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Measurement, diversity and radical partnerships

These 3 key provocations can disrupt convention and fuel growth, as marketing experts discussed at Wavemaker’s Provocative Perspectives event

Measurement, diversity and radical partnerships

Advertisers’ businesses are failing to grow beyond a 10% threshold because of an over-reliance on maintaining the status quo rather than striving for innovation, according to global media agency Wavemaker.

“You’ve probably heard us citing a troubling statistic: that 90% of brands grew less than 10% in market share over the past decade,” said Verra Budimlija, Wavemaker’s UK’s chief strategy officer. “Frankly, that’s not good enough.”

Budimlija was overseeing an online event hosted by the agency, featuring a trio of panel sessions moderated by Omar Oakes, Campaign’s media and technology editor.

The event took place at the end of last week and was hinged on three of seven ‘provocations’ examined in Wavemaker’s book (published in November and available for free online), Positive Provocation. The next stage of marketing.

“If we continue to act and think the way that we have until now, nothing will change,” Budimlija continued. “We need to do more to provoke new ideas and new thinking if we really want to stand a chance to find that elusive growth that clients want.

Media and marketing leaders from Nationwide Building Society, Compare the Market, Brand Advance, Channel 4, Verizon, Gain Theory and Wavemaker itself shared a variety of perspectives on the issues of measurement, diversity and inclusion and radical partnerships.

Measurement for growth 
The first session, ‘Measurement for growth’, brought together Paul Constantine, head of effectiveness at Compare the Market; Wavemaker head of effectiveness Dominic Charles and strategy partner Graham Fisher; and Matthew Chappell, senior partner at Gain Theory.

Oakes kicked off proceedings with the observation that “short of living in a totalitarian dictatorship, you’re never going to have 100% accuracy measuring everything that consumers do”.

He asked: “When it comes to imperfection, is there a certain type of measurement that you feel is particularly flawed, to the point where brands might make the wrong decision on their marketing spend?”

Flawed measurement
For Wavemaker’s Charles, “the reality is that it depends on what the question is that you’re trying to answer”. “It’s probably less about ‘this tool is good, this tool is bad’, and more that certain types of analytics and measurements answer different types of questions.”

In his view, the most flawed perspective comes from misconceptions about digital-attribution data sets, which are “very complicated and get lots of money spent on them” and therefore “tend to get seen as a very powerful source of the truth”

“But obviously by definition, it disregards your offline marketing, your promotional activity, your changes to distribution. It’s less the case that some are flawed and some aren’t, it’s more about ensuring you’re using it to answer the right kinds of questions.”

Compare the Market’s Constantine is a client who gets it: the notion that measurement is no panacea.

“Generally, we’re less trying to make individual pieces in our measurement portfolio more accurate,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure we’ve got the right basket of measurements that give us a cross-sectional view.

“We spend a lot of time looking at multiple sources of data – whether that’s econometrics or journey data or share data. What we try to do is bring all those together and ask, ‘is there a common theme, is there a commonality?’. We try really hard not to say, ‘that’s the sort of truth, we’re going to follow that religiously into the ditch’.”

Death to the cookie
Meanwhile, with the likes of web browsers Google Chrome and Apple Safari and among the digital giants phasing out third-party cookies, there have been multiple headlines declaring the “death of the cookie” and pondering the negative impact this will have on advertisers suddenly bereft of a subsection of online data.

But Gain Theory’s Chappell argued that there might be a “lot of marketers breathing a big sigh of relief”.

“There was this dream being put out that you can measure everything that everyone is doing in the online space and magically, along the line you can add in offline behaviours,” he said.

“A lot of marketers spend a lot of money chasing that dream. Marketers understand that it’s good at telling you about a segment of customer behaviour. But you also need the others – journey mapping, the econometrics, test-and-learn, brand tracking, customer surveys. We’ve not suddenly got this holy grail in front of us that’s been taken away.”

Chasing your own tail
Meanwhile, broadcasters, platforms and publishers, like ITV, have been making their measurement and analytics reporting more transparent with moves, such as its partnership with Meetrics, to provide video viewability data for its video-on-demand catch-up service across all platforms and apps. Moves like these are clearly designed to help agencies and brands, as well as pull in more spend. But is a more unified approach the future?

Not according to Wavemaker’s Fisher.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get to a unified solution in terms of answering the right kinds of questions,” he said. “We talk in our original provocation piece about approaching measurement with a growth mindset. You get that if you work with guys like Matthew or Dom – reports and analytics that, however in depth they are, however broad-reaching they are, they don’t just come with ‘what next?’, they come with ‘what if?’.

