Data and instinct

Lessons from Bloom & Wild, LEGO, Diageo and IBM Watson

The day had been in the Dentsu Aegis Strategy team’s diary for some time – Les Binet was arriving on Scotland’s fair shores. We’ve long talked about getting his and Peter Field’s photos strewn up around the office, so it would be rude not to make the trip West to welcome him. 

Plus, the Marketing Society’s Digital Day is one of the good ‘uns – they tend to pinpoint some of the more talked about digital issues and line up speakers with a justified point of view. This year was no different.

First up, Gawain Owen of Jellyfish opened – and, amongst other topics, he had some thoughts on in-housing and some stats on the take-up of it in the USA. I was particularly interested to hear people’s thoughts on in-housing, having done half a year at an internal ‘agency’ setup last year. There were a few comments throughout the day on the benefits and pitfalls, largely ones that I’d back up from experience. Of course, it makes sense in many regards, and Gawain talked about the pluses, which he split into financial, strategic and operational. My 2c is that you need to be able to operate with at least some ‘agency spirit’, and not all businesses can do that. Without that ‘certain something’ that makes an agency an agency you run the risk of losing great talent to places that offer variation, a fast pace of work and – of course - the option to slouch around in jeans and a hoody. Plenty of non-agency places can, and do, offer the same. Not all can though.   

Sarah Neate was next up – as Senior Digital Strategy Director at Lego she took us through some of the main ways the company had pulled the brick building experience online. You could tell she loves working for Lego. Who wouldn’t? The whole talk made me want to pull out my old box of the stuff. Did you know that from 6 2x4 bricks you can make more than 915 million different combinations?! However, the best aspect of Sarah’s talk was that she didn’t shy away from the things that hadn’t worked. She went through a few of the different digital experiences that hadn’t panned out – and, most importantly, what they’d learned and pulled into future projects.

At the breakout sessions I opted for Michael Corrigan of Trtl. Michael set up Trtl, a travel pillow brand, in 2010 and shared his experiences from the last 9 years. You felt like you’d been there – I loved his run through of what to do in Cannes on a shoestring budget. And it all worked out after spending a hefty chunk of his budget on beer not long after arrival, leading to a vital business contact. Backing up my theory that beer money is never wasted money. 

Nick Noble, Strategy Lead at IBM Watson, offered up great examples of how AI was doing the heavy lifting, or the process-driven lifting, for companies and public bodies around the world. We’d recently had a conversation in Dentsu about the issue of bias in algorithms (#geeks), whereby models reflect the unfairness that’s inherent in society. Nick covered this off too, showing how they were flushing out bias with Watson, pinpointing the percentage skew and re-writing algorithms to right society’s wrongs. I’ll be scoping out Watson Everywhere online.

A definite highlight of the day was Marisa Thomas, Head of Brand at Bloom & Wild. I bought myself some flowers that very night, so influential is their content strategy… The key theme of her talk was how to balance data and instinct, how to put meaning back into results. At Bloom & Wild they take the small data, even one-off interactions from customers, and turn it into product/policy/communications. Before Mother’s Day a handful of comments on how the day is sensitive for some, prompted them to offer an opt out to customers on Mother’s Day messaging. The move earned them plaudits for giving people a choice. Opt ins may be the norm now, but Bloom & Wild took it a step further and built better relationships as a result.

Due to illness Roz Brennan stepped up to the plate for Diageo, filling in at the last minute. You wouldn’t have been able to tell that she was a last-minute presenter, no doubt because she simply knows her stuff. She showed us how Diageo was using voice technology to offer people more ways to sample and engage. I must say, the offer of a drink sample is enough of a pull to encourage people to engage with Diaego in numerous forms, and I’m not sure every brand can say the same. However, they’ve been proactive in adopting new technology and are reaping the rewards.

And so finally, the moment we’d been waiting for – Les Binet stepped up to ask; “Digital marketing: have we got the balance wrong?”. As a fangirl the content wasn’t necessarily ‘new news’ but I love the fact that we’re now talking, often, about the need for long-term brand building. It was a great reminder to question briefs that only prioritise sales activation. We must ask longer term questions – and we must get better at holding our nerve.

All in all – an insightful day, well hosted by Georgie Barrat of the Gadget Show, and well attended by Scotland’s curious marketeers.