The Power of Data Podcast
Episode 67: Data As A Single Source Of Truth
Guest: Alex Wares, Managing Director UK, Transmission
Interviewer: Richard Shore, Sales and Marketing Solutions Leader, Dun & Bradstreet
Welcome to The Power of Data Podcast. My name is Richard Shore, and I lead the Sales and Marketing Solutions team here at Dun & Bradstreet. Today I'm really pleased to be joined by one of our partners, Alex Wares, who is Managing Director of Transmission. Welcome, Alex.
Thanks very much for having me on the podcast today Rich.
You've had a career in advertising and marketing for the best part of two decades holding several senior positions, by way of introduction would be great if you could provide our listeners with just a summary of your career journey and a little bit about Transmission.
Sure, I'll start quickly with Transmission just to give listeners who aren't familiar with us an idea of the agency. Transmission is a unified B2B marcomms agency, HQ’d here in London, but now with a truly global footprint across Europe, Asia and the US. As an agency, we are genuinely full service - a lot of agencies claim to be, but we really genuinely have those skills and experience across the whole to the marketing mix in B2B, from planning, strategy, data and insight through creative content, and then uniquely in a way to seamless integration with activation. Whether that's media activation, or sales, activation. And Transmission, we are very lucky to work with clients who have some of the biggest names in B2B. And who are quite progressive in their thinking, and who trust us to deliver truly innovative and groundbreaking work. And it's based on these kinds of relationships and trust and open mindedness to the possibilities within B2B that has enabled us to win so many awards on behalf of our clients. So that's kind of a bit of an intro into Transmission. And really looking at my career, it’s been quite varied. I started out working in advertising film production in the mid-90s. We're working on some really, I suppose you could call it in the tail end of the Golden Age of TV advertising. Big budget TV spots for brands like Adidas, Nike, Orange, British Airways, and you know, did that for a year or two and spent some time in post-production after which I went into actually working as a cameraman and did a bit of work behind the camera. And then weirdly, I suppose, or quite uniquely, I ended up in front of the camera and for a short period of time, I had an agent and I did a fair few commercials where I was, you know, in front of the camera in kind of lead roles or hero roles in TV spots.
I thought I'd recognize you somewhere.
You know what I used to get up in the 90s people would say to my mum, "I saw your son on TV". But yeah, Aer Lingus and other European brands. But I suppose my first really commercial serious role, commercial role was turn the millennium, I worked at an educational publisher that was a subsidiary of the Daily Mail group, trust DMGT. And that was a real good grounding in, I guess what you could call old fashioned publisher sales. So highly competitive, high pressure, probably wouldn't get away with it today. But things like standing up on Friday until you made a sale, proudly ringing the bell when you do use quite boiler room type stuff, really. And after that, I moved to Spain, and I lived in the south of Spain for three years from about 2002 on my first agency roles, I worked for a digital agency, which had a big focus on SEO, front end web design content. And I was there for about three years, as I say. And it was quite interesting time because at that time in history, I guess it was the sort of the very early days around SEO. And that sort of acronym of search engine optimization was just starting to become a familiar term of use in marketing. I remember, and it's probably showing my age, I remember Google AdWords launching and Google's first foray into actually becoming profitable and driving ad revenue. And both SEO and paid search at that time were literally in their infancy. So that was an interesting time to be working in the industry. And when I got back into the UK, in 2006, I joined a startup called Media Run. I then became one of the founders of a subsidiary business called Media Run Search, which was a search social and content agency, which I ended up running as managing director from 2008 to about 2014, when we successfully exited that in a trade sale. And after working the owner, I took a year out traveling, which I think is a really important thing to do actually. I've had at least two or three kind of big chunks of time out in my career in the last 20 years, were just kind of going backpacking. And in that particular case, I went from London to Beijing by train across Europe and across Russia and Mongolia, a really interesting trip learning experience. And when I go back, that's when I began working with Chris Bagnall, our CEO and founder, actually founder of an agency called pulse which we later rebranded into Transmission as we started to grow globally.
Perfect. And Alex, I guess congratulations are in order as well, because you know, you've recently been appointed as Managing Director of Transmission, which is great. And also I was just gonna say congratulations to the business overall for appearing in the Sunday Times 100, less than the FT 1000 List of Europe's fastest growing businesses, those are amazing achievements. And you know, with that in mind, we're in a new year and looking at your new role. What's the vision for the agency in 2021?
