In the latest in the occasional series of Small Data Forum podcast interviews with industry mavens and thought leaders, SDF co-host Sam Knowles caught up with Christian Polman, UK MD of brand communications and publishing house Looping Group.
To this content and creative-driven role, Christian brings a consultant’s mindset (with years at Bain and an MBA) as well as digital marketing smarts (from Digitas and Google) and marketing analytics expertise (his role before Looping was with Ebiquity).
Sam starts by asking Christian where the smart money is going in digital marketing.
Christian’s view is that digital marketing must rest on the twin levers of marketing optimisation and effectiveness, and that on this foundation brands need to build holistic customer experience. We are going through a period of renaissance, currently, for both research AND creativity and content.
In the third of our new (but growing) series of Small Data Podcast interviews with data mavens, Sam is joined by media analyst Ian Whittaker. Ian is the current City AMAnalyst of the Year – a gong he scooped for the second time in 2021. He has more than 20 years on the clock, assessing the financial performance of media and tech stocks.Ian’s understanding of the numbers and data underpinning media and marketing businesses is both broad and deep, and he writes regular columns for both City AM and marketing industry bible, Campaign. We spoke at the start of September 2021.
Ian is optimistic that the media and marketing industry – at least in part – is making good use of data and analytics to target consumers more efficiently and effectively. Most have moved beyond the bombardment many consumers experienced not so long ago, and some of the bigger players – including consumer goods behemoth P&G – are combining the logic of data and the magic of creative to good effect. That said, some, both client- and agency-side, still have their heads buried deep in the sand.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t road bumps along the way, from the deprecation of third-party cookies (when Google finally decides to turn them off) as well as legislation and regulation, regular topics of Small Data Forum dialogue, from GDPR to CCPA.
Ian believes that the future belongs to “those who hold the data”, meaning more power for the FAANG five, as well as retailers from Wal-Mart to Target and their mountains of first-party, customer data. It’s both the middle-ground and smaller players who will lose out, Ian believes, as the oligopoly goes from strength to strength.
Ian’s not sure if Apple vs Facebook is an actual war or more of a phoney war. When consumers are asked by parties with vested self-interest whether they want to be tracked by advertisers, only 5-30% say they do. But there’s no spontaneous consumer uprising against trading personal data for targeted marketing.
So, while Cook and Zuckerberg have deeply-entrenched, strongly- and honestly-held beliefs, Ian wonders whether ‘Apple vs Facebook’ might be more of a war for hearts and mind than a fight to the death. Incidentally, Ian thinks Apple could prevail over Facebook, thanks to its deeper pockets, larger market capitalisation, country-sized cash reserves, and its greater ability to withstand losses. It just won’t come to that.
On the potential for “another Cambridge Analytica”, Ian is sure there will be one – a scandalous data breach for nefarious purposes – but he’s keen to suggest that the furore about the original was more about for whom the data was misused (Vote Leave and Trump) than the data breach per se.
Sam mischievously suggests that, with POTUS 45 rumbling about standing again in 2024, we may not have too long to wait. And though it’s hard for an incumbent to lose a U.S. election – catastrophic pandemic responses notwithstanding (“It is what it is!”) – both Biden’s age and his decision to follow through Trump’s policy on Afghanistan make it likely he won’t be seeking a second term.
Ian’s assessment of Martin Sorrell’s second coming at S4 Capital is particularly interesting. Although S4 is not alone at doing very well through and with data and analytics – particularly in comparison with the media agency holding companies (like Sorrell’s previous baby, WPP) which were built in the pre-digital 1980s and 1990s – there are two elements to S4’s secret sauce.
First, a ruthless approach to automating and digitizing everything. And second, the way Sorrell’s new baby buys and folds good assets into the family. Unlike the agency model (cash and earnouts), S4 gives 50% cash and 50% shares in the holding company, baking the long-term success of the acquired into the long-term success of the parent business.
Fascinating that something as simple as incentivization should be so revolutionary.
Beyond Sorrell, Ian believes we should watch keenly the progress of both Next 15 Group and You & Mr Jones. Successful use of data and analytics is central to the future success of agencies and brands. But another important facet will be brand.
The pandemic has led to a renaissance in trusted brands – witness the strong performance in the last 18 months of houses of brands, from P&G and Unilever to Colgate and Kellogg’s. Big tech regularly uses brand advertising – often, Sam points out, in very traditional, analogue media such as broadsheet newspapers and out-of-home – and AirBnB is the latest exponent of brand advertising over search.
In 2022 and beyond, Ian concludes there will be increasing balance brought to the Force, with the yin of data and analytics being balanced by the yang of brand.
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Many thanks to Ian for his time and for this interview. You can subscribe to his regular newsletter here. His City AM columns are here and his LinkedIn profile is over there.
The next episode of the Small Data Forum is our 50th, to be recorded in late September live and direct at our favourite Italian, Olivelli, in the South, Waterloo, South London.
Publication of SDF 50 planned for Monday 27 September.
Like (slow) buses, you wait for years for interviews to turn up on the SmallDataForum podcast, and two turn up within but five months of each other.
With Thomas taking the first plunge with his doctoral supervisor, Darren Lilleker, back in March, it was Sam’s turns to become inquisitor with Anne Hardy, Chief Information Security Officer at US-French data security firm, Talend (lovely animation on the homepage).
Our conversation focused on the necessary balance between regulation and self-regulation of Big Tech. After some spectacular failures of anything approaching good governance – from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to the Trump and Brexit campaigns, familiar topics to aficionados of this podcast – the tide is turning on consumer privacy and the uses and abuses of personally identifiable information (PII data).
After almost five years and 44 episodes of the SmallDataForum with the same old (though always fresh and sparkly) line-up of Neville, Sam and Thomas, we’re introducing one-on-one interviews as a new format, and an extension to the show.
In the first interview of this new series, Thomas talks with Darren Lilleker, professor of political communication at Bournemouth University (and Thomas’ patient, tolerant PhD supervisor).
Main themes include
the increasing professionalisation, personalisation and commercialisation of politics
the tension between “permanent campaigning” and governing in politics
the public’s dissatisfaction with traditional politicians
how charisma has replaced practical skills and competence (because legislation is boring and political entertainment is easier than day to day governance).
We weave a tangled web of themes from Thatcher to COVID and speculate that perhaps in the yin and yang of political leadership in the UK, the next Prime Minister will be rather less flamboyant.
However, Professor Lilleker is not optimistic when it comes to self-reflection in politics, and change from within: “what is needed for politics is never going to come from politicians.” The hope is that the public will demand from its political leaders the qualities required for good governance. So far, the signs are not altogether encouraging.
We offer you two ways to access the interview:
1: Watch the interview video on our new YouTube channel:
2: Listen to or download the audio podcast MP3 file: