’re a little bit provocative, but also help people think more strategically.
So, “Your Non-Scientific Guide To Colour Semiotics” is a really, really good blog, because it goes into the psychology of how color is perceived and what it means. With color being such a core element of any brand identity, it can be such a powerful tool. If you’re an expert or you know nothing, we hope these articles allow people to learn and think.
“What Is A Brand Strategy Framework & How To Build Yours” is a really good post, as well as “How (and how not) to Rebrand a Company: A Huddle Creative Step-by-Step Guide,” which we’re turning into a more digestible PDF that people will be able to download from the website, and which goes into deeper detail than we would normally.
So yeah, blog posts that are educational, without being patronizing, they answer a question or shed some light on something and leave the reader in a better informed and hopefully entertained place than they were before reading it.
Branding and digital trends
What trends are you keeping an eye on in branding, digital, or the intersection of the two?
Our job, and one of the biggest areas where we add value, is to provide an external perspective. So there’s a saying (that I can’t claim) that I really love, which is “you can’t read the label when you’re inside of the jar.”
And so for us, keeping an eye on trends—and I wouldn’t even say trends, I’d say keeping an eye on just things that are happening and emerging which then could potentially become trends without coming to any major conclusions—obviously, you can’t talk about trends without looking at the technical backdrop and explosion that is happening at the moment. We’re looking at AI and how that affects what we do. So, to what extent can a machine impact the ways that we do branding and how do we leverage that technology so that it produces better results for our clients, but also their customers in terms of the brand and the experience they have of the brand.
An example: working with one of the big four banks, we created a solution finder platform, which allows customers to intelligently question the machine to give them the right type of solution, or at least guide them to the right solution.
I’m also quite interested in things like dynamic branding and branding that changes according to the person and the context.
Other trends are obviously the NFT craze (which may well not be a craze but an entirely new industry), and blockchain as a general movement is reshaping the world that we live in, as well as the whole talk of the explosion of the metaverse and what that means. That decentralization is incredibly exciting.
It’s also, to some extent, scary, because we are entering territories that are still very unfamiliar, where science fiction is starting to look more like science fact. It’s happening and we are keeping an eye on the innovations but also where mainstream adoption may happen.
So there’s a massive creative opportunity in that uncertainty, and I think there’s lots of other things that we need to keep an eye on. I think it’s less about spotting trends, but more about observing what is happening in the world so that we can bake it into our thinking when we’re creating brands or experiences.
It’s about looking for all the opportunities technological advances can bring and connecting the constantly moving dots.
Q&A BONUS ROUND with Danny Somekh of Huddle
What’s the last movie you saw?
I finally got round to seeing the James Bond film, No Time To Die, which didn’t disappoint, despite all the hype and the long wait.
What’s something weird on your desk right now?
That’s a brilliant question! Sorry to gross you out but I’m looking at a used plaster on my desk, needed because I caught my finger in a steam room door. It should probably be on my finger or in the bin. I think I’ve just been a little sick in my mouth.
What’s playing in the office or at home while at work, what music/podcasts?
Yeah, lots of podcasts. And in general, I think the Huddle playlist from our summer party back from two years ago is still kind of on an infinite loop.
What’s your favorite podcast?
I don’t really have one as I listen to so many. A few of the agency-related ones like 2Bobs, and others more related to psychology and generally anything that examines the human condition. Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, etc. Love Ricky Gervais. Russell Brand, too. I’m a big Arsenal fan, so I’m obsessed with listening to Arsenal podcasts, probably listen a bit too much to that side, but also I like some of the quirky, more educational podcasts: No Such Thing As A Fish, Infinite Monkey Cage is quite good, The Adam Buxton Podcast, You’re Dead To Me is a history podcast. Sleep With Me is ridiculous but good if you’re an insomniac, like me.
What’s a personal routine or ritual you adhere to?
Nearly a year ago, out of boredom and curiosity, I decided to try and learn French through the Duolingo app. So I’m borderline obsessed, but I just get these messages every day to learn, and I’m on a 323-day streak at the moment. I get palpitations when it gets to 10 to midnight and I haven’t done it because I don’t really want to miss that streak, so they’ve done brilliantly to gamify the whole experience to keep you on top of it.
Other than that, I try to recite my affirmations in the morning. Not sure if they work though but no harm done, eh?!
What is a word or phrase you probably say too often?
Probably, “oh s**t.” That’s one that comes up maybe a bit too often. Kidding aside, it’s usually something like, “Why are we doing this?”
Any advice for junior people or people interested in getting into branding?
Just the whole Steve Jobs thing around being curious, and there is just so much out there and so many opportunities to learn. I suppose in an early stage career, keep your mind open, keep your options open, get some hands-on experience, just get out of the theoretical space into the more practical space, and try not to put labels on too many things too soon.
What’s the branding design community in London like right now?
Pretty vibrant as it’s always been, lots of online events and things going on. I think it’s not quite back to normal, but it’s getting there and what’s not there in terms of the physical opportunity is definitely there online. I’m looking forward to throwing our Huddle summer party as we did every year prior to the pandemic—they’ve become pretty legendary!
Rob Meyerson is a brand consultant, namer, and author of Brand Naming: The Complete Guide to Creating a Name for Your Company, Product, or Service. He also runs Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm, and hosts the podcast How Brands Are Built.