Thanks, Rich, it's a tremendously exciting time to be taking over leadership of the UK business. Of course, up to four years or so senior leadership roles within the agency. We just won the B2B Marketing Agency of the Year Award amongst many others and as you quite rightly mentioned, which has been listed in for a second time in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 and so it's both a great springboard, but also quite a high bar set for me to continue to drive on with.
You set your standards high.
We have indeed. I suppose that the kind of goals and objectives I've got for the UK business is to accelerate our innovation in personalization, and especially personalization at scale. We've recently recruited a new Creative Director from another very well-known and quite prestigious B2B agency. My challenge to him is to make us as famous for creative services and brand work as we offer data driven marketing and account-based marketing and am really excited about possibilities of where we can take creative. I think, and we'll come on to this point no doubt later in our chat. But I really have quite an evangelist for customer data platforms and CDP's, and how to fully leverage the opportunities that CDP can provide for B2B brands. And those kind of, I guess, outward looking goals if you like. And for a second look inwardly, it's really kind of to focus on our team in how we articulate and share our common values and vision as an agency and how we take care of our colleagues, improve learning and development, improve wellbeing offer enhanced benefits, but also demonstrate an increased commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusivity. But you see, our growth has been so stratospheric over the last few years that we now need to catch up and mature into being a larger organization. And I recognize that an important part of my role will be to help drive and facilitate that. And then I guess, finally, while the UK remains our largest geo in the global organization, by a wiska, actually, all of this activity I mentioned above needs to be conducted within the context of scaling into being a truly global business. And critically, we need to do all of this, while not losing our entrepreneurial challenger spirit that made us successful today, and our innate ability to innovate and the agility to pivot quickly, which has made us successful. So it's quite fine line to navigate that.
Yeah, absolutely, I can appreciate that. But it's quite a journey you're on and lots of things to achieve this year. You know, you started talking there about personalization and let's talk data and customers and the market. You know, we've spoken a little bit before about how you guys as an agency thrive off putting insight into action for customers, if you like and into engagement, but obviously, that is facilitated often through data. You know, it's the data that should be driving that insight, and ultimately, that action. And since COVID, we both appreciate the B2B buyer journey has changed massively. I'm just keen to know what you and the team are experiencing around the growing importance of digitalization in the market.
Yeah, absolutely. And the critical word you mentioned digitalization. I think the obvious and short answer to this is from a COVID perspective is the transition from face to face to digital, which has been, we probably can both agree have been apparent both in the marketing journey, but also at the sales end. And I think COVID has really just accelerated trends that existed before the pandemic, that will fundamentally change the way we operate in both marketing and sales. If you consider the broader context and we look over the last sort of 5-10 years or so what we've seen is generally speaking, longer sales cycles, and much more complex decision-making units within B2B buying organizations. And that was already driving change in the way that brands go to market. So obviously, when you have a longer sales cycle, more complex buying units, then what we've seen is that digital is a much more cost-effective way of addressing these challenges. So this was kind of happening already. But it's just being accelerated by the pandemic and the experiences that we've had to overcome in the last 12 months or so, you know, it's a fairly widely acknowledged statistic that over the last 10-20 years, the way that B2B buyers engage with vendors has changed quite a bit. And I think it's fairly widely acknowledged that the 70% or so decision making process takes place before a buyer will ever engage with a salesperson.
That's a staggering number, isn't it, and businesses sometimes worry about have they lost control of that process, because it's now much more online, that seems to be kind of a concern and the desire to pull back some of that control.
100%. And so as COVID has eliminated the face to face element, which would have made up some of that remaining 30%, if you like, you know, vendors and marketers have been searching for tactics and channels for sales to engage with buyers more effectively in digital environments. And what's the obvious examples of that, I guess, would be where B2B companies have shifted their go to market model from traditional to digital with heavy reliance on video, and online chat. And I think for me looking at this question, what what's been quite interesting is some of the data and research recently published that shows that buyers and sellers are now appearing to prefer digital remote and self-serve options over face to face interactions. There was a McKinsey study that said that that was the case of three quarters of both vendors and buyers that they surveyed. And I was surprised that the vendor thing although I can understand why it kind of works for buyers to have it safely in a digital box. Is that something you've seen, Rich?
Yeah, absolutely. And it's interesting, isn't it because a few years ago and even still today, you know, you speak to businesses that sell high end products, high value products, and there's always still a disbelief that actually a big chunk of that buyer journey at least begins online. It's almost like well hang on a minute, you know, we're selling something quite complicated and costly to the market. So surely they need to engage with us. And I think you'd say, well, yes, they do. But actually the beginning of that journey, you know, maybe even just that research stage is often taking place online. And it's not a face to face experience from end to end anymore, right?
