The rise of targeted advertising has made data analytics an integral part of marketing in recent years. As Sir Martin Sorrell, the ousted founder of the world's largest advertising agency WPP, said in 2013: "The future of advertising and marketing services belongs as much to Maths Men (and women) as it does to Mad Men (and women)."
Few have had a closer view of the developments in data-driven marketing since than Stephan Bruneau, the Global Head of Analytics for WPP subsidiary Wavemaker, whose $38 billion in global billings make it the second-largest media agency network in the world.
Wavemaker is betting big on the power of customer journey management to understand consumer choices, and Bruneau is playing a crucial role in making the bet pay off. He manages all the data that Wavemaker collects from clients, campaign analytics from media partners and proprietary research, from the detailed insights obtained through questionnaires to the enormous volumes of data found in internet cookies.
These insights help Wavemaker to advise customers including Vodafone, L'Oreal and Ikea on how to target advertising at the different consumers of their various products, whether they're a young person looking at cosmetics on a website or a middle-aged professional looking at cars.
The company first identifies the audience types and then creates an investment plan using a tool called Crossmedia, which analyses over 1,000 proprietary econometric studies and consumer studies from the likes of MRI and Simmons to create an optimised marketing strategy for a defined time period.
"It will tell us what's the right level of budget and how to spend the budget across these various media channels for that specific audience as well," Bruneau tells CIO UK.
"And then what we do is we push that data further down into digital platforms and thereby create what we call positive and negative seeds of data. We push these data seeds to, for example, Google, so that we can make sure that the people we have in the plan are the kind of people that we want to target in YouTube."
Building internal knowledge
These plans are only as effective as the data that informs them, so Wavemaker has heavily invested in research. This led the company to build what it claims to be world's largest database of purchase journey data: WM Momentum, a study of more than half a million surveys conducted in more than 40 markets and across 80 categories.
Wavemaker used WM Momentum data to recommend Jet2 Holidays on where to spend the digital marketing budget for their recent advertising campaign. This led to a 67% increase in visitors to the airline's website and helped boost the company's business by 22% year on year.
"We understand for different product categories and different countries how people react every day. I might not need to buy a car right now, but I'm certainly subjected to advertising; I see cars in the street, I may use cars myself sometimes if I rent a new model, so I'm exposed to cars in daily life, which we call the priming stage," explains Bruneau.
"And then something acts a trigger. Maybe I'll have a baby and need a bigger car and that will propel me into what we call the active stage of the purchase journey. And then the purchase itself happens.
"All of this data is very important for us, and so we use that data in our planning system, CrossMedia, and that allows us to make really smart recommendations and pretty precise recommendations as well."
Once the campaigns begin, Wavemaker uses machine learning to analyse their impact and make strategic changes on the fly, a process known as digital creative optimisation (DCO).
If an analysis of whether consumers saw and then clicked on the ads that appeared on their Facebook feed shows the creative direction isn't working, the client can then substitute one ad for another.
"A lot of the work we do is analytics to bring all of this together and understand the effects of campaigns and learn and create benchmarks for what works best for certain brands, at certain times of the year, and for certain consumer audiences," says Bruneau.
To make data science effective, the experts need to collaborate with the rest of the decision-makers at their organisation. Bruneau advises his peers and Chief Data Officers to foster close working relationships with their CIOs and CTOs to ensure that their work achieves the maximum desired impact.
"That means lots of informal contacts, being open and direct about needs but also sharing views on future direction, asking for advice," says Bruneau, who reports to the Wavemaker CEO. "A relationship based on mutual trust and respect. Why? Because technology is foundational to everything data and analytics, so that's a pretty good enough reason in itself!
"But there's also the need for speed and flexibility whereby in an agency like ours, if we win a new client tomorrow and they have a very specific tech stack we need to work with, then having the CIO on your side to connect your data spine and platforms to the new client's is critical to success. A trust-based relationship with the CIO will make these decisions much faster and easier."
The same mentality applies to how Bruneau works with his 8,500 colleagues. To help them get the best out of data analytics, Wavemaker has created a cloud platform that around 1,500 employees use every day to advice clients on their marketing campaigns.
Staff can use simple tools to interrogate WM Momentum purchase journey data and quickly find out detailed information about specific audience groups.
"We're trying to create as many different angles for people to access the data, always bearing in mind that the majority of people don't understand the complexity of that data," says Bruneau. "They're only interested in what it says and what the story is behind the data."
The platform is designed to be open and interoperable with the various IT systems used by Wavemaker clients.
"Because we're an agency and a lot of clients have made a lot of technology choices in their marketing ecosystems, we have to work with their investments," explains Bruneau.
"For example, if a client has developed their first data programme with Oracle or Adobe then we've got to be able to connect all of our platforms and technologies with Adobe or Oracle.
"So essentially I view this as an open ecosystem and open platform, and the way we connect to these other partners and technologies by using a broad range of scripting techniques, APIs, and lots of things that are available today to really connect data and technology all together."
He also keeps an open mind in his vendor management strategy. When picking IT suppliers, Bruneau recommends creating a clear brief on the specific needs for the technology and then selecting the partner that can best fulfil it, rather than developing products in-house that are already on the market.
"The temptation sometimes is to create a lot of stuff ourselves but my view is there's no point in doing that if someone else has done part of what you need already," he says. "Because the media marketing industry is evolving so fast with the digital revolution we don't have time to recreate things that already exist."