“You don’t just get a report about the current facts – ‘this is how everything is performing and therefore we should do x, y and z’ – actually we’ve got this curious mindset that challenges the status quo, ’this is how things are working today, but what if we could change this? What if this shock to the system happened, what if we shook things up?’.

“Trying to join more of the dots and trying to get a single view of top-line performance across all channels is a great aspiration. But part of the reason for advocating this portfolio approach to measurement is that even if you can tick all the boxes, in terms of ROI, there’s going to be a whole load of more pressing questions and there’s never going to be one technique that answers them all.”

The new diversity and inclusion operating system
The second session, ‘The new diversity and inclusion operating system’, gave viewers insights from a panel comprising Chris Ladd, head of media at Nationwide Building Society; Chris Kenna, founder and chief executive of Brand Advance; and Wavemaker chief executive Paul Hutchison and strategy partner Emily Fairhead-Keen.

Wavemaker’s Budimlija noted that while the ad industry has been contending with diversity and inclusion, many efforts are “piecemeal initiatives that just won’t cut it”. “What we need to do is have a wholesale change by baking in inclusivity in our media activations, but also celebrating diversity,” she said.

Oakes elaborated on the need for the industry to go further, not to only react and up their game reactively in response to cultural moments, such as the killing of George Floyd and #Blacklivesmatter protests.

“How do we ensure that D&I doesn’t just come around those flash-points,” he said. “That it’s an ongoing thing without becoming staid?”

Mount Everest and what it teaches us about D&I
For Wavemaker’s Hutchison, “it’s a question without a simple answer”.

“I talked last year in an article I wrote about diversity and inclusion being my ‘career Everest’. When you embark on climbing a mountain, there are so many things you need to do in preparation, you need to learn about the mountain. So we need to all commit to learning about diversity and inclusion. We all have our own backgrounds and we need to learn about those of other people.”

He built upon the Everest analogy, stressing that when mountaineering, “you need a team of experts to help you get there, so building a team around you is really important.

“You need a roadmap and you also need to not obsess with the summit, you need to break that journey down, because climbing Everest takes about nine weeks in total. You can’t obsess about the summit night on day one, you’ll never get there.”

Fostering diversity and inclusion should be as important an aspect of annual business planning as profit. “What gets measured gets done,” he added.

His Wavemaker colleague, Fairhead-Keen, elaborated: “We passionately believe diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be a satellite unit, or separate to the rest of the agency. Actually it needs to be the responsibility of all of us to deliver it.

“We’ve tried to equip people with practical support – knowledge and tools to be able to measure whether plans and audiences are truly inclusive or not. Right the way through our planning operating system, from the insight gathering, ethnography, understanding different audiences.

“Not only are we trying to bake it into our operating system and work it throughout everything we do, but there’s a really important bit of this, which is diversity and inclusion is just a bigger chance to understand more people.

“Most of us came into this industry because we’re interested in people and we’re interested in what makes them tick, what makes them do stuff, what makes them buy stuff. And actually inclusivity is just a chance to learn more about people. It’s a hugely brilliant opportunity to learn more about different cultures and different walks of life.”

New audiences, new consumers
It’s a point that clearly resonated with Brand Advance’s Kenna, who echoed Budimlija’s observation that clients are not achieving growth beyond 10%.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome,” he said. “Everybody until recently has been fighting with their brand for the same pot of people. It’s always the same demographic, all ABC1, and we’re all going for them in the same media. If we’re going to break that 10% threshold, that invisible barrier, then I think we even need to stop calling it D&I and just call it extra reach. It’s just more people.”

Nationwide Building Society’s Ladd - someone whose business has been making major efforts to promote diversity and combat hatred – warned of the danger of brushing the issue aside while being focused on nominally more pressing issues.

“You think of the impact of Brexit, the COVID lockdown, there are plenty of distractions for business leaders,” he said. “It’s about continually talking about it in every meeting, every day in every week, and doing stuff. It’s heartening to hear that some of the brands are starting to do it, but I don’t know if every brand is and I don’t know if every agency is. It needs to become the norm. It’s about understanding consumers who might be different from someone like me.”

The suggestion that agencies need to do more to foster inclusion and diversity was taken up by Kenna, who bemoaned the lack of BAME representation at industry shindigs such as Cannes Lions.

“I was at the last Cannes [before lockdown] and black people performed and white people drank rosé and watched,” he said. “If you looked at who was there, who was on the beaches, we can all honestly say it was very, very white, very, very male.

