Bridging What's POSSIBLE Between Media And Creative

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kunal Muzumdar possibleYou could be forgiven for not thinking of WPP Group-owned agency POSSIBLE as a media agency. It’s not, of course – certainly not compared to the dedicated media advertising shops beneath WPP’s GroupM umbrella.

But POSSIBLE does have an in-house media practice.

“We have many clients for which we provide comprehensive media services, but we also work in close collaboration with WPP partners, like GroupM, by providing differential services beyond standard paid media, such as search marketing, programmatic media, social advertising, data strategy,” said Kunal Muzumdar, the agency’s New York managing director.

POSSIBLE’s role is to figure out how media can bridge different channels, and how that can affect the performance of its clients’ creative and marketing content. POSSIBLE declined to reveal its headcount, but LinkedIn puts the number at just over 1,000, working in 25 offices across five continents.

That being said, media is only a small element of what POSSIBLE actually does.

“We’re definitely a full-service digital agency,” Muzumdar said. “So the work we’re doing expands across strategy, social, creative and site builds.”

Muzumdar spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What exactly does full-service digital agency mean?

KUNAL MUZUMDAR: It varies per client, but in general we help clients navigate whatever their brands are doing in digital. That could be high-level strategic planning for their next year of work or product launches, communications, along with the execution of social content or what we call "always-on" content, along with any site builds, redesigns or refreshes. And any innovation practices that gets into POSSIBLE Labs, so anything from mobile applications to [Apple’s] iBeacon work, to kiosks.

Everyone seems to be experimenting with iBeacon. What are your clients looking for as they feel it out?

It gets back to the data story. It’s another data point for both brands and consumers, usually physically in stores. Everyone is testing out what they can learn and get smarter. It’s mostly used for retailers. But for the most part, people are just experimenting. There aren’t many public-facing launches.

How does iBeacon integrate with every other data point?

It depends on clients. We’re agnostic with the tool sets we can use. With each client, we’ll use whatever they have, and we’ll plug in whatever existing data they have from their own world, along with anything we might be creating with them. IBeacon might be something we’d plug into whatever exists. We don’t house that stuff, but we’ll work with that data to make them smarter on the content they create.

What are your clients most worried about?

The effectiveness of the things they do in marketing. It’s almost no different than it has been in years. Clients are getting really excited about the things they can do but don’t know if it’s the things they should do.

A big one is social content. Everyone wants to start doing more of that. They don’t know how to measure the success of that stuff, though.

Seems like with social, the metrics have changed from the number of likes and comments. Now they’re looking at the path to purchase.

Our strategies in social have to match with overall brand or business goals. We have that sort of figured out and have a lot of ways to measure the value of social content. While the metrics have shifted, there’s still value in looking at things like likes and followers. Those are still things you measure. We work in an area called relative value modeling, equating individual actions on social channels and websites toward some sort of value for their business.

It gets into knowing that for Brand X, a YouTube video watch is more valuable than a Twitter follow. That might be different for different brands. We want to provide some tangible to those actions, so it’s not about a like or a share, but saying people who do these things are X times more likely to purchase your product because they made those actions.

What are the factors that go into that?

There is a plethora of data points that go into that, and we do a workshop with our clients to come to an agreed-upon set of metrics. It can be as simple as historical around performance in those channels tied to business performance within that time frame. Some of these, for ecom-based clients, it’s pretty direct. Sometimes we’ll work to plug into in-store sales data.

How do you get that in-store data? Is it a direct relationship with the outlets or do you go to the guys who provide shopper data?

It can be a bit of both. Obviously, the ideal one is direct to retailer, which is essentially through our clients. If they have that relationship and can get that data, we can augment that stuff with industry shopper data.

How good is that industry shopper data?

It definitely adds value. It’s dangerous to believe any source is 100% gospel. It’s our job to utilize as many as possible and figure out what story that data tells us, and make some strong, educated perspectives around what’s valuable and not valuable to our clients. We try not to be so hard and fast around any one data point, but try to decide which actions are most valuable to clients. Rather than figure out whether something is worth $1 or $2.

How long does it take to make those valuations?

We can do high-level ones pretty quickly, depending on what data is available to our clients. So anywhere between two to three weeks to a couple of months depending on how detailed we’re going to get, especially once we start getting the in-store stuff.

I thought with in-store, you just plug into point of sale or loyalty data.

Getting direct data from in-store stuff is more phone calls, relationship building. It’s less about the technical back end and more about building the right relationships. And we want to make sure it’s a group effort rather than us doing it in a black box.

To be fair, those are relationships clients already have. They’re interacting with the retailers.

So you don’t actually have to navigate that tricky ground.

Not necessarily, no.

Do you have any sense whether it’s difficult for your clients to get that data?

I think sometimes. But that depends on the particular situation with the client and whomever they’re trying to get data from. For the most part, when it comes to their business, they have a pretty open pipeline to the data related to their sales or performance, whatever’s in their marketing channels. It’s not too big a deal, though sometimes you’ll run into some barriers.

What are some common barriers?

It depends on what’s available from a client perspective. Number two is how comfortable they are plugging in those gaps from a data perspective, or even whether they know where to go to plug those gaps. Some clients don’t measure as much as you would think.

And the third is making sure everyone is on the same page. The biggest key is making sure we have all elements of our client’s business, our teams working with those clients and any other third parties that might be involved, all agreeing on the strategy we’re taking to build that relevant value model. That’s just a matter of time, to be honest.

