John Mitchell: An All Human approach to winning at digital

Podcast Ep 104: After rebranding his creative agency business to All Human, CEO John Mitchell says the term “digital transformation” is over-used and widely misunderstood. It really boils down to asking what the customer wants.

Recently rebranded as All Human, Mitchell runs one of Dublin’s leading digital transformation consultancies. The business behind the digital experience of many of Ireland’s biggest brands including An Post, Discover Ireland, Irish Life, LetsGetChecked, Energia, Irish Rail as well as Bank of Ireland.

Mitchell founded the agency as Stata3 in 1999 following a career as a financial analyst in Wall Street with JP Morgan. The Pearse-St-headquartered office now has more than 70 staff with teams in Spain and The Netherlands and has ambitious growth plans for 2022.

“It’s the combination of old-fashioned market research combined with analytics and customer testing. That’s allowing us to have really focused conversations within boardrooms as to what the future looks like”

Mitchell and his team believe that the web industry is on the precipice of major transformation away from “fluff” towards a much more pragmatic experience that consumers actually value.

According to CIO, in 2021 77.3% of companies globally rated digital transformation as their new top priority – actually pushing cybersecurity down to second place.

Mitchell believes that companies’ digital transformation is currently too focused on aesthetics and not on what consumers appreciate in a real, everyday sense.

Mitchell told ThinkBusiness that he feels that the industry needs to take a step back and inject more pragmatism into the digital transformation process to drive measurable sales-focused results. This includes using an analytics-first approach, hard metrics and testing.

‘Digital transformation is consultancy cholesterol’


Mitchell explained that the “Strata3” brand was very much of its Web 1.0 time and a new approach was needed to reflect the firms’ transition from a time when it built websites and platforms to much deeper, higher value relationships with clients and the company’s culture had shifted towards performance analysis and real world outcomes.

“In many ways our industry gets accused of a lot of jargon and tech speak and where we were leaning into was to form relationships where we could speak in really plain business language and articulate what real humans wanted. We felt our old brand wasn’t really evoking who we were.

“There was also a lot of white-hot energy from within the team as well; a real mix of people from overseas and diversity in age. We had to realise that our outward expression had to be different … much more cerebral.”

Mitchell established Strata3 upon his return from the US and he describes it as very much a “web shop” for the first 15 years of its existence.

Customer success = customer retention

But the industry has changed and All Human is no longer solely designing and building websites, it’s focused on digital experiences that embody everything from apps to online and offline experiences. “It’s not just a funnel or a flow or a checkout, these are all parts of an overall experience.

“The evolution within our team over the past five years to become All Human was born out of a desire to be really progressive. For the first 75% of our time we were brief takers, now we are brief shapers and we are operating at a C-suite level where we’re having mature, sophisticated conversations with organisations who aren’t starting from scratch; they’ve already invested in digital. The problems they are seeing is they are not seeing the returns or the retention of customers and they are worried about what the future looks like.

“They are asking existential questions like what will my brand look like in three-to-five years, especially in terms of e-commerce.”

In many ways Mitchell encapsulates the reality that in a world dominated by tech behemoths like Amazon or Apple, where many products and services have become commoditised, how can businesses and brands differentiate themselves by providing consumers with better experiences?

He says hard conversations are being had within brands around “how do I grow?”, “how do I understand what customers want?” and “how do we avoid guesswork?”

Scenarios include the “leaky bucket of digital” whereby many consumers will go all the way to an online store’s checkout but in the end don’t commit to a transaction.

“I’m not trying to be an alarmist here, but it’s quite shocking. Some of the organisations that claim to be digitally sophisticated are wasting a lot of money.”

When the pandemic struck many businesses were forced to embrace e-commerce out of necessity, but often this gets filed under the catch-all term digital transformation, which is just a new buzzword for something that has been happening for some time now.

Mitchell is dismissive of the sudden popularity of the term. “You know we yawn when we here the worlds ‘digital transformation. It’s glacial, it’s slow, ponderous, what we colloquially call consultancy cholesterol.

“What we’re leaning into at All Human is those organisations that are already switched on, they’re already committed to digital and they’ve invested in digital teams and digital go-to-market strategies, digital marketing and they’ve already transformed. Now they just need to grow and prosper.”

Mitchell points out that All Human works with established and mature brands that have already in many ways become veterans at digital, they just need to be better at business through a digital lens.

“It’s about making a product or service compelling for loyalty and retention and for people to want to come back. It’s often really nuanced, simple things, like clean, uncomplicated processes and a little bit of after-sales care. Sometimes it’s not about price. Today people are time poor, so if the process is on the mark and complementary to what they want, that’s where you build loyalty and retention.”

Blended experiences

In essence, if brands can make the customer’s experience both offline and online quite consistent and joined-up, with little difference between the experience in a store or on a smart device, then that is the sweet spot.

“The successful brands are starting to crack this and build that loyalty. The future is ensuring that everything customers do online and offline, in-store or online, feel the same. That there’s no cognitive dissonance. That sounds like an abstract thing to say, but they are the ones who are building loyalty. It’s not a silver bullet. There are lots of little curricular things that need to be done. It’s about getting real customer insights.”

It’s also about segmenting your customer base and understanding that base. The obvious thing for brands to do is go after segments like Gen Z but the way Mitchell sees it, it is about the lifetime of a customer.

Much of what All Human concentrates on is core and primary research, examining e-commerce loads, shopping baskets and onboarding engines and conducting micro experiments.

“We stumbled across a real gap in the research space.”

He points out that a lot of potential revenue can be lost by making the wrong assumptions based on analytics. “The older cohort of the customer segmentation of an older profile, we sometimes have clients who assumed they are not digitally savvy enough to invest in it; but actually, the lifetime value of that customer is significant in terms of onboarding. So we use this framework that we call peak performance to be a revolutionary advantage.

“But it’s the combination of old-fashioned market research combined with analytics and customer testing,” Mitchell said. “That’s allowing us to have really focused conversations within boardrooms as to what the future looks like.”

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John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.