Yeah, exactly. Another big change we've seen is in how people use LinkedIn, and how the platform's become very congested. And I think if we cast our minds back, not that long ago, a few years ago, LinkedIn tended to be very business focus, so sharing business content, articles, business commentary, and now it's almost morphed into a platform more akin to I guess, you could call it the Facebook for the business community. You see a lot more kind of motivational content, you sometimes see holidays, you see wellbeing etc., along with, of course, thought leadership and business content. So the platform itself has become much more congested. And at the same time, LinkedIn itself has evolved new functionality and offers new tactical opportunities and routes to market. And a big change driven by COVID has been the need to use LinkedIn and Sales Navigator to reach business decision makers. And I'm sure this is no surprise to you Rich, that it's been a main channel to reach those who were no longer at their desks where you might have hit them with direct mail, you might have hit them with telemarketing, multiple routes to kind of get in front of those decision makers, post spring 2020, LinkedIn and sales now there's been a really important for us and a really important channel.
On that point, you know, there's always this argument about B2C kind of lead the way with the personalization and through digital and when you compare that to B2B there do seem to be similarities in the data you need, and particularly the channels of engagement out to the market getting a little bit similar from B2B to B2C, or is that what you guys are seeing?
Yeah, broadly speaking. B2C has tended to lead and B2B has followed, not always, you know, it's a bit of a sweeping generalization. But I think certainly the data piece that you mentioned, is really important in helping to narrow down that target audience and intent. Really being able to establish who to prioritize, and then what to say to them, I guess, in simple terms, and just going back to that LinkedIn platform point, then the buyer journey, because I think this is critical. The businesses that we've seen succeed in using LinkedIn, as a channel have been those who are able to get the right data to enable - and this comes to the personalization point - to enable sales teams to deliver outreach at scale, but at scale tailored to meet the challenges and pain points of the account or the audience or the individual that they're reaching out to. And, you know, some of the other smart technology that's available to us now allows us to even tailor it to the personality of the named individual and question. That I think it's quite an important point when talking about that buyer journey, is that the role that LinkedIn plays to bridge that gap that COVID has brought up.
Yeah, and I mean, you've mentioned one there, actually, you know, what are some of the better examples you've seen over the past year, you know, as companies adapt their marketing strategies as a result of the pandemic.
So a great example, Rich, would be an organization called Nutanix. They are a client of Transmission, but we can't claim credit for this example I'm about to use. They last spring-summer launched a regular cadence of virtual concerts with celebrities, such as Sheryl Crow, and Seal, doing virtual online concerts to a invite only audience. And they kind of wrap these concerts around a specific theme. So for example, business continuity and disaster recovery, or how to speed up dead with private cloud. And so they kind of made an attempt, and I think a successful attempt at that kind of providing some genuine kind of cultural music content as a hook to bring clients and prospects into a virtual environment. But also combine that with a more standard business content. And I think this is an example of a way of providing sales with a kind of a soft sell if you like. opportunities to chat and engage with and build relationships with clients in a digital space. And I think as a direct answer to your question, this is an interesting example to highlight, because going back to what I said earlier, it's kind of building that environment in a digital space for sales to engage with clients and prospects in a relaxed way.
Absolutely. And I think with that whole channel, that methodology, the other thing that's really seems to have come to the fore, is this always on need, this mentality that, you know, whatever campaigns you're running, whatever data you're using, etc., that businesses need to be agile. They need to be able to change quickly because whilst we've gone into this extraordinary set of conditions and economic times, it's not going to go away quickly. We're still in for a bumpy road and I guess that agility is key.
Yeah, absolutely and I can speak to the Transmission, we saw huge amounts of clients in the spring of 2020, trying to figure out how to re-focus their resource away from what a lot of B2B companies have relied on obviously, which is events and pivot or move in an agile way into new forms of marketing that met the needs or whether we were constricted by the pandemic, we've seen a lot of changes in messaging, you know, ‘in these times’ or ‘adapting to the new normal’ and advertising messaging, talking about that. So messaging has changed quite a bit, there's been a real big focus in getting inbound, right, when investing in content and inbound marketing. And as I said, trying to craft virtual events and replicate the kind of environments that you get in face to face into the online world. We've seen some good examples of success there. But we've also seen examples where you get kind of Zoom fatigue, and a big challenge for companies is how do you make an event engaging? And I use the example of Nutanix a minute ago. How do you make an event truly engaging and truly interesting to especially maybe more senior audience? One of the things that I think holds that back a little bit is the platform's themselves, the technology for the organizations that do provide platforms to support webinars and to support virtual events, they haven't quite caught up, in my opinion. And so companies and indeed, agencies come up some really creative ideas, but then the actual technology to support them is maybe not there all the time.
