Moving Image & Content Founder Quynh Mai On Bringing “Creative Firepower” To Digital Storytelling

As founder of strategy and digital marketing agency Moving Image & Content, Quynh Mai helps brands navigate the ever-evolving digital space. As creators of forward-thinking, compelling online experiences in all forms, MI&C’s campaigns for fashion, beauty, and luxury brands—including Sephora, H&M and Kanye West—range from cinematic films and artistic interactive spaces to shareable high-fashion memes and viral listening parties.

These activations are more than mere stunts—they’re well-conceived strategies. Clios.com spoke with Mai, a 2017 Clio Fashion & Beauty juror, about how brands can harness the latest digital innovations to better engage with their audiences (hint: it’s all about storytelling).

One of the missions at Moving Image & Content is to help brands move to the rhythm of the digital world. What is driving that rhythm in 2017? 

I think what’s happening in the world, beyond the political upheaval that’s going on, is the social upheaval. Today’s consumers have so much power at their fingertips; the power of social media to amplify their ideas, their thoughts, and convictions. I think the biggest challenge that brands will face is being able to keep up with the consumers we serve while finding new ways to inspire them.

Historically, the beauty and fashion industry has always had such a long lead time because we’ve been on a print production schedule that, in many ways, kept us from being able to be a part of the cultural conversation, which is impossible when you are creating marketing campaigns six to nine months before they even launch. Tech innovations like Snapchat Spectacles are popping up so quickly that brands are struggling to evolve. Our motto as a digital agency is to help brands evolve as quickly as their consumers do, so they can keep pace and stay relevant.

Many fashion and beauty brands were once hesitant to truly embrace digital mediums—how is that changing?

Sephora, which is one of our clients, and beauty brands in general, are innovating and thriving in a digital space because they’re excited to have a direct connection to the consumer; to see, hear, and feel their POV.

It’s much harder for brands in the luxury spectrum to embrace social because it takes their image and communication strategies out of their hands. That’s been the most difficult adjustment, even though we know from data that luxury consumers are even more active on digital than their counterparts.

The biggest challenge we face is finding ways to engage with the consumer. Did they even see the campaign? Did they have an emotional connection? It’s a different way of thinking about marketing that’s challenging for brands that were used to seeing one million plus circ rates in print and were very proud of that number, but now have to struggle for every “like.”  The modern day holistic marketing strategy that ties in data and insights, strategy, creative, content creation, and intelligent distribution is more important than ever to hyper-target the consumer you want.

How do digital activations fit into a brand’s overall advertising strategy?

Successful brands are integrating digital into their overall marketing and communication plans, and they’re letting digital help activate and amplify other consumer touchpoints like outdoor, in-store, CRM, or event marketing. Digital is the thread that helps connect the dots and spread the most critical form of marketing in this consumer-centric world, which is word of mouth. For the industry to progress in the digital space, creatives need to stop thinking in image form (the classic double-page spread) and start thinking about how to tell a story across a multitude of platforms, in a variety of mediums: still, video, GIF, infographic, etc.

What was missing from the industry that Moving Image & Content set out to fill?

Coming from a traditional branding and marketing background working with brands like Burberry and David Yurman allowed me to have extensive experience in retail, co-op, partnerships and celebrity endorsements, which are still critical parts of a brand’s ecosystem. What I saw missing in the marketplace was a digital agency that could harness digital storytelling and technology innovations but still project a brand’s DNA within these new mediums. In digital, the chase for innovation and newness is often at the expense of a brand’s heritage. This is crucial, because unlike a bad print campaign that will get recycled in next week’s garbage, a poorly executed digital campaign stays online forever.

I set out to create an agency that serves as a mentor to brands as they move into the digital space. I don’t believe that a brand should be totally reliant on an agency, but rather come to us for innovation and creative firepower. What they need right now is stewardship: MI&C is an agency that can push them forward and be a true partner by sharing insights and best practices and teaching their teams without striving to become their 360 agency. I don’t want them to be the first to use Chatbots—I want to help them understand how Chatbots can grow their business. Innovation must happen with a business goal in mind.

What digital innovations are you looking forward to this year?

First, live content creation, whether it’s Facebook Live, Periscope, or Instagram Live, has become incredibly important. It’s a huge tool for our industry not only to broadcast fashion shows but to create engaging experiences for consumers where they can interact with a brand and have a two-way dialogue.

Second, I think there’s going to be a huge rise of social video being not just informative, which is where it sits today with the how-tos that everyone is doing, but also incredibly entertaining as new layer of engagement for consumers and a replacement for TV.

Third, experiential will be important this year. The Women’s March reminded us of the need to physically convene with likeminded people. That was for political reasons, but you’re also seeing it in Tumblr and Instagram meetups that are happening organically. This merger of URL and IRL [in real life] is going to be so prevalent. 29Rooms from Refinery29 has really trailblazed that, and shows that physical experiences are the seed for digital engagement. I predict that luxury brands specifically will invest in events that can ladder up to digital this year. 

As a jury member for this year’s Clio Fashion & Beauty Awards, what will make for winning work?

I think that it’s more important for a brand to tell its story effectively and connect with consumers than to create something that merely looks good. These days, UGC style sometimes performs better than a beautiful, high-budget fashion film.

As a jury member, I would love to look into the questions of: Were these campaigns right for the mediums that they’re in? Did they express the storytelling effectively while staying true to their brand DNA? Did they connect with the consumer in a meaningful and engaging way? Our industry is such a visually driven one, but our challenge in the digital age is to remove that layer in order to determine whether the story was told well.

Entries for the 2017 Clio Fashion & Beauty Awards are now open. The second deadline for submissions is March 17. For more information, please call 212.683.4300 or visit clios.com/fashion-beauty.