Mary Ann O’Brien launched OBI Creative back when most companies were still struggling to get their heads around what the internet was, much less what it could be.

Now, nearly 20 years later, the company is bigger and so is the data that OBI harnesses for the benefit of companies across the country and internationally.

“When I started OBI, people understood the internet, they just didn’t leverage it like they do today,” she said. “I’ve seen an evolution of sophistication as it relates to digital and one of the really interesting things is that for all organizations, the internet has become the window into the soul of that company. It’s also become the great equalizer.”

Brand Strategy

“We specialize in understanding customers and applying that knowledge of customers across whatever vertical our clients work within.”

OBI Creative’s strategy turns on a multi-faceted approach to a client’s advertising and branding efforts. O’Brien said research is a critical step to ensuring each account gets individualized branding treatment, then can be deployed across a variety of advertising and messaging platforms.

“For me as a brand strategist, I care more about what you do than what you say, because your brand isn’t your logo,” she said. “Your brand is how you treat every touchpoint in your customers’ experience.

“Big data can allow us to know what matters at each one of those touchpoints. One of the things that has helped us is that we’ve always been integrated marketers. In technology, you have to use multiple forms of media to attract clients, so we’ve never been a one trick pony when it comes to advertising.”

Customer Focus

O’Brien noted that the firm does research to understand what matters to the customers of its clients.

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“We align that with what our clients are good at and we try to meet customers where they are, whether that be online, over the phone, on text or on a mobile app,” she said. “We put together plans that are integrated and usually represent more than one tactic of marketing because we want to attract people when it’s best for them. That usually takes more than one message.”

O’Brien relocated to Omaha more than a decade ago after launching her company in California. She remembers well how much education it took to get companies in the Midwest to warm up to online marketing and branding concepts. Today, she said such technological strategies are taken in stride by most organizations.

“When I started OBI in San Diego, the circle of people I was doing business with were early adopters,” she said. “When I moved here, it felt like I had to educate so much and it would frustrate me because I’m so passionate about it.

“Today, clients are starting to adopt quicker. They are a lot more open to using technology and they understand the value that it provides their users.”

Don’t be a Dinosaur

O’Brien said clients aren’t the only ones under the gun to keep up with rapidly developing technology and data tools. She said it’s also seeped into the operational side of OBI Creative itself, so much so that it’s changed the skill set she desires most out of her 45-and-growing employee force, deployed across three offices in Omaha, Des Moines and San Diego, as well as new hires to come.

“I have been standing up beating my chest saying, ‘Guys, if you don’t get educated in digital, you’re going to be a dinosaur,’” she said. “I want digital natives.

I want people who don’t know any other way. When people say, ‘Oh, we’re digital marketers’ I’m like, well, anyone good is digital. That applies to all my people here and myself.

“I want people who have courage, who are problem-solvers because that’s what we’re doing here. People who have business prowess and have used technology to make their lives easier since the day they were born. That’s where we get the flywheel of optimization happening for our clients.”

Bright Future

The company is on pace for its best year ever and O’Brien sees much more opportunity for the future. Even as do-it-yourself branding options abound. She said the complexity and speed of the industry has solidified her firm as a go-to for clients across multiple industry sectors.

“It’s hard to stay on top of everything,” she said. “If you don’t build brand strategies every day for a living, don’t think you can do it at the same level.

“The entire genesis of OBI was based around being customer-led marketers taking the power of data research and using that to inspire better creativity. That hasn’t changed and I’m proud of that.”