Wunderman's Mark Read on Data: Beware Too Much of a Good Thing

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Mark Read, global CEO, Wunderman
Mark Read, global CEO, Wunderman  Credit: Wunderman
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Mark Read believes data can be good, but cautions that marketers only need so much of a good thing. The global CEO of Wunderman and former CEO of WPP Digital has been in his current role since January 2015. In that time, Wunderman has adopted a new work process intended to help creative juices flow more readily, facilitate collaborations among staff from key disciplines early on in the campaign development stages, and bring creative and analytics together more efficiently.

At Web Summit in Lisbon last week, Ad Age chatted with Mr. Read about the agency's new approach, called "Collision," why Wunderman decided against data-driven marketing in favor of "creatively driven, data-inspired" marketing, and why for some marketers there's a limit to the value of hyper-targeting.

Ad Age: Was your plan from the start to help integrate creative and data in a smarter, more efficient way or was it something that after you spent some time at Wunderman you realized, "Maybe we need to do more of this?"

Mark Read: I knew the business well from my time at WPP, so I had that background and review on what the clients needed. You look for a gap in the market and what you think you can do well, and I'd say the gap in the market is clients want more data-driven marketing, if you like, and what Wunderman had was this fantastic heritage in direct marketing. I use the phrase "All marketing is direct marketing," which is really about the application of data and marketing. So we quite quickly came up with these twin pillars of creativity in data; our proposition that we use today is "Creatively driven, data-inspired."

It's quite purposefully that way around. We had a debate around data-driven creative; we were like, "no, no, we don't want to be data-driven creative." That's a different thing the organization is motivated to do, great creative work, and we use the data to inspire the ideas that we come up with. We use our data to do a lot of other things -- targeting and measuring results, but that's our key differentiator.

Ad Age: I'm guessing that data-driven creative as a concept might have been shot down because there are probably a lot of creatives who wouldn't be so keen on working for an agency with that slogan.

Mr Read: We all knew that's not what we wanted to be, it was pretty clear…. Our business is about insights, great creative ideas that we come up with using our imagination and bringing those two things together.

Ad Age: How has this been implemented in a real way that affects a creative exec?

Mr. Read: We have this methodology called "Collision." We got together technologists, planners, consumer planners, data planners, creatives, strategists, and they came up with this work.

[Mr. Read discussed Wunderman's Collision process, which brings together strategy, analytics and creative project managers in addition to account management to develop multidimensional consumer personas, customer experience journeys showing how customers interact with a brand over time, and frameworks for measurement and optimization. The process also involves new templates for team meetings.]

We have this idea of 4x2 [four-by-two], so four people in a room for two hours, so we bring four different disciplines in a room for two hours to crack the brief. So we have specific types of interventions like that.

Ad Age: When you say intervention, what does that mean?

Mr. Read: Certain kinds of meetings designed to achieve a different outcome than what you'd normally get from the way you used to do things -- so the idea of 4x2 is to reframe the brief. Often you get a brief from a client and it says, "sell more X," so you have to take the brief then turn it into something that's more interesting, that you think you'll get better work from. That was the starting point. Part of that is making us a better agency; clients hire us to challenge them and part of it is to drive data into the process.

Ad Age: Is there a limit, a law of diminishing returns on investment in data and targeting? What is that based on and why?

Mr. Read: I think the answer, like most things in life, is, "it depends." But I think in most categories, particularly in packaged goods categories that are bought by large numbers of people, there's only so much targeting that you can do.

I think How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp is quoted in [stories about] P&G's decision to still use Facebook but buy less targeted media on Facebook [The book warns against over-segmenting audiences, for instance.] The question is, is it worth paying that premium for targeting and the answer that packaged goods companies increasingly come to is, no, because they want to be famous, and that's why I think television remains such a popular medium -- because if you want to make your brand famous, it's the most effective way to do it still.

Then there are categories -- diapers, mortgages, maybe -- where actually more targeting is relevant …. For general brand building, I think we've come to realize that you only need so much of a good thing.