Yeah, absolutely. And just going back to your first point, we certainly saw that as a dilemma at the beginning of 2020. You know, the one time that commercial teams needed more leads or alternative leads going into such an uncertain time, was the time that their marketing and campaigns team were probably running at an all-time low in terms of resource because some may have been furloughed, some on other projects, as the changes due to COVID really started to hit. So it's the perfect storm, isn't it? We need more leads, but we've got less to do it with. So it kind of lends itself to saying, well, actually, if you're more agile, you're digital, you're online, you can still do events, but just in a different way. You can change, you can adapt and flip to those conditions. And I just wanted to ask, actually, Alex, you know, what are some of the more noteworthy opportunities that you see when it comes to leveraging data in marketing? What are some of the challenges and obstacles that might need to be overcome to achieve outcomes based on data?
This is a massive one for me. It's been a long-standing desire to achieve, I guess what you could call the kind of B2B marketing holy grail of a 360-degree view of the customer. Or maybe to phrase it differently sort of data as a single source of truth. But this goal has, historically speaking, being buried behind systems and people that make it too slow and too complicated operationally to realize that dream. But I think what's been really interesting for us over the last couple of years, I guess, is the emergence of customer data platforms and they're kind of the exciting opportunities that CDP's and the proliferation of data in general shall I say, kind of provides to marketers. One of the secrets to our success as an agency at Transmission is how we embrace new data sources, and whether that be sort of third party intent, technographic, install base data, how we combine it with firmographic and first party data sources to provide the insights to fuel account selection, to build marketing programs, but also critically to enable sales teams. And until fairly recently, you know, this proliferation of data sources, while it posed a huge amount of opportunities, it had to be analyzed using spreadsheets, which is very resource heavy and a costly process that takes quite some time. And so what really excites me as a marketer is the ease of use that CDP's provide in enabling us to unify data sources, and deliver outputs that businesses can operationalize and leverage to deliver tangible results critically, in real-ime in a dynamic always on kind of way and, and those outputs for us as a marketing agency is how does it help us with account selection, segmentation prioritization? How does it allow us to focus our messaging and improve customize our messaging? How does it help us to improve campaign targeting? And also, you know, how does it allow us to fit to help feed sales teams with live always on information in environments that they're natively used to using? And also the final point, I guess, and we've touched on this as well, in terms of personalization is, is web personalization and customization or should I say landing destination? For me, that's one of the most exciting things that as we move into 2021, and forward, is being able to genuinely craft that personalized, customized landing environment for prospects and for clients.
Yeah, I know, you and I took part in a recent webinar around buyer intent data, which you know, I've been at D&B for 13 years now and I have to say, it can be a game changer for a lot of businesses, because so many businesses are reliant on providing you guys for example, with, you know, what looks like a good fit customer or prospect. But that intent piece, you know, that timing piece is the right time to engage with that partner and that prospect and, you know, intent data can help to plug that gap. And we saw that 98% of B2B digital marketers that we surveyed are already using intent data of some kind in their demand gen activities, and 72% are planning to significantly increase they're spending on intent data, you know, even in a time where marketing budgets are uncertain, and they could be forgiven for putting that somewhere else. So you've got to say there must be something really good going on to be securing that level of increased investment. And 87% reporting that it's already giving them a return on investment. And I guess you must be seeing that a lot with customers. And are they asking you to engage more with intent data?
Yeah, absolutely. So as an agency, we were kind of early adopters of certainly intent data. And what's been really interesting to me is our seen the market mature over the last four years. So if I think back sort of three or four years ago, one of the key things that we used to do was try and articulate or explain what intent data actually was. And I think that's completely changed now, between sort of 2016-2017 and date, we then started to get clients coming to us and asking us to help them define the best intent partner so they knew what intent data was. And now they were asking us questions around clickstream versus kind of co-op publisher models, or which vendors are stronger in North America versus EMEA, for argument's sake. And also the nuances around the outputs, which the different platforms can provide. For me, most clients now that we talk to understand that using intent data to provide the insights to help them segment accounts and prioritize activity makes a lot of sense. I'm not surprised by the stats that you mentioned, I think there is a general awareness in the market, you know, in really basic terms, why would you, if you're thinking about planning a demand generation, or some kind of campaign, go to market in the old way, where you kind of throw mud at wall, see what sticks purely by using sort of firmographics as a main criteria, it's obviously much more efficient to use insight to define who may be in market and then prioritize spend and tailor messaging to those organizations. And I think most brands are now ofay, with that principle of using intent insight to get more out of your marketing dollars.
