Anne Lipsham and Qassem Naim, Head of Media Strategy and Data & Tech respectively at change agency FCB Media, on the strategic glue and scientific insight that holds together touchpoints at every step of the customer journey.
What does the word ‘strategy’ mean at FCB New Zealand?
Anne Lipsham: I’ve always liked this simple definition: ‘Understanding where you are now, where you need to get to and plotting a path between the two’. Whatever discipline you represent, this shouldn’t fundamentally change – we should all be working toward the same shared ambition, with our own filter. For example, when we’re looking at media connections, we’re looking at how the right combination of message and moment can persuade audiences down the right path.
What’s your role in delivering strategic thinking and planning?
Anne: The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. Keeping focused along the [aforementioned]path to success is key, so in a media industry obsessed with new and shiny, what we say no to is just as important as what we say yes to.
The importance of focus also comes into play when we look at customer journeys. Instead of tackling everything, we look for where we can make the biggest difference, holding everyone to account – including ourselves – and asking tough questions like ‘Does segmentation in this instance have enough scale to warrant the effort/cost?’ and ‘Will busy audiences bother to do what we’re asking here?’ It’s easy to get caught up in our advertising/marketing bubbles, but audiences care a lot less than we give them credit for. Another favourite quote I use that sums that up is: “Your brand’s health depends on lots of people who don’t know you well, don’t think of you much and don’t buy you often – if at all.”
Qassem Naim: Building on what Anne said around segmentation, we need to be asking upfront whether we can actually activate these segments – are they addressable? Often creative or qualitative segmentation doesn’t translate to media segmentation. This happens all the time – huge investment in cute but unusable personas. It needs to be addressable first, so focus on application upfront.
How have clients’ strategic needs changed over the years?
Anne: More clients are asking for strategy, but it’s no longer just about the paid parts of the puzzle. With fragmentation across channels and platforms, and also increasingly within businesses, strategic glue to help hold every touchpoint together is becoming indispensable. Audiences have less patience for inconsistency and ultimately vote with their feet. ‘Media’ or ‘channels’ still infers an intermediary; what audiences ultimately demand is channel-less, frictionless experiences.
More demand for science to support strategic decisions is another key change. With increased analytics and intelligence, we have the ability to say, “Don’t invest money here if it’s tipping audiences into a leaky budget further down. Let us help you fix this part of the customer journey instead.” With modelling and data capabilities providing better forecasting of ROI and size of the prize, media agencies are earning a voice at executive decision-making tables. It’s no coincidence that a number of creative agencies are now investing in media offerings or working closer with media agencies in their holding group as a result.
How have you as an agency adapted to deliver on these needs?
Anne: Good strategy relies on good insight. It sounds simple but it’s often neglected, so we’re doubling down on insight. In terms of helping clients unlock their own insight, our new connections-planning process puts data insight at the heart. With one of the biggest data teams in the agency market, we take the legwork out of the equation to apply analytics, turning data into insight. We’ve just hired a data-application analyst for exactly this, the emphasis being on application.
In terms of finding new insight, we’ve also developed our own research offering, FCB Sense, meaning we can now turn around insight quickly and cost-effectively. Because we’re at the coalface, we can ensure it’s instantly actionable into media.
Qassem: One of the major challenges New Zealand faces is scale, often with the same hard costs as markets 10, 20, 100 times the size, effectively pricing most if not all Kiwi marketers out, despite having the same business challenges and the same needs for enhanced insight. This has made accessibility a key focus for us. We’ve developed tools and scalable frameworks that make things like econometrics/media mix modelling available to clients of all sizes. Driving this offering has meant augmenting ‘typical agency services’ with technologists, developers, solutions engineers and product-development teams that can amplify what we offer and shortcut otherwise lengthy processes that would usually involve briefing multiple partners.
How important is collaboration in a successful strategy?
Anne: Collaboration is key and I think it’s still something our industry struggles with with regards to who to get involved, how and when. Anyone who claims to have all the answers to collaborating with multiple agencies across every client and situation is probably lying! We all know the old-school relay approach doesn’t work and we’ve moved to more rugby-style scrums, but many inter-agency relationships are still working through who has what position in the scrum. Ultimately, tension can be a good thing and once everyone’s on the same page, good strategy creates unification and holds every partner to account.
Even a great strategy doesn’t implement itself. In an increasingly complex media landscape, strategy teams are collaborating more with executional and platform teams, as understanding what’s possible can help feed strategy. You can have the smartest, most insightful strategy in the world, but if it’s difficult to ideate against and doesn’t help unlock great execution, then you don’t have the right strategy.
What role do data and tech play in bringing a successful brand/media strategy to life?
Qassem: Developing a great, insight-led strategy is a massive undertaking, and getting buy-in to make it happen is another. That’s where data can come in. Ensuring it stands up to board and executive scrutiny means ensuring that the numbers are solid. How your strategy will ultimately deliver to the bottom line is the first hurdle and where strong data capabilities can really drive things forward, just like using data to sell creative ideas can sell a good media strategy.
The next challenge is bringing it to life and staying as true to the strategy as possible – and this is where technology really shines. Too often, by the time strategy reaches market it’s been so watered down that it’s a sad reflection of the smarts and work that went into it and could never be expected to deliver on the promise. Having a firm grasp of technology’s capabilities to amplify a strong strategic approach and deliver can make all the difference. It enables you to take the strategy even further when it comes to execution, which at the end of the day is all consumers see and therefore all that matters.
What advice do you have for marketers on successful media strategy and planning?
Anne: Be brave. As they say, “The only thing worse than being invisible is being invisible everywhere”, so throwing lots of media money at average ideas isn’t the answer. Strong media foundations are only one part of the equation.
Sometimes less is more, so do fewer things better. Currently, the biggest hindrance to creative effectiveness is lack of reach. Quite simply, you can’t influence someone who hasn’t seen you.
Be a champion for collaboration, internally and externally among your agencies – demand it and foster it. Getting everyone on the same page as early as possible ultimately delivers better outcomes.
Qassem: Create a culture of trust within your organisation that spans silos, departments and partners. That is the biggest issue we see, as many businesses have huge gaps in trust between teams that result in a surplus of process, meetings and decisions by committee, as opposed to being decisive and taking action.
Share the load with your agency. Starting with the business challenge you’re solving for when briefing your agencies is another key secret to delivering exceptional strategies. Don’t water down the drivers of the brief with assumed comms objectives – include them in addition to business problems, but don’t attempt to replace them.
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