Alex Thoma, VCCP CE: "VCCP believes in brands showing up for people at every moment."

Through 'Brand Intimacy', the agency builds user experiences that create value for people and businesses

by India Fizer , AdForum

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Alex Thoma
Strategy Director, CE VCCP

As brands look for better ways to operate in a rapidly shifting world, DTC offers the opportunity to connect directly with consumers, create a brand experience and with that, a whole new brand ecosystem. Alex Thoma, Strategy Director at VCCP CE, speaks their ethos of 'Brand Intimacy' and creating meaningful consumer buying journeys.


Without spilling your secret sauce of course, what is your pitch on DTC?

Brands offer something retailers cannot, a direct line into the heart and soul of what they stand for that should come with an experience and the opportunity to take the time, care and attention to look after the finer detail of how a brand shows up for people. Great brands do this all the way down to the T&Cs and there’s no better example of this than our Christmas ‘Secret Santa’ campaign for Cadbury. 

It’s the antithesis of white labelled commerce platforms, generic sales emails sent every 5 minutes, and loyalty programmes with impossible to reach and meaningless benefits. Innovation, commercial thinking and no small amount of creative flair is what delivered £230m in festive revenue in 2022, and we’re going again this Christmas.

"Secret Santa Postal Service" | Cadbury

It makes no sense to invest so much in a brand, and media where so much of it is performance driven, to then deliver a DTC brand experience that leaves people feeling underwhelmed. At VCCP we’re fighting against that mediocrity.

VCCP believes in brands showing up for people at every moment, from story-telling at each point in the journey, to user experience that reflects brand essence without compromising performance, to building enduring long-term relationships that create value for people and businesses. We call this Brand Intimacy (our secret sauce, not one drop spilled).


November is a popular month for retail and ecommerce campaigns. How does your agency cut through the noise to stand-out and engage with your target audience? 

Black Friday is at the end of November; Christmas window displays will be in full effect, and it’s at this special time of year that marketers cannot wait to give away all their margin. The ongoing challenge many marketers face is declining interest and engagement, and we don’t believe you can win during such a competitive period by firing out digital landfill full of more special than ever offers. 

We’re working with a leading photography brand to define strategic principles for a winning winter strategy. These include designing campaigns to create value for customers beyond flashy discounts using more meaningful tactics like great sales aftercare, exclusives, gifting ideas and other added value touches that elevate the experience. We also closely examine customer and data insight to tailor offers for people based on interest and intent to buy.

And most importantly, we back creativity to cut through. We create distinctive and memorable work for campaigns that perform well in the short-term, but also build long term value and brand love by entertaining, moving and involving people, again Brand Intimacy.


How do you manage a cross-channel experience that encourages community engagement and at the same time, remains true to the brand?

The words “omni-channel, seamless, integrated” are well worn tropes for consultancies pushing complicated cross-channel projects. Data has also been a big part of the story in DTC for a long time with an oversimplified view that ‘more is more’ and results are a given. 

Data, personas, channel plans and journeys offer representations of the real world and every convention in DTC tells us to push, nudge and sell. Our recent work with Sage for their SME cloud product focuses on the needs of the people who do a phenomenal job running small businesses up and down the country, trying to build intimacy with them in a brand distinctive way. We’ve designed a human approach to community engagement, a different tack for the category, by listening to the needs of small business owners through data and research. So, we know the right intent signals to use product and app notifications for functional help with the product, or when and how we can support people with content at anxiety ridden moments for small businesses like when they have to deal with HMRC, or even the right moments to guide people into a different type of product that better suits their needs. 

These are three practical examples of a cross-channel experience that genuinely shows up for people when they want to engage and in a way that is more likely to lead to a positive outcome.


As AI and social media continue to evolve, how do you see them expanding opportunities for direct-to-consumer marketing?

VCCP is fully embracing AI. We launched our generative creative agency, faith, back in May and are continually exploring how it can supercharge the creative process. There are three interesting opportunities for DTC:

  1. Underappreciated audiences: AI can spot and create audiences for new customer acquisition, and with known customers, that have greater potential to buy and become advocates.

  2. Storytelling: AI can help create more dynamic narratives around people and products by optimising to what creative and channel has the most attention and drives the most action.

    This isn’t just about personalisation but could also mean interactive content - e.g. using generative AI to try on make-up, or a more dynamic conversational service with brands.

  3. Moments: There’s a lot of debate around ‘category entry points’ but AI can find the right points in time and places to be present, and make the most of that opportunity to connect with people in a meaningful way.