The Silicon Review
Feature lists. Industry jargon. Technical babble. Complicated charts. And stock photography of people in offices wearing suits, people in airports wearing suits, and people on escalators wearing suits.
B2B marketing isn’t exactly known for inspiring its audiences. Instead, it almost inevitably follows all-too-predictable patterns. But it doesn’t have to be that way—and at WHM, a full-service marketing and advertising agency in Oakland, California, it never is.
WHM Creative is where B2B brands go to stop sounding like B2B brands and start connecting with customers. It’s where product feature lists are transformed into messages that bring joy. And it’s where surprising new angles on the world’s most impressive technology find their way to market.
With a rare combination of authentic curiosity, creative intelligence, and data-informed strategy, WHM serves clients at every point in the marketing lifecycle, from brand creation to integrated campaigns, content, and go-to-market strategies.
The company is well-known for developing delightfully unexpected creative; delivering way beyond the brief; and always doing right by their clients, partners, and team.
In conversation with Audrey Merritt, CEO and Co-Founder of WHM Creative
Q. Marketing is more effective when it’s targeted, and the Holy Grail is individualization. How flexible are your services for customization?
It’s always a custom engagement and a true partnership. In terms of the marketing we do for our clients’ customers, we have to make it personal or it won’t hit. Everything we do is completely customizable—not just for our clients’ customers but also for our clients. This morning, in fact, a client sent us a note that said, “WHM didn’t just come to understand our business. They became part of our business.” And a few months ago, after we wrapped a branding project for a direct-to-consumer company, the client said, “You didn’t just get us. You got us to get us.” Those are the kinds of compliments we love the most because they show how deeply entrenched we get in our clients’ businesses. For us, it’s never the standard client/vendor relationship, and we never deliver boilerplate.
Q. What services do you offer?
Our capabilities are primarily focused on the areas that impact our clients most—starting, above all, with helping them tell their unique story so they can define who they are and stand out in a noisy field. We find it incredibly rewarding to give businesses a north star that their whole organization can look to, believe in, and line up behind. We also love the process of bringing that vision to life (and to market) through campaigns, websites, events, content, and more. Our top capabilities include brand development, website and digital development, integrated campaigns, content development, media, and events and activations.
Q. It is impossible to be successful with every single marketing campaign. How do you overcome failure?
Actually, there’s a lot you can do to make sure you achieve a baseline of success every time—and we do it all. Before we even begin to think about the creative, we take the time to understand our client’s business, their aspirations, and the specific problem they’re trying to solve. We capture the “why” up front to make sure what we’re doing is actually addressing the need.
After that, we ground our thinking and creative in strategy, presenting our ideas with clear rationales and (most importantly) backing them up with the customer’s voice. And finally, we show how our ideas and recommendations go beyond the brief and align with the client’s KPIs.
One thing that’s especially important: The strategy we take is based on all the input we’ve assimilated from our client, their customers, and their influencers, together with what we’ve learned by researching the industry. Our job is to give a fresh, objective perspective on that intake—a new point of view. And when that POV is rooted in a strategy our client agrees with, subjectivity takes a back seat. It becomes much easier to align on creative concepts and ideas, together as a unified team.
We also make sure everything we do is mapping to a KPI. We listen to the data and act fast. Once campaigns are running, we can quickly get insights that we can act on, so course corrections can get ahead of potential failures.
Q. Do you have any new services ready to be launched?
During the pandemic, we’re seeing an interest in making virtual events more effective—from UX and way finding to branded virtual environments. So we’ve been thinking about packaging up those services into something more official. Although we can’t wait to get back to working on booths and in-person experiences for live events.
Meet the leaders behind the success of WHM Creative.
Audrey Merritt, CEO and Co-Founder: Since the beginning, Audrey has led WHM’s direction and innovation, evolving capabilities and building practices from branding and creative to media and digital—resulting in 10x growth in the first 9 years. Her goal has always been to create a culture of curiosity and empower teams to generate unexpected ideas that connect emotionally with customers, even for the most highly technical companies on the planet. Before founding WHM, Audrey was president of a boutique agency in Palo Alto that specialized in financial services during the era of banking consolidations. From rollover IRAs to HELOCs, she and her team honed their skills in making the complex simple—and human. That served them well when she launched WHM with a focus on B2B marketing.
Thomas Whalen: Co-Founder and Partner: At the beginning of his career, Thomas spent 10 years entrepreneuring in retail, launching multiple companies and wearing multiple hats. From there, he moved into a leadership position in the agency world, helping a small regional bank grow to be one of the nation’s largest financial institutions. Then, in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, he co-launched WHM with agency partner Audrey Merritt. Thomas’ big-brand experience and intimate knowledge of startup culture come together in his stewardship of WHM. Having been in the shoes of many of his clients, he brings a strong sense of empathy to his leadership of key accounts—anticipating needs at every turn and pushing the WHM team to consistently deliver exceptional service. He also takes the helm on major agency projects tied to physical deliverables, from printed collateral and packaging to trade show booths, interactive kiosks, and branded environments.