Woven Coffee Session: an interview with Mark, our Managing Director

By Woven Agency, Monday December 17, 2018


I’ve got a Woven big-wig in the Coffee Session casa today: Mark Bower, intrepid entrepreneur, digital visionary, super-experienced marketing maverick and Managing Director of our esteemed agency.

So, I’ve really got to be at my utterly professional, Michael Parkinson-like best.

Which means suit, tie, wing-tipped brogues and absolutely definitely 100% no swearing.

Ben: So, welcome Ma…

Mark: This coffee is ****ing disgusting!

Ben: Er… Okay. Sorry about that. It’s my own recipe: a spiced latte with frothy organic whole milk and a cautious dusting of turmeric.

Mark: It is ****ing grim. Don’t do it again.

Ben: Message received, loud and clear.

Woven Mark Bower

Ben: So, Mark Bower, Managing Director of Woven: how did that happen, then?

Mark: Not overnight, that’s for sure. I started a quarter of a century ago, selling kit for Apple. A proper B2B sales job, one rooted in my scientific, mathematical and computing background.

Actually, I was all set for a career in electronic engineering but my heart wasn’t in it. I was – and still am – interested in creating stories, but my teachers didn’t tell me I could do that for a living, so I went down the techy route. Had I been middle class, I might have gone to art college.

Mind you, my heart wasn’t in selling Apple gear, either. But I found that lots of my clients were these enigmatic, evocative things called “agencies” – a world I didn’t even know existed. And being around those guys was a revelation.


“Had I been middle class, I might have gone to art college.”


The agency bug bit hard. I’d discovered this creative, energetic world, where people could do cool stuff and not have to dress smartly. And I wanted to be a part of it. I’ve always been creative, whether that’s writing or music – I’ve been in bands ever since I was 16 – so working in agencies was something I knew I had to do.

Ben: So, you’re like this hybrid of technical know-how and creative genius?

Mark: Well, I wouldn’t put quite it in those terms. But, yeah, ha! In all seriousness, though, I do understand both sides. I know about servers, hosting, programming, all that stuff, but my career’s been about turning that back into the creative side that I love.

Ben: How did that first take shape?

Mark: By being part of the digital arm of the Skylark Group – a team called E-Skylark – back in the late nineties. I knew digital was going to be a big deal and that I had to be involved, so this was my chance. Pretty soon, I was picking up a how-to HTML guide and building websites.

Ben: Wow, the hands-on approach.

Mark: I think that’s important in this game – to get your hands dirty, to try new things. And I’m endlessly curious; I want to know how things work. And there weren’t exactly many people around to tell me how to do it, because hardly anyone knew back then!

Ben: So, then what?

Mark: Well, the digital revolution was coming and I wanted to be completely ready for it, so I broke away from Skylark in 2001 and formed my very own marketing agency, Coolpink.


“When people ask me how long I’ve been in the industry, I tell them: ‘Since before it started.’”


Ben: But there was no real digital marketing at this point, right?

Mark: Right. When people ask me how long I’ve been in the industry, I tell them: ‘Since before it started.’

But it was just so obvious to me that this change was coming. When I formed Coolpink, people were building websites and doing some SEO work, but there was no paid search, banner advertising, etc. I like to think we were way ahead of the curve – and that was probably to our detriment.

For example, we’d go to clients and explain they could have the whole digital paid search world to themselves. Just 5p per click. They’d say no; they couldn’t see the value and were too entrenched in traditional media. We’d go back the year after and say, Hey, look, it’s still only 12p per click. You’ll do really well. Same response.

We’d bang this drum every year, explaining this was their chance to get clear of the competition, but they wouldn’t take the leap with us.

Now, of course, they all do it – but those who missed the early-adopter boat missed the chance to control the market, so they should be kicking themselves. And, these days, they’re definitely paying much more than 5p per click!


“To think you could have an agency in 2018 that has very little digital capacity is mind-boggling.”


I’m not exaggerating when I say that whole boards were booted out because they didn’t move with the times. And, worst of all, it’s been a self-reinforcing thing, as the marketing directors didn’t understand the industry and the agencies were both slow to respond and didn’t have the incentive to change their minds, as they were making 10% media commissions off of very little work.

And you know what? This still exists now, which is staggering. To think you could have an agency in 2018 that has very little digital capacity is mind-boggling. But it’s because there are so few board-level leadership teams that understand digital, so they tack it on the side, like some kind of digital carbuncle.

Ben: So, that’s the past and present sorted. What’s the future of marketing?

Mark: Believe it or not, for an industry that prides itself on innovation and forward thinking, so much of the marketing industry is behind the times. And, when it comes to online, they’re certainly behind the general population, who have fully embraced social media, websites, blogs, vlogs and every other medium out there. It’s incredible that so many businesses haven’t followed suit.

