Draftfcb: The Smart Wall

This unique way of displaying data works like a laboratory for solving client problems. Four key Draftfcb executives give their own take on why and how the Smart Wall brings brand issues to life.

HOW IT WORKS - Iain Noakes, head of data planning, Draftfcb London

All data specialists will be familiar with a particular look. It comes along in meetings, sometimes as little as five minutes in. One moment you're sitting opposite someone who appears alert, attentive and receptive. The next, that same person's eyes take on an aqueous, languid quality. As you stare into those deep, empty pools, apparently lacking any recognition or interest, you'll have wished there was a way of explaining what you were going on about in a more involving, animated way. For me, one of the most exciting things about the Smart Wall is the way it enables data people to ward off those empty looks, lighting a fire beneath what might previously have been a decidedly damp affair.

Sitting someone down in front of eight linked screens adds a certain drama to any presentation. Without exception, a curious excitement descends on the room. Over the years I've heard people talk about the importance of "bringing data to life", but the Smart Wall is the first thing I've seen that actually pulls this off.

Essentially, the Smart Wall lets you manipulate, understand and interpret data across several dimensions. It democratises the discipline, enabling users to derive uncommon insights from common data, in ways that anyone can understand. The linked screens take you on a clear journey. You can map segments against data metrics, taking an almost infinite number of variables and charting them against all kinds of activities. If we are interested in a specific "customer moment", such as how long a particular age group in a specific location uses a computer and when they are most likely to do so, we can view it immediately.

We can map customers geographically, find out where particular groups live and what's there, undertake a spatial analysis and examine spend patterns. I can watch qualitative interviews, calling up specific sections using tagged variables. This effectively eliminates the Chinese Whispers that qualitative work occasionally creates. Here, you're never left wondering what an interview subject really meant.

The Smart Wall also allows us to map activity in near real time, as well as examine powerful predictive models, which can look at channels, timing and other variables based on previous experience, then project results accordingly. On the back of all of this, you can also plan media.

Normally, presenting all this data would involve endless PowerPoint slides, scratching of heads and furrowing of brows. Using the Smart Wall, it becomes intuitive, illuminating and, most importantly of all, interesting for those without the word "data" in their job titles.

WHY IT WORKS - Simon Calvert, executive planning director, Draftfcb London

One of the really interesting things about the Smart Wall is that it puts the fun of gaming into data. When you're using the eight screens, it's as if you're playing with a multi-screen gaming console, where you can play many different parts of the game at the same time. That's one of the reasons why it's so good for inspiring creative teams. It allows people to talk about information in a way that everyone finds engaging and can understand.

Also, people cannot resist the temptation to play with things. The Smart Wall allows people to play with many "what if" scenarios early on in the strategic and creative development process.

You can move things up and down, in and out, or just watch them constantly changing. So it isn't necessarily about whether what you do with a screen works then and there, but it is much more about getting people to explore, learn and understand what's going on.

It taps very much into the experiential side of things. Just like at school, where you get children to play with information, and they use smart-boards and interactive technologies to better explore and understand more. This makes learning much more memorable.

It's as if we are children, and we're learning in an inspirational way, rather than through the old-fashioned, dull, dusty way of learning, such as sitting back and being talked at by an individual, or having to sit in quiet isolation and read a document.

Something that is often overlooked about this technology is that if you can see things moving in real time, you are even more likely to play with them. Particularly when you know that because of what you are doing today, the screens on the Smart Wall will change tomorrow.

As planners, it's our job to inspire creative teams. The Smart Wall draws creative teams in. They are very curious about it - they want to get more into it, have a play and see what's happening. When they come away from a briefing, they have a very visual record of what they're working on - the stories, the images and the live, changing facts."

THE SMART WALL IN THE US - Michael Fassnacht, chief customer intelligence officer, Draftfcb

A major problem with data is simply that there's too much of it; clients generally have way more information than they can actually use, so much of it is simply ignored. Part of the idea behind the Smart Wall was to refocus our approach to this mass of information. We placed the spotlight on understanding differences between strategic segments, on building geographic intelligence to improve local targeting, on optimising the marketing mix, and on understanding the positive or negative buzz about particular brands. In many ways, the Smart Wall is about coming to grips with an existing, but massively underutilised resource.

At a basic level, users can expect three kinds of results. First, we can inform strategic marketing decisions; second, we can increase the effectiveness of a client's marketing spend by up to 40 per cent; and finally, we can build more analytically oriented decision teams, without sacrificing or restricting creativity.

The insights we gain can be incredibly detailed. For a major US retailer, we discovered that one of the targeted segments likes to buy certain products as Christmas gifts several weeks before 25 December. This made a significant impact on our time and segment-specific merchandise and communication strategies. For another client, we discovered that one day of the week is the evening when the targeted segment might go for the "take out" option for the family - they've run out of weekend leftovers and are tired of cooking. So we put extra media focus on Thursday morning communication points to make the most of this.

For a global phone company, we found that customers are more than three times as loyal if they sign up to just one additional service, such as international calls. So we put extra effort into up-selling that service, as well as encouraging the use of extra services for which the customer has already paid.

It's vital the client understands that the Smart Wall is an iterative improvement process. It's "work in progress" that improves every day. We've already applied it to an array of markets, from telecoms and retail to packaged goods, automotive and fast food, but there's no reason why it couldn't function across any sector. Part of the attraction of working with the Smart Wall is the way it evolves. We're looking at new modules, integrating new data sets and developing new metrics all the time. It will always be an important tool, one that's great to have at our fingertips.

THE SMART WALL IN PARIS - Agnes Vissoud, head of data and customer intelligence, Draftfcb Paris

Even though each Smart Wall employs the same basic principles, what we have discovered is that each market has adapted their own Wall to suit their preferred way of working. It's interesting, as it means there is flexibility in the way it can be used, but it's also exciting for Draftfcb as a whole, because each time a part of the group finds a new way of doing something, it can then be shared with everyone else. This constant evolution keeps the technology and the techniques alive and changing all the time. There's also a bit of healthy competition, as people love to be the first to do something.

In Paris, the Smart Wall is different to all the other Smart Walls in the network. It has been developed with functionality similar to the iPhone, with touch-sensitive screens as the main user interface. For us, one of the most intriguing aspects of this development has been observing the way it influences users' relationships with the Wall. Because they are physically touching it, there's a strangely symbiotic closeness that seems to develop. Its tactile nature gives the whole process a completely different character.

The Paris Smart Wall has only been active for a relatively short space of time, but it has changed enormously during that period. It has become a real hub of the agency, and we have been building it up with fresh data all the time. The Wall is now linked to web resources such as Google Maps and literally tons of other data available online. We're tapping into these kinds of resources and then overlaying them with the other levels of existing data on the system. The result is a truly multi-dimensional picture, to which everyone at the agency and, more importantly, our clients, can relate easily.

Another of the most interesting aspects of our work to date is the way it has started to inform activity and thought beyond marketing and the brand. The chief executive of Hippopotamus, a highly successful restaurant chain with branches across France, is incredibly excited by the Smart Wall's potential to mould his business as a whole. He is already using the insights derived from it to help devise the chain's ambitious expansion plans. The team in Paris is also looking at ways in which the Smart Wall can be operated via the client's mobile phone. In doing so, we will have opened up even more possibilities.