Published on April 16, 2019, at 10:15 p.m.
by Hudson Nuckolls.
Advent is a company in Nashville, Tennessee, that “designs experiences that move people.” The employees consider themselves trailblazers in an industry that the company is forging by itself.
“There’s not really an industry for us,” said Libby Cook, one of Advent’s strategic account managers. “Some people lump us into marketing, which is not really accurate. Some people lump us into graphics, which is not accurate either.”
What does Advent do?
The most accurate category is “brand experience consulting,” according to Cook. Advent works with groups like professional sports executives, college athletic departments, and academic administrators to design spaces such as locker rooms, athletic or academic offices, lobbies, among other things. It is intently focused on telling a brand’s story to its audiences through tangible, physical and interactive experiences. These audiences can be students, student-athletes, recruits, donors, fans and more.
How does Advent do it?
Its process is based on a book by Tim Brown called “Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation.” Design Thinking is a five-step process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.
Cook also explained that another important part of the process is the updates. “We design everything we do with a desired level of adaptability, because we never want a facility to be a monument to the day it was built.”
This can also be useful for when stats change or when an athlete falls out of favor. Changes can be made quickly and easily.
What began as a sign shop that created trade show booths has now completed more than 2,000 projects in the last 10 years. Advent has worked with brands ranging from the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys to notable academic and athletic institutions like USC, Stanford and North Carolina basketball. It has also done smaller projects with organizations like the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.
Not just designers, but creators
About a year ago, Advent’s tagline evolved from “designing experiences that move people” to “creating experiences that move people.” Design, while a large part of its process, is only a portion of what it does. As its website notes, “With our clients … we evaluate, imagine, design, engineer and build.”
“We felt like ‘create’ encapsulated more of the whole business than just design,” explained Rick Myers, Advent’s director of marketing. “You can design and not create, not build, and not fabricate or engineer, but we do all of those things.”
What sets Advent apart?
The company is built on three main pillars, which it refers to as its “uniques”: audience insight, creative DNA and mojo.
As with any great marketing or PR campaign, research-based insights about target publics should inform strategic decisions, and they do at Advent. “We are going to figure out who your audiences are and what’s going to move them,” Myers said.
The company doesn’t just talk about research — it’s the foundation of everything it does. According to CollegeChoiceStudy.com, Advent partnered with Samford University’s Brock School of Business and commissioned a “study of over 1,700 Centennial high school students aimed at understanding the role the eduscape — the physical structure of the campus — plays in determining college choice.” In 2018, it released an analogous study of “athletiscape,” partnering with the Samford University Center for Sports Analytics, to find out why student-athletes made their college decisions.
As a part of the “empathize” step of the Design Thinking process for each individual project, the Story team starts by “storymining,” or interviewing a wide array of those involved with a brand: donors, coaches, student-athletes, fans, athletic directors, alumni, administrators and more. Cook said sometimes they’ll get up to 15 interviewees. Then the Advent team goes through all of the responses and looks for trends, themes and an overarching brand voice. This means that no two projects are the same, since no two brand voices are the same.
Advent wants to create at its very core. One of its keys to this goal is fostering strong collaboration, both externally with its clients and internally among its own teams. It is able to accommodate clients with no creative expertise, but also work with those that share the same creative DNA.
The emphasis on research and “storymining” also gives each project its own unique foundation. Myers said, “We are going to create something that is unusual and unlike anything else. We are going to try to do something different every time.”
The company wants to go where no one else has gone before. It has adopted the philosophy from a book by W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne called “Blue Ocean Strategy,” which describes a marketing theory about “creating and capturing uncontested market space, thereby making the competition irrelevant.” According to Advent’s website, in order to do this, it has to be “bold and uncompromising.”
“The whole premise is, if you’re in the middle of where all of the ships are fighting, you’re not going to be very successful. We challenge our team members to look for the blue ocean on every project,” Myers added.
Telling its own story
Advent tells its own story by highlighting its clients’ stories. “Our client’s story is the story. We’re not the story, we’ve never been the story, and we don’t want to be the story,” Myers said.
The company takes a backseat and lets its work with high-profile brands do the talking. The background of its website is black strategically, so its client work pops off the screen. A lot of its own content about itself is usually tone-on-tone and understated to differentiate it from the stunning client work.
In the last few months, Advent moved into a brand new headquarters, signaling a huge step for the company. This new space empowers the different teams to collaborate like they never have before. The number of rooms that allow for collaborative meetings has tripled or quadrupled, according to Myers, who loves the new space. “For a team as collaborative as ours, the old space was limiting,” he said.
According to Myers, the company has three main goals for the future: dominate the college market, become globally recognized, and be a thought and creative leader in the industries it touches. Advent hopes to find more blue oceans, go where no one else has gone, and keep moving people while doing it.