Media planning behemoth m/Six is evolving to a world of consumers control

 
Elliott Haworth
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Consumers no longer follow a linear path

If 2018 is the Chinese Year of the Dog, then surely we’re fast approaching the EU’s Year of Regulation (and lots of it).

There are acronyms aplenty for firms to get to grips with – from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to the updated Payment Services Directive (PSD2), with swathes in between.

Much of the coming change centres around consumer rights, and subsequent business obligations regarding personal data. New, explicit definitions of consent will be introduced under the GDPR, along with consumer rights to erase, rectify and transfer data, to name but a handful.

It’s a lot to take on board, but the opportunities are many. Following an exceptional year – doubling its year-on-year billings and adding 17 new markets across Europe – media planning and buying behemoth m/Six has made a prescient move, diversifying its offering to accommodate the data-led world.

As part of m/Six’s new global leadership team, Anna Foster, recently poached from TMW Unlimited, will lead the data pack in the newly-created role of chief data and customer officer. She’s operating in a space not conventionally covered by media planning and buying agencies.


Anna Foster, chief digital and customer officer, m/Six (Source: m/Six)

Out with the old

“Traditional media planning has been very linear: a customer journey, end-to-end,” she says. “But m/Six is very focused on being a media agency born in a digital age. We know people don’t behave like that anymore – we describe this new behaviour as ‘flow’.”

The idea behind “flow” is to leverage the way in which consumers interact with an increasingly fragmented mediascape. Gone are the one-to-many days of shouting your message loudest in vain hope of scoring conversions. Today’s consumer is in control of their interactions with brand messaging – be that via social media, websites, apps or whatever else.

“We can’t control where customers go,” says Foster. “They will go where they go. All we can do in response is look at the digital signals, try and understand the behaviour, and serve them something relevant, interesting, and timely to help them. We try and find them when they’re in the right mindset, in the right place, rather than assuming we’re going to take them from awareness to intent to decision as we once did.”

Foster says that, now more than ever, data literacy, while paramount, is not enough alone. “We’re moving towards an Age of Customer Engagement,” she says. It’s about joining the data dots together to create a single view of a consumer’s position, and engaging them in a way that isn’t irrelevant, intrusive or inappropriate. Engaging them as a human being on a journey, rather than numbers on a screen.

“It’s less, ‘sell sell sell’, and more, ‘when I get you to come to the right decision, it’s mutually beneficial’,” she says. “The last thing you want is someone to be badgered into a decision once. Marketing is about helping people, not pushing them – otherwise you don’t get the long-term, behavioural shift.”

Mutual agreement

Demonstrating this “mutual benefit” is an area that, when I spoke to IAB UK boss Jon Mew recently, he admitted the industry hasn’t always been very good at. Foster agrees, adding that in light of the GDPR, demonstrating the value to consumers of using their data grows ever-pertinent.

“The whole point behind the regulation is to give consumers more control of their data – that can’t be a bad thing. I’d love to proactively explain to people why we want to understand them better, why it’s not for creepy reasons!”

While businesses are slowly but surely getting on top of the requirements of the GDPR, Foster thinks more needs to be done to ensure that consumers understand what the regulation means for them. New definitions of consent mean new mechanisms for firms which wish to acquire it. From May 2018, it will be far simpler for consumers to opt out of data collection.

“No one is explaining to consumers what’s going to happen,” she says. “Why they might want to tick these boxes or click the buttons, or give their consent for email marketing. My worry is that as an industry we’ve always been quite bad at that.”

No one is explaining to consumers what’s going to happen

There is a common misunderstanding that, if you, a consumer, remove consent, you will no longer receive marketing – which is simply untrue. What you receive will simply be lower-quality inventory that is totally irrelevant to you as an individual. The personalisation you have grown used to will be gone. The offers you might have otherwise received, will be served to someone else.

I tested this out for a week a little while ago by installing a plug-in called Ghostery, which allows you to block advertising trackers. Setting it to the most stringent settings, the difference was staggering – it wasn’t my internet any more. After a week of receiving the same messaging ad nauseum, I was glad to turn it off.

“Data is what makes advertising relevant,” says Foster. “The more we know about people, the more relevant it becomes. Some voices make it sound like we just want to know stuff about people, but it genuinely is supposed to be helpful to them. It’s supposed to be that we can give you the right message at the right time, the right incentive, the right reason. We can help you overcome barriers if you’re worried about perception or pricing. We’re supposed to be helping.”

Deception perception

The perception that your personal data is being used against you by advertisers and publishers is one that has propagated in consumer’s minds over the last few decades.

It grabs headlines. Stories about data hacks and breaches, your television spying on you, Facebook manipulating your news feed, all threaten to create a very one-sided debate.

The void will be filled by privacy campaigners and hyperbolic news if the case for consumer value is not made by advertisers.

“GDPR was supposed to change that,” says Foster. “It was all formed with the consumer in mind – making the relationship open and transparent. If you better understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it – how we’re trying to help people make decisions that are right for them, rather than forcing them to do something they don’t want to – it has to be a good thing. But unfortunately, the privacy campaigners will shout that ‘it’s all being used against you’ – which is simply untrue.”

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