Founded in 1995, All Response Media is now widely seen as the UK’s leading customer acquisition agency. Colin Gillespie, its chief strategy officer, was one of its co-founders. He talks to City A.M. about digital, and what media agencies will look like in the future.
How has the growth of programmatic buying changed the industry?
I think that the old art of media planning and buying has been lost to an extent. We used to use our brain cells to understand audiences, the media environment, and context. Now a lot of this is done by an algorithm. Without a doubt, it’s more efficient to buy digital media this way. But from a wider planning point of view, I think you lose a sense of what it is to plan against an audience.
What does this mean for the way agencies are structured?
It means you have to think about digital as part of the wider offering. The programmatic aspect takes care of the front end – acquiring customers, and getting people through the front door. That’s the easy part. But customer churn is so rapid that the smart brands will be looking at how they can turn these customer acquisitions into brand advocates. The magic is at the back end – increasing retention.
How can brands improve customer retention?
It’s about gravity, as defined by how brand “mass” and dynamic data can work together. Some brands talk about acquiring customers. But they need to think of customers more like members – that’s where real engagement comes from. How do we use the data we’ve got to provide more content, and put meaning behind the brand? If we’re really being true to the potential of digital, we should be using data to push more content – get half a dozen messages out, see how they resonate, and then work with the one that’s the most effective.
So you’re not scared of losing your job to an algorithm?
Increasingly, agencies will have three broad teams – programmatic, insights, and management. Clients may decide it makes sense to move the programmatic team in-house. We’ve seen brands do this with search, and I can see media owners doing the same with trading desks. Imagine Google decides to buy ITV tomorrow. They’d say: “actually there’s a more efficient way to sell all the ads – we’re going to let algorithms do it.” Advertisers could go directly to them, cutting out the agency. We’re already seeing this with Sky AdSmart – they approach clients directly, and offer them the space that they want.
This means media agencies will have to redefine their place in the value chain. It will come from our ability to apply more insight to data and attribution – comparing the values of different marketing channels for brands. We’re already using advanced proprietary technology at All Response Media, making sure we have the skills ready for the future. Some brands may know exactly what they want – they’ll be able to go straight to the media owners. But our place will increasingly be in using technology to provide insights that ultimately lead to a better plan.