True Action Network Chief Creative Seabrook Seeing Data and Performance Driving The Creative

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True Action NetworkBilly Seabrook recently became Chief Creative Officer of True Action Network, the full-service ecommerce and digital marketing agency arm of GSI Commerce which is wholly-owned by eBay. Seabrook comes from Publicis' agency Digitas where he was the executive creative officer. Read the release.

Seabrook discussed his new role, "the big idea" and the shifting creative landscape with AdExchanger.

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AdExchanger: How would you say digital is transforming culture in creative agencies today?

BS: It's an interesting question and it relates to True Action because it was one of the motivators for me to join the agency.

One of the biggest trends that's happening – and a lot of people have recognized this, especially the creative - is within the agency holding company model, there's an unfortunate reality that a lot of the agencies tend to compete against each other.

This competitive culture that's built into the structure ultimately has consequences on the creativity and the deliverables to clients. There's a lot of land grabbing going on, if you will. And how it relates to True Action is interesting because it's unique in the marketplace -especially with the relationship with eBay - in that, all of the agencies within the fold are designed to be compatible and complementary. So you can build off each other and apply the skills and share business across multiple agencies within the family, which is mutually beneficial. I think that type of culture inspires people and creative, in particular. Ultimately, it delivers great work to the clients because there's nothing getting in the way of a good idea.

Can you see marketers starting to bring creative in-house? In some ways, does True Action represent that sort of shift?

As far as bringing creative in-house, into one solution, it's a unique differentiator for True Action, the GSI family and the eBay family. We basically have an end-to-end solution that leads from marketing products like eDialog and FetchBack to classic agency services for marketing strategy, analytics, creative ideas and creative production - then, all the way through to database, CRM management, technical platforms and tight media integrations with other platforms. For instance, eBay's Marketplaces. That end-to-end solution is unique and differentiated and it's compelling for marketers because they can really go to a one‑stop shop. That's sort of the outsource model. With a lot of brands pulling some of those capabilities in-house, we're a good partner and can compliment those internal teams because we have a point of view and an expertise in each of those different marketing solutions.

But it's an interesting model where you can combine the front end experience/design that comes with typical agencies and the back end analytic and engineering side that doesn't usually come with agencies.

So what does your role as Chief Creative Officer encompass?

Essentially, the creative vision for the agency and how we want to go-to-market as a differentiated agency and package our solutions for clients. But when it gets down to the [day-to-day] work, it's partnering with clients to bring their brand message and their objectives to life in consumer‑facing ways. So, I lead a team across North America that consists of creative directors, art directors, writers, programmers, media experts, developers - a collection of different types of artists, if you will, specializing in marketing ideas. That can be more upper‑funnel, if you will, creative concepting, driving awareness and engagement, all the way through to more commerce‑driven site design, e‑commerce site design ‑ fulfillments and CRM. But in a nutshell, my job is to improve the creative product coming out of the agency and maintain a quality standard.

What are some key learnings from your recent past, such as Digitas, that you’re bringing forward into this new role at True Action?

Digitas is a unique agency. I spent eight years there. And I was able to see that agency evolve from a direct marketing agency into more of a brand agency with digital at the core. I see a similar renaissance in growth happening at True Action, where the heritage of this agency has been in e‑commerce design primarily. Also, it was sort of packaging up those marketing technologies that I mentioned earlier, such as PepperJam, e‑Dialog and all those. The real opportunity, especially within the new family of eBay being able to apply some of those technologies that they have, is branching out from the existing pool of clients to attract new ones with more engagement and upper‑funnel type of marketing concepts.

So using commerce and our expertise in website design at the true core, but to branch out in both directions ‑ both in the sense of brand building, engaging people and driving them to these stores. Then, on the reverse, building strong CRM loyalty programs. I did a lot of that work at Digitas, and I'm looking forward to applying some of those learnings to True Action.

When someone talks to you about, "creating a big idea for clients," what does that mean to you?

I think people have different definitions of what a “big idea” is. Our particular flavor is ideas that drive response, spark engagement with the user and create a chain reaction of user interactions and user feedback. That's our litmus test of a big idea, something that is essentially contagious, and sparks a series of interactions between the brand and a customer. But, it has to drive results, too.

Results can be tactical as far as wanting people to sign up for the newsletter, requesting a quote or purchasing something. It could be even more different in the sense of wanting to increase amplification of the brand through social channels or some of those metrics. At True Action, we're results-driven. When we come up with a big idea, it has to be creative; it has to be insightful ‑ insight-driven. It has to be appropriate for the brand. It has to have some talk value. But at the end of the day, it has to drive those business results. That's our spin on what a “big idea” is.

How can a creative (the person) become more data-driven?

So, you’re speaking to someone who always described himself as a left‑right brain kind of person - the classic creative. I have a Fine Arts background and the whole bit, but I also have a programming background. So I do think analytically, and I do value data.

To be honest, some of the best creatives today, especially in the digital space, are the ones that embrace both the art and science of digital marketing. They know how to come up with that great, clever contagious idea, but then know how that idea will drive measurable results for clients. If you look at some of the leading digital creatives in the industry, I think that holds true.

Applying data to the creative process is interesting. It's three‑fold.

There's clearly data that informs the upfront stage of coming up with a big idea - the research data and the insights that fuel the creative briefs. Good creatives really rely on those briefs. They require a good brief that sets out all the insights, goals and performance metrics.

Then, they're also willing to learn. I use the term "launch and learn," where you have iteration – so having smart measurement, analytics, basically, tracking the performance of your idea once it's live and optimizing it.

Finally, some of the best interactive advertising ideas out there leverage user data in sophisticated ways. It can make the messaging personalized and hyper‑relevant for people. Being able to understand data at its highest level, and let it customize your creative once it's live, that is really exciting. That's why a lot of people get into digital marketing - the sense that your work is never static. It's always living and breathing, and it's changing based on the data input.

But - people can sometimes make decisions based solely on the data. So it’s important to know how much is beneficial and how much causes complexity or unnecessary distraction. It's being able to filter out what's relevant and ignoring the rest. Making sure that you don't let data overrule basic common sense. It's good to understand it all, but then it's good to just trust your instincts. I think data is incredibly important. I just think it's part of the toolkit, if you will.

By John Ebbert

Follow True Action Network (@trueaction) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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