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Nov 23, 2020

Decoding and Recoding with TRIPTK


By Drew Welton

Founder - I help companies hire innovation executives.

In an industry rife with buzzwords, Sam and Dylan are quick to unpack their thoughts into the phrases and examples that they find to be“meaningful, sticky and useful”. What makes TRIPTK special, they say, is the agency’s ability to “decode and recode culture to invent and reinvent brands.”

For TRIPTK, decoding culture translates to helping clients understand not just what market forces are shifting, but on a deeper level, why. “It’s not just about the things that bubble up to the surface and represent evidence of a cultural moment,” Dylan said. “It’s about unearthing the invisible drivers; the macro forces around what’s changing, like our connection with identity or status or our relationship with knowledge.” Recoding, then, is the holistic translation of these insights into tangible strategies for clients, including the creation of new to world products and services or roadmaps for existing brands.

TRIPTK’s toolbox -- and its talent -- has landed them top-tier clients, including SoulCycle, T-Mobile, Diageo, Endeavor, VF brands like VANS and Dickies, the Marriott International portfolio, among many others. “What characterizes our client set is leadership that is hungry for genuine transformation not just ‘tinkering at the edges’ and brands that are invested in contributing to the cultural agenda”, says Sam.  

Recoding Cannabis

One of TRIPTK’s sweet spots is consulting in emerging industries -- and one of the largest entries in that category might just be cannabis.

It’s evolving not just to be a massive market itself but it’s disrupting a lot of other consumer goods and verticals

Sam Hornsby

"It’s evolving not just to be a massive market itself but it’s disrupting a lot of other consumer goods and verticals", Sam said. “This is a classic example of where careful and thoughtful decoding has to happen because you’re exploring a world of meaning that is evolving very, very quickly.” 

TRIPTKs’ client wanted to create new-to-world brands within cannabis. The challenge is that what cannabis is, and has been, is changing rapidly, and it’s all happening within a landscape of legacy perceptions, stigmas, and cultural tensions, Sam explained.

So the TRIPTK team did what it does best -- it drew from its multidisciplinary skillsets, from creative research techniques to deep data analytics and semiotics -- to chart the choppy waters and build an exciting new consumer experience. 

“It's often by looking at all the adjacent spaces where we're seeing intersections, as well as emergent or fringe culture, that we start to really understand and predict what might happen next,” Dylan said. “We learned as much from looking at food, beverage, beauty, and even sex tech as we did from the direct analysis of what was happening within the cannabis culture.”

Four Talent Traits

To achieve so much in such little time requires top talent. “To find incredible people who challenge our perspective, as well as that of our clients means we love meeting people from non-traditional backgrounds,” Dylan said. TRIPTK looks beyond traditional hard skills to a more value-based system based on four key commonalities. 

The first is relentless curiosity, or a desire to understand cultures and people that differ from one’s own personal experiences. The second is a hunger for growth, or the idea of challenging your own personal status quo. Third is an “indomitable inventiveness”, a needed trait since TRIPTK aims to solve new challenges that don’t mirror previous problems. Last is a spirit of service. “We like to remind ourselves that we're ultimately in the business of collaborating with and developing deep partnerships and relationships with our clients,” Dylan said.

The interview process is broken

Dylan Viner

Traditional interviews don’t always help TRIPTK find people with these commonalities. “It's torturous for the interviewer and for the interviewee. Early in the studio's evolution, being strategists and enjoying solving problems, we looked at the interview and thought, what are the pain points from both sides?”

TRIPTK has 12 full-time consultants in its New York office, and works with a roster of six or more independent collaborators at any one time. “The size of our studio right now means that a lot of our interviewees get to meet everyone on our team. That allows us to ensure that everyone feels like the person we're hiring is someone they're excited to work with and learn from, and would be an additive part of our culture,” Dylan said. 

“And we want [interviewees] to also be thinking actively about whether we're right for them,” Dylan said. “Later in the process, we like to invite them into a live workshopping scenario with our team. And that's not just so we get a sense for how they think but [for them to see] how how we work, collaborate, and think.”

You build a business around great people. It's not about creating a business with a bunch of roles that you then force-fit people into

Sam Hornsby

You build a business around great people. It's not about creating a business with a bunch of roles that you then force-fit people into. We asked TRIPTK about the studio’s culture and, as we talked, Dylan actually sketched out on paper his visual concept of culture. For him, it’s an organic combination of talent, client roster, the environment and physical space, agency values and guiding philosophy. 

“The most important thing is the idea of cultural nourishment. If we're advising clients on culture and how it impacts their business we need to give permission, time, and encouragement for people on the team to pursue the things they're passionate about,” Dylan said. 

Easier said than done? Not quite. TRIPTK gave two unique examples of how it fosters this -- one is a “TRIPTK Plus One” program to invite an employee’s interesting friend or colleague into the office for a day. The other example of cultural nourishment is a bit more literal -- a monthly Dim Sum “debate” in which they pick a theme, a restaurant, and commence to eat and argue together to return to the office the next day with renewed inspiration and (hopefully) intact friendships.

What’s next for TRIPTK?

“We're building the bicycle as we ride it with with TRIPTK,” Sam jokes, but he likes the metaphor. One thing that’s propelling the bike forward is the studio’s recent partnership with Havas. “They came to be the absolute best partner for a business like ours,” Sam said. He’s excited about the agency’s unique leadership in the space and what he sees as a genuine creation of culture.

(They’re also excited about the launch of an “exciting semiotics product” that they would not divulge the name of. We’re intrigued.) 

The future is also based in the reality of the industry and our world. According to a meaningful brands survey, which has been running with partners for about a decade, about three-fourths of existing brands could disappear tomorrow and people wouldn’t care. 

“That's both startling but also affirming of the need to really focus on creating meaning for consumers,” Sam said. “We take that as a bit of our mission. If it's not meaningful, then we don't consider our job to be done.”

Sam recognizes a trend toward smaller, more nimble, more agile agencies in the space. But resources and reach remain important. “TRIPTK has a best-of-both proposition. A small boutique partner is fantastic in one respect for clients, but [you need to be able to] back that up with global reach or scalable resources to meet evolving needs,” Sam said.

“That's where we have staying power amidst the choppy waters of the industry at large -- because trusted, valued, and deep partnership will always be economically valuable,” Sam said. 

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