The power of partnerships and first-party data: a Q&A with BCG, AustralianSuper, and Spark Foundry

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Barney Pierce, David Robertson, Josie Beever, Michael Schniering / May 2020

Barney Pierce, Google AUNZ’s director of Google Marketing Platform, joined Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Michael Schniering, AustralianSuper’s David Robertson, and Spark Foundry’s Josie Beever to learn how brands and agency partners can improve their first-party data capabilities to better understand and relate to consumers’ needs. Here, Pierce shares highlights from their discussion.

A robust first-party data strategy has never been more critical for today’s brands. As consumers spend significantly more time online due to social distancing and remote work, brands have an imperative to strike the right balance — engaging with consumers in a meaningful, personalised way while maintaining the right tone and respect for users’ privacy.

Now, more than ever, brands should be consciously working to build and retain consumers’ trust through transparent data stewardship. First-party data is crucial to understanding the breadth and depth of consumers’ interests and preferences and keeping up with emerging trends. More importantly, it empowers brands to relate to the challenges consumers are facing right now and to be more helpful when it matters most. At a time when consumer behaviour is evolving faster than ever, brands that build on their first-party data capabilities can be more agile to meet consumers’ needs while accelerating their journey up the digital marketing curve.

Not surprisingly, in our most recent study with BCG, 94% of Aussie brands said that first-party data was critical to their marketing — but more than half (56%) of those brands don’t feel they’re using it effectively. Our research also found that two of the biggest hurdles are data integration and access. That’s where brands have an opportunity to work with skilled agency partners to support their own teams and embark on the journey together.

94% of Aussie brands said that first-party data was critical to their marketing — but more than half (56%) of those brands don’t feel they’re using it effectively.

To learn how forward-thinking brands are building stronger partnerships, I spoke with David Robertson from AustralianSuper, Josie Beever from the pension fund’s media agency, Spark Foundry, and BCG’s Michael Schniering. We discussed the problems AustralianSuper and Spark are solving together with first-party data, why their partnership has been successful, and how they’re evolving to deliver better, more effective customer experiences.

Barney: To kick things off, David, I’d love to hear your take on some of the problems AustralianSuper has solved with its data and technology.

David: I liken our experience to the Grand Prix of digital marketing. We were given the keys to a fancy sports car, but not everyone on the team was qualified to drive it. Before we could use our data effectively, we needed to not only assess our own capabilities, but also partner with the right people who were going to take us to that nirvana of multi-moment maturity.

“We needed to not only assess our own capabilities, but also partner with the right people who were going to take us to that nirvana of multi-moment maturity.”

The two areas we’ve recruited for in particular are data science and analytics. We needed to have people on board who understood our stack of technology, what it can do for us now, and how we can use it in the future. If we’re driving the sports car, our partners are the pit crew. Without them, we wouldn’t get very far before the wheels fall off.

And then you have first-party data — the oil in the car. Each brand has its own blend that sets it apart from the competition and drives performance.

Barney: It sounds like your partners are a pretty important part of your team. Can you give an example of something that your partnership with Spark Foundry helped you solve?

David: Spark helped us set up a custom attribution model to bring in a variety of data points, map the full consumer journey, and gain a deeper understanding of our customers. From there, we were able to build custom audiences to reach people when and where they’re more likely to convert. And by pushing our data through Google Optimize, we can create a more personalised site experience to lead people toward specific actions.

Barney: One of the biggest barriers many companies face is setting up the right team. Can you elaborate on how you’ve overcome those challenges?

David: Going back to my Grand Prix metaphor, I’ve seen a lot of brand leaders buy the sports car and then waste money paying other people to drive it. Everyone has to hit the road together from step one, with your own team in lock step with your partners, to ensure their capabilities, insights, and learnings trickle down to the rest of the organisation.

"Everyone has to hit the road together from step one, with your own team in lock step with your partners, to ensure their capabilities, insights, and learnings trickle down to the rest of the organisation."

Barney: That’s a good segue — Josie, can you talk about Spark Foundry’s partnership with AustralianSuper and how you’ve supported them on their journey? How has your agency evolved along the way?

Josie: We started working with AustralianSuper back in 2014. In the last six years, we’ve worked hand-in-hand to make sure both our agency and the brand were equipped to transform and run with new technology.

One of our biggest enablers is the way we’re structured. Our analytics teams literally sit close to our strategy teams. That ensures we’re not just looking at AustralianSuper’s first-party data during campaign execution or in post-campaign reports. We’re looking at it during the earliest briefing stages and using that data to inform what we’re doing.

“We’re looking at [first-party data] during the earliest briefing stages and using that data to inform what we’re doing.”

When we’re recruiting talent out of college, we want to curate a diverse team of people with both creative and analytical mindsets who are ready to dive into an increasingly data-driven industry.

Barney: What makes your partnership unique?

Josie: In my mind, it’s having a holistic view across AustralianSuper’s entire account from a digital perspective. All of the brand’s other partner agencies also have a clear role, and we collaborate well. We have a very close partnership with Royals, AustralianSuper’s creative agency, that’s allowed us to deliver personalised creative to different audiences using the data we’re so close to.

“[Spark Foundry] is not only involved with media but also website content creation. So they have a holistic view of the consumer journey from the first site visit through to action.”

David: One of the biggest things that differentiates Spark’s involvement with us is they’re not only involved with media but also website content creation. So they have a holistic view of the consumer journey from the first site visit through to action. Without that complete view, they’d be a lot less effective.

Barney: Michael, does that resonate with what you saw in the research? How was the role of partnerships featured?

Michael: 100%. One of the capabilities we looked at was how effectively brands partner with others. As we mentioned before, the top two organisational barriers we heard from brands was a lack of internal talent and a need to change the way of working. That’s where we’ve seen the most value from partnerships.

We’re seeing more brands build an ecosystem of partners to bring them up to speed and help deliver on new capabilities and integrated solutions. Recently, a client wanted to deliver more precise marketing using machine learning and bilateral data sharing. That took a collaboration between multiple partners — a data sharing platform, a third-party data analytics provider, and agencies.

While it’s crucial to bring everyone together as one team, it’s equally important for partners to lift the brand’s capabilities so they can run with them on future campaigns.

Barney: As a final thought, can you each share some advice for brands and agencies to succeed in 2020 and beyond based on your experience?

Josie: Step out of that media silo and be prepared to be an expert on other things, like personalised site content. And never assume you’ve got it all figured out. Technology moves so much faster than we can keep up with. Stay curious, stay looking forward, and don’t be afraid of failure.

David: Josie nailed it — build a culture that’s centered on testing and learning. Always strive for something new and better, because it’s always on the horizon. And partner with smart people who are going to take you from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow.

“Technology moves so much faster than we can keep up with. Stay curious, stay looking forward, and don’t be afraid of failure.”

Michael: There’s a big prize for businesses that can succeed with personalisation and first-party data. The most successful advertisers in our research are seeing up to 20% higher revenue and 30% more cost savings. Think big about the opportunity, but start small. Find the little things you can do to experiment so you can learn while driving incremental results. Like David said, if you keep testing and learning, the entire organisation will benefit in the long run.

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