Episode 3: Data — the future of marketing in a privacy-first landscape
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Episode 3: Data — the future of marketing in a privacy-first landscapeOctober 2023
First-party data is a critical asset for marketers, but it must be used responsibly and ethically. To thrive in an evolving privacy landscape, agencies are having to adapt their data practices — from updating policies to training employees.
In this episode, chief data strategy officer of M&C Saatchi London, James Calvert, explains the data challenges and opportunities for marketers in a world increasingly shaped by the rapid evolution of AI.
This is the third and final episode of ‘Marketing Now & Next’, our new mini-series in collaboration with The Drum. Watch the full video to learn how privacy-first data strategies will inform the future of marketing, and how agencies can use it to set themselves apart from the competition.
Jenni Baker: Hello, and welcome to "Marketing Now & Next," a three-part mini series from The Drum and Think with Google. I'm Jenni Baker, The Drum's senior editor, and over this series, I'll be putting marketing and creative leaders in the spotlight to uncover what's on their minds now in 2023, and next in 2024 and beyond, as we explore and unpack practical advice and insights on how to build better marketing for the future. James, hello.
James Calvert: Hello.
Jenni Baker: As Chief Data Strategy Officer for M&C Saatchi London, you're all about making data useful, right?
James Calvert: That's correct.
Jenni Baker: I think I read that on your LinkedIn somewhere. But where do you see the biggest opportunity for marketers in the context of this new data and privacy-centric landscape?
James Calvert: There's lots and lots of opportunity, but I think it's probably going to be around first-party data, and probably really closely connected to that, personalization that comes off the back of having more of that data to work with and play with and do interesting things with.
Jenni Baker: Absolutely. I think first-party data is certainly key. So, I'm keen to hear, are there any changes that you've had to make internally as an agency to prepare for this future?
James Calvert: Agencies, they're always in change, aren't they?
Jenni Baker: Well, that's true.
James Calvert: But, yes, yes. So, there's been things we have had to do around ethical use, ethics and understanding. So, we've always had policies around data and how it's used, but we've had to update those and revise those and make plans to make sure that they can be updated on a regular and ongoing basis. Going hand in hand with that, we've also had to do quite a bit of work on training. It's quite difficult to understand sometimes some of the rules and the words, and some things are quite explicit and very easily defined and it can be worked out as, here's a thing you can do or you cannot do.
But there are definitely parts of working with data where it's a bit unknown or it's a bit unsure. It's very easy to fall into a world where you're not clear whether you should or shouldn't be using it. And so training has really helped across a number of different roles and departments to give people the confidence to work with data in more ways than they wouldn't have done before.
Jenni Baker: You know, I think that training aspect is really important. So internally as an agency, you've made some changes. I guess in terms of your clients then, how are you supporting them and helping them I guess structure their business differently?
James Calvert: There's been a change in the relationship between clients and agencies. And clients taking more things in house that perhaps they would have put out to a dedicated supplier or an agency partner. And what that has changed, is the dynamic of how you work together. And it's been much less of a sort of baton pass, we're going to clients or going to brief an agency on a project to use some data and the agency is going to return with an answer and we're going to agree or disagree.
It's been much more collaborative. That's been a really big change. So agreeing upfront what is the actual problem or the hypothesis that we're looking at, how might data be useful, what data do we need, who do we need to be involved in making sense of that, and then working out its actual use and rollout. What does it mean for communications? What does it mean for how this data can be useful to help drive growth? It's been a much more collaborative process than I can ever recall.
James Calvert: So the number of different departments and roles and different people who need to be involved in decision making, it's generally slower and more difficult when you have lots of people who need to come to an agreement on something rather than it just staying in one person's mind. It doesn't matter if you've got the right answer if you can't all agree on it and make that decision and move with it as a business. And that's definitely been an area where agencies have been able to help.
So to identify early on in a project, do we need to bring in someone from your legal team, or do we need to bring in someone from a different ops team. So agencies have been helping, and we find it's been much easier to bring people in, much easier to raise questions, and to help to work out the plans and the guiding principles together, to hopefully, get a better answer and everyone on one page. It's been a big change.
Jenni Baker: That's really, really helpful. And again, I come back to what you were saying at the start about the importance of first-party data. So I'd be really keen to hear how are you helping clients use that to create really brilliant customer experiences?
James Calvert: So, I'm going to let you all into a big secret, and that is that first-party data isn't really a new thing. It's been around, just not with those terms, for years and years and years. It's anything that you can do to understand that customer. And that could be as simple as asking them some survey questions and using that information, and that first-party data could help create some really insightful ideas and strategies that could go on to change the course or the decisions that the brand or the marketer might make.
