In conversation with Sir Martin Sorrell: on programmatic, first-party data challenges, and India’s advantage

In conversation with Sir Martin Sorrell: on programmatic, first-party data challenges, and India’s advantage

Matt Brocklehurst, Head of Platforms Marketing at Google APAC
Sir Martin Sorrell, Executive Chairman at S4 Capital
February 2020

Renowned for his 30-plus years at WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell is convinced that one critical factor will redefine the future of digital marketing: first-party data. In a conversation with Matt Brocklehurst, Google APAC's head of platforms marketing, the advertising trailblazer shares his thoughts on how data drives better creative, the importance of transparency, and how brands should navigate 2020 and beyond.


First-party data & personalization


Matt Brocklehurst: You said that 2020 is the year of first-party data. Could you share a bit more about how you’re seeing the progress of first-party data?


Sir Martin Sorrell: I think personalization at scale is the way. That creates a model which is totally different. It’s tailored to the individual, it looks at what people are doing in a constructive way, not a destructive way, and we all produce better work.


Sir Martin Sorrell: What does better mean? It means from a consumer point of view that it’s more relevant. Growth is in digital and personalization at scale is critically important because you and I as individuals would much rather receive a message which was tailored to my need.


Sir Martin Sorrell: The Netflix model, if I could call it a Netflix model, is a good example where they supply first-party data to us and the other consultancies and agencies.


Sir Martin Sorrell: We develop digital content, short-form content, which is tailored to what we perceive as being consumers’ buying habits or media habits and then we distribute it programmatically.


Sir Martin Sorrell: And it’s in a continuous loop. So this is a real-time model built for this new age of always-on, 24/7. So it’s a bit ... the best analogy is it’s like an election campaign without an election date. I think that’s it. So that’s the model.


First-party data challenges


Sir Martin Sorrell: So talking about first-party data is one thing; executing for legacy companies is much more difficult because they’ve grown by acquisition and they’ve had systems inside their businesses which have been unintegrated.


Sir Martin Sorrell: I think it's very difficult for the analog and legacy companies. For example, the banks keep in place data and IT systems. They keep them in place and sort of maintain them using consultancies and others because the cost of writing them off would have a huge impact on their results.


Sir Martin Sorrell: And that’s the fundamental problem. There are very few companies who can do it quickly because they are weighed down by their legacy assets. In my view, they will be far better off taking the hit, doing what they need to do to get the databases integrated and working together.


Privacy with full transparency


Matt Brocklehurst: So at Google we’ve always put the user first and the consumer first. I think we need to listen to consumers.


Sir Martin Sorrell: I don’t think the consumers are concerned about privacy, as long as they know … the shock comes when their data pops up somewhere, which they didn’t anticipate. So what has to be done is to explain very simply what the implications are.


Sir Martin Sorrell: So you have to go through a process where you opt-in. But in opting-in we have to explain specifically and simply what the implications of signing up, whatever it is …


Matt Brocklehurst: The value exchange.


Sir Martin Sorrell: Yes.


Breaking silos to get more personal


Matt Brocklehurst: So now if I could ask you to summarize, if we’re looking at how companies can make the most out of digital marketing over the next year or so, what would things that you’d focus on?


Sir Martin Sorrell: So inside the companies you’ve got sort of three functions that are, in my view, have to be coordinated or integrated. I actually think they should be one. Sales and Marketing and IT as far it affects the consumer because those three things are heavily interlinked.


Sir Martin Sorrell: You’re seeing the development of silos inside the companies, which are counter-productive — you have to bring it together. The best marketing companies are led by CEOs who think they are chief brand officer. In all companies, the CEO should be intimately involved in the marketing of the company. Not sort of shove it off to another function or another level.


Matt Brocklehurst: So one of the things I’ve heard over the years about programmatic is — is programmatic the death of creativity? How do you see that?


Sir Martin Sorrell: I think it’s totally wrong to say that data — which programmatic is a part if you like —that data hinders creativity. It’s completely nonsense. It makes good creative even better.


Sir Martin Sorrell: You’re using data to inform the creativity and to make it better, to make it more effective, to make it more powerful. So it’s the same thing with programmatic.


Sir Martin Sorrell: I think personalization at scale is the way we’re all going to go based on the technologies that’s enabling you to do that. The data will be there and with all the adjustments we need to make in relation to privacy and brand safety. So yes it makes it relevant …


Matt Brocklehurst: Doesn’t feel like advertising …


Sir Martin Sorrell: And timely. And that’s I think more effective. And then there’s the ways you deliver that message. Another good case of what we’re talking about is when Facebook said a woman spends on average 1.7 seconds looking at a post. What MediaMonks, our content practice, did was to develop 2-second commercials. Fit for format, fit for device and fit for the future, not a TV commercial.


Matt Brocklehurst: So a digital native reaction.


Sir Martin Sorrell: Yes. So you look at a piece of data. an insight, and you develop content around that. You pump it out — personalization at scale. And if you think about what’s happening in our world, the marketing world — first-party data, plus digital content, plus programmatic are the way you get to speed, quality, value.


Matt Brocklehurst: Okay.


India as a leader in digital maturity


Matt Brocklehurst: We recently did some work with BCG, looking at how brands are using things like programmatic content, first-party data. There’s a term called “digital marketing maturity.” One of the things that came out of that global study is that some of the most innovative and effective marketing outfits are actually in India.


Sir Martin Sorrell: So there are some very sophisticated companies in India because I think of the BPO history, because of the IT history. You know 1.3 billion people, on the basis that they have the same average world intelligence as any other nation, they are going to be more successful, just like the Chinese. They have more human resources; the question is, how do you tap into that? The biggest single reason that it’s been successful is the quality of the people.


Matt Brocklehurst: Last question, I promise. So when you were at Saatchi, the phrase that you liked, “Nothing is impossible” ...


Sir Martin Sorrell: The other one that Morris used was, “It’s not enough to succeed, others must fail.” Which is why I’d rather he wasn’t here … some French philosopher.


Matt Brocklehurst: What will be your mantra for the next decade?


Sir Martin Sorrell: “Persistence and speed” is my motto, my knightly motto. When you get knighted, you have to go to the College of Heraldry and you have to devise a motto. Persistence and Speed.


Matt Brocklehurst: Thanks very much.

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