by Mark Tungate (@MarkTungate) Vanessa Bruce and her partners at Boston and L.A. agency, Six Things, are youthful startup veterans who specialise in giving brands a soul.

When you come across a new agency called Six Things, the obvious first question is: “What are the six things?” The name is a reference to Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass, in which the White Queen says she’s often “believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”. The implication is that the agency will strive to do the impossible for its clients.

Appealing name

I happened upon Six Things and its Boston-based co-founder Vanessa Bruce in The New York Times. The article was about something else: an innovative stock photo library called Stocksy, for which Bruce is a dedicated advocate. But the name of Bruce’s brand strategy and design firm appealed to me, so I contacted her via LinkedIn.

I was right to do so, because Bruce and her two partners — Chelsea Hobgood and Kayci Baldwin (above from left to right) — are running a very different kind of operation. You might even describe it as a millennial agency. They learned practically everything they know at startups, which became their prime targets when they launched Six Things earlier last year. But they say they will work with companies at any stage to “design, build, test, brand and launch awesome products”.

Or as Bruce puts it: “We give brands a soul.”

Synergy of skills

The trio met at a startup called ReferralMob, a job recruitment platform where Bruce was involved in designing its UX (user experience, for non-techies), among other things. Although they had very different skills, they found they had a synergy.

“We learned quickly that our eclectic backgrounds brought tremendous strength to our team,” says Bruce. “We’re all very focused on the human in the tech space; that’s our passion and how we got together.”

Hobgood, a Colombia graduate, has spent the last 10 years applying her psychology and neuroscience degrees to growing and developing new businesses; Baldwin, who studied sociology at Harvard, specialises in consumer psychology and user acquisition.

“We are the millennials we market to”

Although Bruce is a classically trained graphic designer (she holds a BA in design and public relations), she says she’s always loved tinkering in the tech world. “I built my first website, a Sailor Moon fan page, when I was 12 year old,” she recalls. This inclination came to the fore in 2010, when she joined 360 Public Relations and found herself not only guiding the agency’s creative vision but designing everything from websites to Facebook applications and mobile apps for clients.

These days, she’s what a former colleague describes as a “triple threat”, a brand strategist who designs and codes. Like the other co-founders of Six Things, she’s valuable to startups because she comes from their world. Keeping up with trends through their own media consumption and the habits of their network, including teenage siblings, the trio are uniquely attuned to the millennial mindset.

“Millennials don’t just buy things,” she points out, in a conversation about branding. “This generation is hungry to get behind a brand with a purpose. They expect their brand allegiance to make an impact.” She mentions Warby Parker — the eyewear retailer — and Toms Shoes, both of which have a “one-for-one” policy of donating one product to charity for every one sold.

Design an important influence

Design is also an important influence, she adds. “Millennials make decisions very quickly. They’re so flooded with digital imagery that they know within two seconds whether a company is in line with their values, just by the design.”

She says her partner Baldwin often downloads apps to keep an eye on the marketplace, but ditches them immediately if the opening screen shot and general “onboarding experience” are not well executed.

“We’re responsive to beauty,” she continues, mentioning that she finds Instagram ads effective because of their aesthetic qualities and integration with her own social feed. Which is just as well, because Bruce and her husband don’t own a TV: they only watch commercial-free streaming services. So how else can brands reach them?


“Branding is more grassroots now,” she says. “Word-of-mouth and brand ambassadors are more effective than ever: people rely on those they trust.”

In terms of the future of Six Things, Bruce says they’re interested in working with “consumer-facing brands” whose values align with their own. “In a lot of ways, we are the millennials we market to. We expect our work with our clients to make an impact, so we think carefully about who we work with and seek out projects we truly believe in.”

So do millennials feel more comfortable working for themselves — hence the proliferation of start-ups — than, say, joining a traditional agency? “I don’t think it’s about size or ownership,” she reflects. “I think for our generation it’s about finding a sense of purpose and belonging in what you do.”


Mark TungateMark Tungate (@MarkTungate) is the editorial director of the Epica Awards (@EpicaAwards), the only global creative prize judged by the specialist press. In this series of articles called Design Plus, Epica highlights creativity in the design field.

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