It can also be really useful in loosely what we call personalization before. But I think there's some sub themes, too, to that. So the way that it tends to come about, practical use is, you can either change the targeting to make it more refined in some way. So you can change the time, the date, the particular channel, or the format based on what you've learned and captured as that piece of data. Or you can go through building relevance, and so changing messaging.
And the wonder of that, is that you get not necessarily wholly more creative answers, but you get a much more resonant message or piece of work going out when you've been able to use first-party data in that way. Lots of brands have done this successfully. Sometimes it's quite fun.
You've probably seen lots of quizzes, lots of brands, e-commerce brands that you sign up you get a quiz, you know? What's my favorite coffee flavor or what's my skin type or a gift finder or what mood do I want. All of those things are actually a little mechanic that helps provide a little piece of first-party data that the brand can go on to use downstream in building that relationship with that customer.
Jenni Baker: Well said, and really, really useful as well, advice. So then, how are you supporting clients to leverage data-driven performance marketing to drive efficiency?
James Calvert: There is, sadly, only so much money to go around, isn't there? And growth targets, they always go up. They never go down, do they? They only ever go–
Jenni Baker: One way.
James Calvert: --one way. And the only way to really do that is by thinking about effectiveness and about efficiency. And that means you need to be able to do more in terms of your conversion rates through your funnel. And that really comes from a process of iterative testing. So we've been working across channels, but particularly our digital media channels, to have a really robust and defined stepped phase process to that testing.
And more recently, we've been experimenting with trialing new AI-based tools. It's largely been used to take the better performing pieces and create new versions of those, new adaptations, new versions of your top pieces. And then to see if we can find a new magical version. And there's also been a little bit that's been helping to reduce some fraud, which net net overall, helps efficiency.
Jenni Baker: Well, just sticking on the topic of AI, are you testing or learning with privacy-centric AI to drive this effectiveness? Is there anything, any success stories that you can share with us?
James Calvert: So, clients are all sorts of different stages in their understanding, because it's such a new and emerging space. So there's lots of testing and learning underway with clients. Part of that is just sharing and understanding new knowledge, new tools. There's lots of things available. And so part of that is just bringing them up to speed with what is available.
But once we get beyond that, then it's actually about finding real practical use cases and learnings from the back of that. So we've been doing all sorts of things with text and with image, and trying to do it in a responsible way as we can. So we've been helping a leading drinks company in some way, shape, or form, to go through just some simple use case testing. Can we make the copy in this better?
James Calvert: Can we improve and iterate over this copy, and the headlines, and the call to actions to see if we can drive higher conversion? And off the back of that, can we improve the overall performance and efficiency of some of the lifecycle communications as they go out through those contact points? For another, which is a bit more of a retailer, it's much more around digital journey touchpoint and journey mapping.
And can we find and refine better performing pieces, better targeting opportunities, can we change a word or an image based off all the wonderful data that we've already captured and worked through with those teams to see if we can again drive the overall effectiveness up of their growth program? So that's there. Another one is responsible.
Now it's obviously, as I said, it's a fast-moving space. But we've set some guidelines and principles for ourselves, but also with our clients to at least try and guide us whilst some of these things become, we sort of work our way through what this new world means. So the first thing is around really high quality inputs over outputs. So thinking really importantly about what you're actually putting into a generative or a text-based AI model, and thinking about what you get out.
And you're much better to put higher quality inputs in and to then look at and review with common sense what comes out. There's the second piece about obviously, don't copy other people. Don't take other people's information and use that to train or do something if you don't have the rights. Copyright law still applies, lo and behold.
James Calvert: The reality is, be inspired, of course, just as you would with any creative process, but don't rip other people off. Also, that goes the other way. If you own the rights to something, take advantage of the fact that you own it. And then another third piece, really important piece, is to make sure that everything you do, you protect yourself.
So you've got to think about privacy, you've got to think about avoiding any form of data leakage and making sure you're using the right things in your day-to-day as the agency, and with your client teams that you're working with. The last thing you want is someone to inadvertently make a mistake and there's some very straightforward ways that people can use the right technology to avoid that.
Jenni Baker: Now looking I guess a little bit more to the future and the industry overall, you know, where do you see the biggest approach for businesses to embrace a privacy-first approach to marketing?
