Data: holy grail or froth?

Data: holy grail or froth?

For all the data at their fingertips, most advertisers are still far too dimly aware of what actually works for them, writes Bob Wootton. Plus: Just why is Goodstuff so good?

Everybody’s talking about data.

If you believe what you read, most every pitch brief and account move seems to pivot on data.  Agencies are being founded or modified around the nexus between data and media expression.

In the ad world, integration has several meanings and this is one of the most significant.  Data capabilities are now touted as more essential than media or consumer planning, even media buying skills in some quarters.

Serious money is being spent on people and systems.  I’m told data strategists are the new agency rockstars – even if, like Ed Sheeran, they’re also sometimes rather geeky.

Meanwhile, you’re no longer considered a serious media owner unless you have a data play.  (And you must of course describe yourself as programmatic whether that bears any resemblance to the truth).

Yet my experience of the reality of this obsession with data is rather different.

Yes, we can follow ‘journeys’ (used to like that word, hate it now through overuse and association), sometimes in minute detail.  Much more detail than most people out there would ever consent to if they really knew what kind of and how much information was being collected on them, whether by their ISP, websites or adtech.  Or others.

So owners and agencies can undoubtedly present very detailed and compelling cases at that level.  However, for all this data, most advertisers are still far too dimly aware of what works for them.  The reason is as depressing as it is simple – they’re still not joined up.

One of the biggest current challenges to companies’ pitching enhanced effectiveness and ROI solutions to advertisers is data onboarding.  Many large advertiser organisations possess significant amounts of data from which valuable insights can be gained, but this data is still not housed or owned by any single party with their organisation.

Nor do their IT systems – usually several – facilitate its integration.  So data morphs from panacea to nightmare for the marketer trying to bring it all together for a clever external third party to mine and manipulate to advantage.

This isn’t universal.  Modern, entrepreneurial, tech-enabled businesses, whether B2C or D2C have late-mover advantage:

– Tech is usually their enabler so they were founded with it at their heart and in the top team

– Regardless of how quickly they might scale – and some grow quickly (e.g. Facebook, AirBnB, and some can explode just as quickly, e.g. Mahabi…), they won’t become mired by structures and systems until later.  Most of Facebook’s growing list of problems don’t seem to stem from systems so much as approach, be it human or artificial.

– It’s much easier to build a modern company on a common platform than retrofit one into a decades-old organisation founded before IT was even dreamed of, let alone seen as a business tool.  And which then adopted different systems for accounting, inventory control, logistics, sales, marketing, HR…, let alone different communications programmes for partners, dealers/retailers and customers.

The new disruptors are now giving the old guard a run for their money but many are still relatively small and susceptible to failure or being bought up for chunky sums before they can do any serious damage in the marketplace.

So net, right now, the data thing is being seriously overhyped.  Where serious effort and expenditure should be deployed to integrate client-end, instead we see all the froth at the executional end.  Hey, but that’s advertising for you.

Disappointment will follow as the promises which are based on false premises do not deliver.  Could this be another, albeit admittedly rather more esoteric and exotic, reason why advertising is failing?

Just why is Goodstuff so good?

A packed house at the Curzon Cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue saw the fourth Goodstuff Media Showcase event earlier this month, the biggest to date.

Not aware of it?  You should be.

In a nutshell, eight media owners – curated from a longer list which had previously submitted ideas for selection – pitch a business development idea to a cinema full of client and creative agency partners.

Exterion’s excellent proposal to address growing obesity in the capital by turning the whole tube system into a fitness zone rightly won (beating new owners Global amongst others).

Not only is the event a brilliant idea in its own right, which gives Goodstuff profile amongst several key constituencies, it also serves as a(nother) reminder of how good the agency is at what it does, and how different.

A business with an impressive growth curve, decent margins and low client churn, it reversed out of Omnicom and was Media Week’s agency of the year 2017.  It is Campaign’s current media agency of the year and scored 8/10 in this year’s School Reports against generally lacklustre marking.  And recently it established, advertised and awarded incubator funding to two startups in the space and lately G-Force, a trading division for peer partners.

I saw the company in action when I ran media pitches for advertisers at ISBA.  Most of what happened there must necessarily remain confidential, but I hope it’s not betraying too much to say that founders Andrew Stephens’, Ben Hayes’ and their partners’ talent, competitiveness and attention to detail pervades absolutely everything.

A Goodstuff pitch is – well, different, and in a very good way. They have ideas. Lots of them, frankly more than I ever saw from most of their competitors put together. And a narrative.

This has its roots in their beginnings as a media strategy consultancy and can sometimes come across as a bit of a handful, overstepping the ‘perceived role’ of a media agency.

Procurement don’t really get them because they can’t be benchmarked beyond the generics. More entrepreneurial marketers tend to love them, because they see imagination, creativity – and competitive advantage.

Campaign global editor-in chief Claire Beale concluded last week’s event, confessing her favour for independents which she considers the wellspring of industry regeneration. Estimable media editor Gideon Spanier also approved.

We need more companies like Goodstuff in our space, constantly challenging and recasting the offering.

Disclaimer – I have no interests in, and few business associations with, Goodstuff. We’re well-acquainted but not bezzy mates. More’s the pity. They won’t even know I’ve written this until they read it at the same time as you.

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