See And Be Heard
Founder Mark Morse often writes musical accompaniments for his agency’s marketing productions.

See And Be Heard

Adjusting to an ever-changing marketing world, fast-growing Morsekode builds its own audio and video production facility.

Though the last few years have been tough on numerous marketing firms, they turned out to be a boom time for Bloomington-based Morsekode. And the agency has the video to prove it. It also has the numbers: revenues of $4.75 million in 2011, $2.39 million in 2010, and $1.7 million the year before.

After a marketing career that included top-level positions at Carmichael Lynch and Fallon, Mark Morse, who founded Morsekode 10 years ago, saw that in the digital era, clients would need different ways to market their products and services. Morse also saw that the era demanded that agencies be more flexible and not locked into traditional advertising services. What Morsekode emphasizes as an agency aren’t “campaigns,” but platforms on which companies can continuously build awareness—and business.

Starting about four years ago, Morse saw that online video would become a potent tool in the marketer’s workshop. Video allows for “strong storytelling, combining visual and audio communications,” Morse notes. “The palette’s very wide open.”

Video also allows for many different marketing approaches, including customer instruction. And thanks to digital technology, video also has gotten fairly cheap to produce. That said, “Just because those costs [for video hardware and software] are viable for people doesn’t necessarily mean you get higher-level stuff,” Morse says.

What’s more, a business can’t simply shoot a video with a smartphone, but without a sense of how to produce one that actually attracts customers. “It still comes down to a great idea—the right idea communicating the right message,” Morse says. Last year, to have greater control over the creative direction of its video messages, Morsekode built an in-house production studio.

For UnitedHealth Group, Morsekode developed the video content for UHC.TV, a UnitedHealth website that offers several video “channels” covering different aspects of health care. For Toro, the agency created a multi-modal online strategy when the Bloomington-based turf-maintenance equipment manufacturer introduced its new Groundsmaster 360, an all-wheel-drive lawn mower for the professional market. In addition to online videos showing off the 360’s capabilities, Morsekode interwove a Google Maps application that made it easy for potential customers to find a dealer where they could test-drive the new machine.

Reflecting Morse’s vision to connect marketing disciplines rather than isolating them in silos, Morsekode has staffers called “ideas directors,” who bridge the gap between creative and strategy.

“Based on my experience at other agencies and the previous agency I owned, there was this specific shortcoming in the ability to match smart strategy with creative thinking,” Morse observes. Creatives would “come up with something really, really creative that may or may not work, but it generated awareness.” But perhaps not the right kind of awareness—namely, how a product or service could benefit a customer.

“Or you’re an agency that’s fantastic at strategy, but the creative doesn’t connect emotionally,” Morse adds. “So ideas directors are in place to make sure that our strategy doesn’t show, and that our creative connects emotionally and also delivers the business-building response. They’re charged with understanding their client, certainly, but also understanding the market and trends.”

In October, Morsekode hired as its president Chuck Swensson, longtime president at Minneapolis marketing-services agency Creatis, whose job is to keep an eye on what’s emerging in the overlap zone of marketing and technology. Morsekode has more than doubled its headcount in the last two years, which now stands at 27.

One client, Illinois-based microphone and sound-system maker Shure, began working with Morsekode about two years ago when Shure was looking to develop video support for a new-product launch.

“Their video capabilities matched well with a world-class level of communications materials we looked at previously for new-product launches,” says Michael Jasinski, Shure’s marketing manager for brand communications. Shure has worked with the Minnesota agency for two major product lines, including its new flagship microphone system; Morsekode also has done video production for Internet placement and sales presentations. “The videos that they produced were pretty instrumental to us having a really great presence at the National Association of Music Merchants show in Anaheim in 2011,” Jasinski says.

While video is now involved in about 75 percent of Morsekode’s work—the rest includes strategy, brand development, and interactive—Morse wants to stay responsive to changes in client needs and marketing technologies. Citing the winged communications agents in the Harry Potter books and films, he says, “If our clients ask for owls, we’ll do owls.”