James Calvert: There's going to be lots of big opportunities in how you bring these things together, and we probably mentioned a few of them already. In and around first-party data and personalization, definitely is going to be the key end benefit for the brand. Getting to that, I think the opportunity is going to be in thinking about how you reorganize and how you re-think through some of the processes that you might be doing as an agency and with your clients and with your media partners in the round. Because I think some of those processes are going to get quicker. Some of those are going to get faster in terms of the perhaps not having so many people in some of those steps. And I think being mindful of how you go about and open-minded into that opportunity, I think will help brands.
Jenni Baker: And then I guess in terms of your role, Chief Data Strategy Officer–
James Calvert: Yes.
Jenni Baker: --how has that changed? Have you had to learn new skill sets? How has that evolved?
James Calvert: Yes, yeah, I mean it's should always be learning, should always be learning, always be hungry. This space in particular, so data and marketing technology and how people work with them, it is full of words and lingo and words that are sometimes complex and don't necessarily have natural human meanings. And so one of the things that, well really, it's partly part of the training piece, but one thing that I'm really, really keen on, and it's why you said making data useful, but to be able to talk about what it is that you're doing in really playing straightforward language.
We're using data to learn about people. We are then going to use this really smart model, which is going to predict what people may or may not do, and then we're going to test changing the words in this advert in that sense. Now that's a very straightforward way of explaining it.
James Calvert: But when you talk to marketers and teams around those things, they'll be acronyms, there'll be all sorts of things, and it would be quite hard to decipher what that really means. So one of the things that I found we have to really, really work on, I know I have to really, really work on it, is making sure that when we're speaking to marketers and to people, we're not necessarily speaking to machines and to robots. So that's definitely one thing that's changed. The other thing is I think that the ability to work and sort of facilitate broader conversations amongst different people. I think in the past, the role was to officiate in some way.
Jenni Baker: Yeah.
James Calvert: And from up let's say from up high, but to pass down decisions based on your depth of knowledge, but actually, it's much more now about working together with people and with different teams and different functions to find the path forward. And that can take in account what are we doing from a privacy point of view, what are we doing to make sure this is really in the customer's best interest. Do we know if this is actually going to be driving commercial growth or not? All of those things need to somehow be resolved. And that's not going to come from just one person's point of view. That's going to come from working the answer out together.
Jenni Baker: Together again, collaboration, love it. So in terms of future initiatives or areas of focus, are there anything particular that you were really interested in?
James Calvert: So generative AI and how that's going to change again, things like image generation, text generation, but the actual steps that people do when they're in their roles between the client and the agency and their brands. That is behaviorally changing at the moment. What needs to happen, and is starting to happen in terms of initiatives, is that there's a number of bodies forming in and around the responsible use of some of those behaviors.
So how do advertisers and brands and clients work with those new steps in a responsible way? There's been a few different sort of policy statements. There's been a few different things that have been drafted, but no one's come to a collective agreement. And maybe it won't be a collective agreement. But a clear set of guidelines I think is going to be a really important thing to get to. I'm excited to be part of some of those.
Jenni Baker: This is really great. So I guess then, if you were going to maybe leave us with a few words of actionable advice, based on what we've discussed today, to inspire marketers to take back to their business to ensure data privacy is core DNA, what would that advice be?
James Calvert: Two things. One is to go and talk to your customers. And actually, agencies should make sure they do that. And that's not something that just your customer experience department does or your customer support does, that's everyone. Everyone should be out talking to customers and listening and understanding. Because then you hear what they really think and what they really feel.
And I think that's really important in processing how you start to apply some of the decisions you might be making about how you use data, and in turn, what that means for privacy and how you work your rules and your logic in and around your data. So that is a piece I think's really important.
James Calvert: A second piece, which is a bit more sort of internally focused in an organization, is to get behind the idea if you can, that the data analytics and data with storytelling is a really important skill set to learn and to master, because it creates greater influence. And that is a thing, isn't the thing that just the data department does or the insight team does.
That is a thing for everyone to be able to work on and to master, because if you can find meaning in that data and then you can tell a nice story with it, it will become more memorable, and it will help the organization make really smart better decisions in a way that they wouldn't have otherwise. So those would be the two things I think.
Jenni Baker: Yeah, that's I think really, really, really good advice. So, talk to your customers. But if someone, marketing leaders were to go and do one thing like right now, what would that be?
James Calvert: I am going to go and say go and try your product with a customer. I know there's some repetition. Yeah, yeah, that's what I would do, yeah.
Jenni Baker: There you go. There you have it. Well, thank you so much, James, for your time.
James Calvert: Thank you.
Jenni Baker: Thanks for watching, and you can catch other episodes in this series on diversity and creativity on the Think with Google YouTube page and on The Drum TV.
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