Media agency Wavemaker has made an impact in recent years with ‘Provocative planning’. This unique approach brings the power of ‘positive provocation’ to their clients. Lina Lindén, chief executive officer of Wavemaker Sweden, explains how it works and how it impacts the day-to-day of both their clients and teams.
I recently overheard a conversation between one of our junior team members and a client. They asked her what positive provocation actually means, and she simply said: "It means that it’s expected of me to question things, every day."
At that moment she identified the root of our attitude. Positive provocation is about constantly questioning and exploring ‘what ifs’. What if we do it this way or try that? What if I was my biggest competitor; what would they do in this situation? From this emerged a way of working that we call ‘provocative planning’, which rejects linear media planning in favour of a more flexible approach. This is built on three modules, designed to work together or independently.
The 3 modules of provocative planning
Wavemaker was born out of the merger of WPP-owned GroupM media agencies MEC and Maxus. As both brands brought with them their own methods of operation, we wanted to build something new that was truly our own. And so ‘positive provocation’ became our ethos – with the following three modules of provocative planning being our way to enact it:
- Unlock: Our first step is a full audit of our clients’ precision (data-driven, action-oriented) marketing and digital media to fully understand the digital consumer experience. This allows us to identify quick wins, such as simple changes to the digital customer journey, and create a roadmap that clearly outlines opportunities for growth.
- Maximize: We then move onto our AI-fuelled, end-to-end planning module, which utilises data and technology to achieve more comprehensive planning across audiences and channels, in order to achieve ongoing growth.
- Transform: Once we have a full picture of a client's growth potential, we focus on the power of human imagination and provocative ideas to look beyond the machine and find growth opportunities outside of the usual media channels. Here, we aim to challenge category conventions with a view to transform the client’s marketing. For example, when Swedish telecom company Halebop wanted to reach first or second generation immigrants, we challenged them to think creatively instead of buying regular media ads. They ended up creating a food show around immigrant entrepreneurs wanting to start their own restaurant.
Choosing knowledge over guesswork
To complete the picture we build from these three modules, the next stage of our provocative planning approach is to plug knowledge gaps with in-depth audience data. For this, the industry has long used data surveys for their ability to explore any topic, from brand tracking and media research, to customer satisfaction and staff motivation. We found that provocative planning adds yet another dimension and enables us to get a more in-depth, cross-audience view that helps us grow our clients’ businesses.
[Positive provocation] is about choosing knowledge over guesswork and seeking a deeper, more data-driven understanding of our clients’ industries.
But while data and technology are wonderful things, you also need people and ideas to make them meaningful. If you’re going to question or challenge your client about their industry, you need the knowledge to back it up. Otherwise, all you have is an opinion. By positively provoking a brief, we can go back to our clients and have an insightful discussion about our plans and strategies. Truly understanding our audience forces us to have open minds, do transformative work, and learn from each other.
As positive provocation demands attention, focus, and analysis from everyone involved, the approach fundamentally changed how we look at our role as a communications agency. It's about choosing knowledge over guesswork and seeking a deeper, more data-driven understanding of our clients’ industries. I think our biggest development has been making Wavemaker more than a media agency; we’re more like a business consultancy now.
Making waves behind the scenes
Our provocative approach has helped us stand out in the marketplace as it revolutionised how we do things day-to-day, how we pitch, and how we work with clients. It has also impacted how we operate internally. If you want people to question everything, you need to create an environment where the team feels safe to ask questions.
The biggest lesson has been that there’s never a wrong time to have your knowledge and thought process challenged.
That’s why we introduced a process called ‘Stinky fish’. If someone has a question they feel too shy to ask, they can write it on a slip of paper and leave it in the empty aquarium in our studio. At our regular staff meeting, we draw questions and answer them openly. It creates an open forum and encourages cross-team conversations which otherwise might not take place.
As the media landscape continues to evolve, positive provocation offers a way to display leadership and help teams stay positive. It helps us get closer to the brands we serve, which in turn helps our clients be more relatable to their customers and move away from homogeneous communications. As the world gets faster, we help them slow down and listen.
For us, the biggest lesson has been that there’s never a wrong time to have your knowledge and thought process challenged. For any marketer or business owner looking to improve or change their way of working, rethinking how they look at creativity and planning, now and into the future, is the perfect place to start.