Getting To Know Gain Theory, WPP’s New Data Consultancy Shop

gtLast week, WPP launched the “marketing foresight” consultancy Gain Theory, housed within GroupM.

Gain Theory, which has 200 people and a new office in New York City, rolls together two existing WPP agencies: the London-based marketing effectiveness agency Ohal and the Bangalore-based data analytics firm Meritus.

Jason Harrison, previously CIO at Maxus, has been appointed CEO. Though Gain Theory is supposedly independent of WPP’s media-buying business, Harrison has media in his blood. Prior to joining WPP in 2011, he worked for IPG’s Mediabrands and Universal McCann. He’s also worked as director of information management at Johnson & Johnson.

Gain Theory will be brought into an engagement in one of three ways: via direct-to-client business development, when a WPP agency introduces Gain Theory to a client to solve a particular problem or when WPP’s analytics partners tap Gain Theory for expertise.

Harrison spoke to AdExchanger.

ADEXCHANGER: How will Gain Theory function within the structure of WPP?

JASON HARRISON: We set up Gain Theory to be an independent entity specifically so that we wouldn’t be making decisions about the tactical allocation of marketing dollars. It allows us to achieve a bit of separation. Some clients don’t want an analytical perspective on marketing plans that are also developed by the same company, because they see a conflict in that.

What does Gain Theory do exactly?

The opportunity is about connecting Gain Theory’s analytics with other assets within WPP, whether that’s data from Kantar Shopcom or other partners within our ecosystem that bring something to the table that’s of value to a client.

Because our heritage is media, we understand how the output of analytics can be connected to the media exercise to inform tactical planning and decision-making. There are a lot of players in the analytical space who are divorced from tactical decision-making and don’t have a feeling for how it works.

With Gain Theory, what can WPP provide its clients that it hasn’t been able to offer before?

WPP can provide analytics [that are] connected to downstream recommendations in a new and potentially more impactful way. There’s also the ability to connect analytics we do for clients to outbound messaging via a partner such as Xaxis.

An example of that would be where we work with a client to identify the highest value grouping of customers they might want to target. We would form a point of view about why those audiences are of particularly high value. Depending on the kind of analysis we’ve done to generate that point of view, we might have a pool of unique user IDs that we could transition over to Xaxis, where they can build a digital audience that can be messaged via media.

For certain clients, being able to do that in an end-to-end way is very compelling. That’s where we’re meant to be a bit different than other shops that don’t have that same kind of connectivity.

What kind of data will Gain Theory and WPP share?

For a particular client, there wouldn’t be any data shared per se. We’ve been very careful about making sure we firewall off whatever data assets we work with for our clients versus data assets for other WPP clients.

The potential for leverage exists when we’re putting together a data asset for a client. We often engage with the same data partners that other advertisers engage with. Whether that’s YouTube, Facebook or social listening services, we’ll be able to leverage WPP’s relationships with all those data trading partners.

But when we activate a dataset for a client, it’s their data. Take YouTube as an example. It’s that client’s YouTube channel data, and we’re able to get it by virtue of the relationship and connectivity we’ve got with YouTube, but it’s for that client, and we keep it separate from everybody else.

Who are Gain Theory’s clients?

We have an existing client base in Europe. Prior to Gain Theory, the London team had several clients in the US as well – is one.

Our Bangalore team works with Unilever, and that relationship comes into Gain Theory. We also work with one of the largest liquor and spirits brands in the world, which I can’t name, and we work with a big automaker and a variety of other clients, a total of 46.

Which specific problems do your clients face?

Prior to launching, we did some research where we interviewed a group of people in marketing and consumer insight roles, and some tech and strategy people. We came back with a group of pain points, and data was at the top of that list.

Many of the respondents told us, ‘We have an understanding of the availability of more information about what we do, the way we operate, what our customers are doing and how our products are perceived. The existence of all that data creates an expectation that we should be able to harness it and make decisions more quickly or somehow more effectively.’

We also heard a lot about the complexity of internal structures. Firms have a head of digital, a head of traditional marketing, a head of ecommerce channels and now a chief data or analytics officer. Companies want to know how to orchestrate around all those stakeholders.

How do WPP’s data efforts tie together?

WPP has a massive commitment to data and analytics. Personally, I’m incredibly proud to be a part of WPP for that reason. We’re going to find a lot of interesting conversations coming out of the launch of Gain Theory. As far as WPP’s strategy, that’s not something I can comment on. Gain Theory is separate from the Data Alliance.

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