What’s POSSIBLE’s client breakdown by vertical?

Quite a bit of CPG, a little bit of fashion and beauty, some financial. And technology.

Are certain verticals better at corralling their data than others?

Verticals don’t have a particular [advantage]. It’s sort of client by client. How strongly they’ve dedicated their teams toward analytics or data. It depends if they have a strong internal team that handles those things, regardless of what vertical they’re in. It’s more related to how much their org structure is related to data.

Do you handle the paid media component of marketing strategies?

In certain situations, yeah. Some clients have existing media agencies.

Is the media division a dedicated unit within POSSIBLE?

Yes, we have a dedicated media services group with teams distributed globally. This group handles full-service media planning, buying and strategy. We also have a dedicated marketing sciences group that provides media analytics, reporting and holistic data strategy. In addition, our creative, production and strategy teams contribute to media services work.

I don’t think of POSSIBLE as a media agency. Under what circumstances would you handle media buys, and what is your role?

For clients where we do paid media, it’s no different than any other media agency. We’ll have media planners that help craft the overall communications strategy, working closely with our marketing sciences team and our creative services team. Mapping out what publishers make the most sense, what sites make the most sense, what partnerships make the most sense, working closely with clients to figure out the overall media plan. And we do ad operations behind that, so trafficking those ads. We do the creative for those ads, we’re tagging that stuff and pushing it through to individual publishers. On the back end, we’re measuring the performance as closely to real time as we can and changing creative based on performance.

Why would a client work with POSSIBLE instead of a dedicated media agency?

Having that work combined under one house allows the teams to collaborate throughout the process. When you have different entities do different parts in digital marketing, you start to feel there are baton handoffs. That can be difficult. Media is more than the boxes that creative goes in, it’s collaborating with our creative up front to make sure our work is better.

I’ve heard creatives hate doing display. Is that your experience as well?

Not necessarily. Creatives get excited less about the endpoint of what they’re making and more about the idea behind it. As long as they have a say and a belief in the idea underlying the thing they’re doing, they can create banner ads – which might not be the most exciting thing in the world – but they’ll also understand how they communicate that idea through social or a site and other content we create. For us, it’s more about getting excited about what we’re doing for a client’s brands rather than the actual banner ad that might be a part of that.

What do you do around dynamic creative?

I was calling it optimization. We optimize our creative in that sense. We’ll work with a number of our clients to make sure they’ve got maybe three different versions of a banner, and we live test it as we run out, whether that’s targeting based on segments or performance of individual media pieces as they launch.

Is three the magic number?

It’s never any less than three. If you get too high, you start to lose the value in the program because you spend too much time looking at different options. Those options are tied to client goals. How many target segments does this client have? How many messages are we trying to get to the marketplace? That will drive the number of options. Mostly it ends up between three and six.

And you sort of toss those out there, see which ones perform the best?

There’s definitely some rigor behind it. They each have a very specific goal, talking to a specific audience. They’re very thought through in the options and we refine the creative based on performance. It’s not quite tossed out.

Since you’re a WPP agency, do you liaise with GroupM a lot or tend to work independently from them?

They’re a great partner for us. It’s sort of a yes and yes answer. We do a lot of our work, our digital marketing work, for clients separately. But we have a lot of shared clients, so we partner with them pretty closely. Sometimes we partner with them outside of specific client work.

In instances where you partner, what are POSSIBLE’s contributions and what are GroupM’s contributions?

It’s definitely a case-by-case basis. We generally provide the digital strategies specifically and the overall creative idea. They bring the media smarts and insights around the paid side. When we partner with them, they do all the media activation.

A lot of times when we work with clients, they have existing media relationships. Many times that’s with a GroupM agency, which is fantastic. And they might have a need on the digital creative or social side, so we’ll partner with the existing agencies they have working with them. Occasionally they’ll come to us and ask for advice on what’s new from a media perspective, in which case we’ll partner with GroupM as necessary.

Let’s talk native advertising. Has POSSIBLE ever done any native placements for clients?

Yes. We include native social content syndication as core part of our integrated planning efforts, when we feel it makes sense. We've bought and planned native advertising spots in the US and EMEA, primarily with OneSpot, Nativo, Sharethrough, FAZ and Outbrain, where we brokered, provided content recommendations and tracked against our own KPIs.

What’s your definition of native?

Native is an interesting phrase. It’s about figuring out the right way to build contextual relevance for your marketing, in the context of a publisher. My non-marketing way to say that is it’s how we try to make sure our advertising content doesn’t suck and native advertising is one track for that. It has varying degrees of success.

What are the success metrics commonly associated with native?

I don’t know if native advertising has different goals than any other advertising effort, it’s just a different path to achieve those goals. You still want people to be aware of your brand and have positive engagement with the actual advertising itself. Ideally you want them to be more prone to purchase.

How about taking content and putting a wrapper around it so it blends into the publisher’s site?

It’s a lazy way to approach native. If you do it correctly, you want to create content. Your advertising content in a native effort shouldn’t be the same if it were a banner ad. That way, you understand the way that particular publisher creates content, the things people on that site look for, and you’re finding a way to create content that’s relevant to that story.

Do publishers have different philosophies in how to incorporate native?

A lot are starting to figure out they need that. It’s been in wild, Wild West territory for a while, but you’re starting to see some publishers getting tighter around the sandbox they’re comfortable with. The guidelines we see vary.

Some publishers are open to anything and others want control over that content. It bleeds into it being their content as much as the advertiser’s content, so they want it to align with their content rules.

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