Good marketers follow their audiences. Great marketers predict them. But at this point, many marketers aren’t good, let along great. They’re lagging way behind in the online sphere – and have been for a long time. I mean, I was saying this way back in 2010 and things haven’t changed!

Marketing means wrestling with fierce levels of change, and yet marketing directors aren’t responding to that. They’re out of date. People have said ‘I was hoping to be retired before this all kicked off!’ They haven’t embraced the challenges; instead they’ve been unwilling change, to learn new ways.

So, when people ask me what the future of marketing looks like, I still say it’s about digital growth and digital transformation – because there’s still so much both businesses and marketers have yet to do and explore in the field.


“There are few top-level leadership teams that understand digital, so they tack it on the side, like some kind of digital carbuncle.”


Ben: Is there still room for traditional marketing?

Mark: Of course! And there always will be. Look, marketing isn’t just about digital or traditional. It’s about understanding all the weapons at your disposal and picking the ones that work for you. It’s about integrating the thinking behind the brand or campaign with the marketing channel. So you rule out traditional marketing at your peril – which, in terms of outright reach and brand-creation, still reigns supreme.

Basically, it all stems from the brand; the communication channels follow from that. And that’s the bit most of the people are forgetting.

Man-of-the-moment Gary Vaynerchuk sums it up well. He describes himself as being super-pragmatic, applying marketing methods that are appropriate today, not what will be appropriate tomorrow and not what was appropriate last week. And it doesn’t matter what those methods are; there’s no room for bias. It’s just about what works for that brand at that time.

Mark Bower at Woven

Ben: What about tech? How is that changing things right now?

Mark: The most exciting development is VR, which I think will change the world. It might not feel completely accessible now, and it might take 20 years to hit the mainstream, but when it truly hits sci-fi-esque heights and runs as a contact lens on your eyeball then it will be totally immersive. You won’t be able to tell the difference between VR and reality – and that will have a huge impact on the world at large, not just marketing.

We’re pushing VR to our clients now because we know it’s the technology of tomorrow and really dials into the high-end nature of their services.

Imagine a tour of a luxury Princess yacht without having to step aboard? Or a guided tour of a stunning Hill Group home you want to buy without setting foot outside your current one. Or how that beautiful Ultraframe orangery might look before a single brick has been laid down.

People are interested in the novelty of VR but, from our experience, they quickly get through this and become genuinely engaged with the content behind the headset. VR will only get more and more popular, to the point where it will be as integral to marketing strategies of the future as social media and websites are today.

Ben: So how does Woven tie into that? What’s Woven’s future?

Mark: Our rebrand from INK Digital to Woven said a lot of things about us: that we’d grown as a team, that our expertise had expanded, that our ambitions were greater than ever, and that we knew who we wanted to work with. Which, essentially, are aspirational brands, ambitious start-ups and disruptors, and best-in-class existing brands.

These are the people who interest us, these are the people we want to create stunning, effective campaigns for – campaigns that spread across every touchpoint, so we can take their exciting vision and make it even bigger, better, more beautiful.

We want to make beautiful things, to work with high-value brands and market awesome products. And we want to be the go-to agency for these brands; to be synonymous with these kinds of industries.


“We combine metrics with emotion, strategic thinking and creative doing. We match head with heart.”


Ben: That’s quite an ambition.

Mark: But it’s the least we should be aiming for. We’ve got great talent here and I know we can do amazing things. And, unlike others, we’ve got the skills and the methodology. We combine metrics with emotion, strategic thinking and creative doing. We match head with heart.

We take our digital experience – one that few can match – and combine it with a deep understanding of human psychology and buyer behaviour. There aren’t many who can do that as well as we can, so why shouldn’t we be ambitious? In fact, it’d be a crime not to be.

And by becoming a more confident, ‘grown up’ brand, we can ask more questions of our clients.

We tell our clients they have to buy into what we think. They have to trust that we know what we’re doing. We want our clients to potentially look at all areas of their marketing operations and understand that, if they need to change, they may have to go back to the beginning. We want them to appreciate that it’s not just about doing some PPC here or a banner ad there. It’s strategy, it’s insight, it’s buyer personas, brand values, campaigns, analytics, creative. The full monty.

That’s a tough pill to swallow but it’ll be the best medicine they ever take.

And if they’re not interested? Well, then we might decide not to take them as a client. Which is bold or brave or stupid… however you want to call it. But that’s where we’re at as a business now: confident, experienced and unwilling to wait for others to catch on to the obvious.

We’re not here to spend another 20 years convincing people to do what’s in their best interest. We already know what the future is; it’s up to them to jump on board with us.

So, when the lightbulb goes on, come and see us.


Ben: Well, the Coffee Sessions clock has counted down, so that’s that for today. Thanks for your time, Mark – that was fascinating stuff.

Mark: You’re welcome.

Ben: You’re sure I can’t tempt you with a spiced turmeric latte?

Mark: **** off, Ben.