Absolutely. And, you know, talking of marketing dollars, on that same survey, we also found out that, you know, unsurprisingly, half of all of those people interviewed or marketers, digital marketers had difficulty integrating that intent data into the MarTech stack, and connecting those great signals and intent pieces of data to existing accounts and other sales and marketing campaigns. And whilst we don't necessarily want to talk tech in detail, do you have any recommendations on how they can overcome those challenges or what they should be doing to try and address those issues?
Yes, we do see this. And one of the key challenges is about match rates and intent in our experience, I mean, it can vary wildly, but intent may only show on average unknown 10-20% of a particular countless the market. And so to try and activate against that can mean that that the audience's sizes are quite small and maybe too small to activate against. And this is especially prevalent in Europe, where we've got much more fragmented landscape, different countries, different audiences, it's not so much of a problem in the US in our experience, but certainly in Europe and Asia it can be the case. And I think, in terms of how you overcome that one way is to work with large data media or publisher partners who have a quite wide variety of first party data pools to work with. And it's important to work with data partners that have most penetration into those accounts. And in a post GDPR world where third party cookies are in decline, I suppose this is where we would see a challenge in integrating intent into the MarTech stack.
Yeah. And I think you know, that we certainly have worked with customers where we've provided intent data to them. And it's not necessarily been fully integrated, but there was a need a point in need for a campaign. And I think their frustration, obviously comes back to well, you know, we may have got some good results from it, but it's almost impossible to analyze and quantify their success, because it's not sitting in a platform. It's not reportable. Therefore, you know, if you want to redo that campaign, it's difficult to kind of justify it, because you don't know how successful that really was. And, you know, you have to do all the heavy lifting again, I guess, to redo the same thing. Whereas if it's operational, then it's a different challenge. We certainly do see that. I think just on a final question to finish on, you know, looking ahead now, Alex, you know, what do you see as some of the really exciting trends that you expect B2B organizations to adopt in order to realize success in the market this year?
Yeah, so some of these we sort of covered already, I hope I don't sound like a stuck record. But for me, the thing I'm really excited about is personalization. And I think marketing in general, but specifically ABM, as you know, traditionally is research to provide the insight needed to craft personalized experiences for brands, especially at one to one level. But this comes at a cost in terms of resources, time and budget. And what is really interesting and exciting is the possibilities of rich data, combined with new technology and new platforms are able to give us to take the principles of personalization, which historically would have been time intensive and costly, and truly deliver those at scale. So I think for me, big trend in B2B is personalization. I see a trend towards more focus on brand, and I think we will see a shift away not exclusively, of course, but shift away from a pure focus on performance marketing or driving demand towards an investment in the personality of the brand. I mean, if you think of demand generation as really capturing a guess a share of those B2B buyers who are in market at any given time, I guess you could look a brand is the ability to capture the attention and engagement of buyers who are not yet market and then to build that foundation for the brand. We touched on B2C B2B earlier, B2C has already gone through this through this journey and this realization. I think that now B2B is primed to catch up. And we see that anecdotally, just in terms of the demand we've got coming through from clients and prospects around how to help them with their brand in 2021. And then the final big trend and we've talked about it quite a bit is CDP. Probably a few things that we didn't mention really importantly is the fact that it's always on, and the fact that it's dynamic. And the fact that we can now unify data, move away from silos and get that kind of true picture of maybe not quite data as a single source of truth, that might be a little bit too ambitious. But we're definitely moving in that direction. And all of the amazing kind of possibilities that gives us as marketers to really, truly personalized experiences for customers.
Yeah, we look forward to customers thinking they can be, I guess, more creative and innovative than ever. That's the good thing. It's a challenge, but in that challenge, I think there's lots of exciting stuff. And I think, you know, we might, we might I kind of often think what will it look like in two years’ time, you know, when we look back on how we kind of engage with the market today through insight and data. And we'll probably end up Alex saying, God, you remember the days when we used to email out product brochures to customers and see how things changed or massively. So look, we're about at time, Alex. So we'll wrap up. Thanks again for joining us today really is much appreciated.
Thank you very much for having me on.
And thanks as ever to everyone for joining us on the podcast and we look forward to seeing you all next time, and bye for now.