“I hope now when we go, we can challenge ourselves. I opened my gob when we had only 25 staff, saying that we were going to bring the whole company next time. We’re now 120 and I’ve still got to bring the whole company because I opened my gob.”

Cannes is ripe with insight and expertise, and yet the audience hearing it is unchanging, plus they’ve heard it all before. It’s a wasted opportunity, Kenna reckons.

“We can change things like that. Let’s bring the lower levels, people we’re bringing into our companies now, who are not from that went-to-uni ilk, and bring them to things like Cannes.”

Long live radical partnerships
“The creative department is dead”, Wavemaker proclaimed in its Positive Provocation book. “Long live radical partnerships.”

Given the media landscape is so vast, so complex, given that we’re succumbing to information overload, the creative process needs to extend beyond creative departments and across the entire advertising ecosystem – from agencies, brands, platforms and publishers.

The third and final session of the day drew together Wavemaker executive creative director Ann Wixley and head of print brands and media partner engagement Emma Dibben; Monica Majumdar, head of strategy UK at Verizon Media; and Kirsten Gillard, agency and client sales leader at Channel 4.

“The radical bit is the fact that you’re opening out,” Wixley explained, highlighting the importance of involving staff from all walks, getting “a lot of different people in a room together, different people who don’t have ‘creative’ in their title”.

Dictionary definition
“We’re sloppy about how we define the word ‘creative’. Creative thinking and the ability to imagine are inherent to us as human beings, it’s what separates us from computers. We’re not muddling that up with creative execution craft and being able to write a perfect copy line, that’s the job of a copywriter."

Wixley argued that the heart of radical partnerships was “going back to the essence of and embodying the core principles of creativity”.

“One is combining two different things to create something new, smashing them together to see what you get. The second thing is in that act, uncovering and discovering new ways to see and do things.”

Verizon Media’s Majumdar concurred. “Creativity can come from so many places,” she said. “It shouldn’t be from just those people with ‘creative’ in their title. Verizon Media went through two pivots last year. One was changing the way we do partnerships, and second was obviously COVID.”

Accordingly, in 2020, Verizon Media UK changed the way it managed partnerships and processes, not least due to the impact of lockdown. 

“The key thing was making sure that we brought lots of people in, different skills and strengths. So for instance, we took account managers and brought them in to come up with partnership ideas because they were able to really listen, filter, get that detail.”

The danger of democratisation?
But Oakes threw in a question: that by “democratising creativity” through radical partnerships, is there not a risk that advertising loses its creative mojo?

An emphatic ‘no’ from Dibben. “Quite the reverse,” she said. “At Wavemaker, we recognised long ago that collaboration was an incredibly important part of the process. When you think back 10 to 15 years’ ago, it was a bit like an armed combat situation with media agencies, creative agencies and partners. We realised long ago that we needed – with the complexity of the media landscape – to be way more collaborative in order to deliver great work.

“This feels like the next phase of collaboration.”

Tellingly, Wavemaker colleagues are in danger of sparking Wixley’s wrath if they use what she considers outmoded terminology. “Ann doesn’t allow us to call them creative agencies,” Dibben says. “They’re advertising agencies. Creativity is for everyone.”

Channel 4 is no stranger to the democratisation of creativity, which is manifest in much of its output, such as its ‘Clap for carers’, which involved 39 brands and rivals coming together to support NHS workers; and its #StandAgainstRacism campaign that united with the UK’s supermarkets to stand against the online hate spurred by Sainsbury’s TV campaign starring a black family.

“‘Play’ is our team within the sales team who really help us generate ideas and put a framework around what we’re doing,” Gillard said. “But what we’ve definitely been doing is ensuring that everyone within the department and across the business has the ability to get involved in the process of creativity. That’s where diversity of ideas comes and where some of the best work emerges.”

Find comfort in discomfort
For those looking to dip their toes into radical partnerships, Wixley had some advice: “Get comfortable with discomfort and non-consensus.

“You’re going to have to go in there and have messy conversations where people are disagreeing and there are lots of moving parts and you don’t know what’s going to come out of that.”

Sometimes, that’s going to be a messy process, crazy even, she admitted.

“But a way to make it feel not so crazy is to ring-fence it and create a safe space within which that process happens. It’s controlled in that way, but what happens within that space is not.

“See what happens, bring it back in, decide what are the bits you’re going to work through and then it goes through a strategic process.

“In that way you have some control and are directing it, but you’re not directing and controlling in the wrong places.

“Start by making the leap.” 

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