Ogilvy data chief: Why data disruption is about people

Recently recruited head of data talks about bringing data-driven thinking into the creative agency, as well as the need for behavioural insights to drive customer engagement

Data disruption is as transformative and game-changing to customer engagement as digital disruption, it just hasn’t received enough focus yet, Ogilvy’s head of data claims. There’s also too much emphasis on technology generating data, and not enough attention placed on the people behind the insights.

“It’s much like digital: When digital first came out as the new kid on the block, it was all about what technology digital could bring us that would make our marketing better,” Ogilvy’s head of data, Salem Lassoued, told CMO. “But actually, it’s never about the technology, it’s always been about the people. Marketing at its core, has always and will always be about the people.

“It’s the same with data – we get too hung up on the fear of it, the bigness of it, and the complexities and technology behind it. We forget there are people generating that data and that there’s lots you can learn about them from it.”

Disrupting marketing practices through data, as well as tapping into the customer behaviours represented through data insights, is what’s driving Lassoued’s strategy at Ogilvy. It’s his ambition to prove that data is just as relevant to a creative agency as media buying, and to carve out a position for Ogilvy within the emerging world of data-driven marketing.

Lassoued said his priority is to find industries relevant to CMOs that could do with being disrupted by data. He’s then looking to productise offerings off the back of that.

Salem Lassoued
Salem Lassoued

“From a marketing perspective, there’s been a lot of fear and hype around big data, and you end up with many people not knowing where data sits outside of analytics,” he commented. “There’s also a lot of talk about data and analytics in terms of clickthrough rates, and so on.

“For me, it’s about bringing it back to basics and having data be about people: It’s about looking for the people inside the data.”

If marketers wanted to know where a customer was and what they were doing 20 years ago, they’d have to follow them around with a notepad and pen, Lassoued pointed out.

“Now, to know where you are, all I have to do is look at a telco’s database and there will be a triangulation of your location right there,” he said. “That digitisation has made it a lot easier to generate insights into people, which can be turned into creative insight, which in turn can inform a campaign that resonates much more strongly with certain market segments.”

Behaviourally driven

Lassoued is working on a number of offerings along this vein, which he said also draw on the disciplines of behavioural economics and psychology. The first area he’s trying to disrupt is market research, which he saw as riddled with bias.

In partnership with head of Ogilvy Change and behavioural scientist lead, Sam Tatum, Lassoued came up with a list of biases generated through traditional research and mapped these out.

“When you tally up all those things, I thought we should use data to disrupt traditional research and instead use data research that still drives to an insight, but that we can use for creative purposes as well as general marketing purposes,” he explained. “It’s about looking at other things like market segmentation and behavioural activity but using much larger datasets. That led us to what we now have, which is our new product, called ‘Herta’.”

Named after company founder David Ogilvy’s partner, Herta, and designed as a companion to Ogilvy’s process for mapping out user journeys and customer insights (known as ‘Dave’), Herta is about tapping into big data to understand the behavioural traits driving consumers.

“We have lots of different data sets we have access to that we can use to model user behaviour, but without any of the biases,” Lassoued continued. “One example is using search analysis – people are infinitely more honest to search engines than they are with anyone else in their lives. Analysing these search streams can tell you if you have a gambling problem, whether you’re pregnant even before your partner knows, and if you spend too much time on Facebook at work.

“You can get very good intent modelling out of that and see if a consumer is at the research phase, or purchase-intent level.”

To do this, Lassoued’s team is mining Google data as well as various digital sources, such as Hitwise, Web and ISP data, to derive behavioural-led customer intelligence, and he claimed Ogilvy is monitoring approximately 9 million Australians at any one time.

From this, Lassoued said clients could run tactical activities, such as new customer acquisition or look-a-like marketing campaigns targeting customers that are visiting competitive websites.

While the research is a great complement to first-party data owned by brands, Lassoued said the intention is to focus on behavioural insight.

“For me, it’s much more about understanding why people do the things they do, and how you can better learn from that - either by making creative better, or having that next conversation and looking at your media schedule,” he said.

In one proof of concept test, Lassoued created focus groups anonymously based on behavioural traits, such as visiting a certain number of websites, using a certain number of search terms but not other ones, over a two-week period.

“We recruited 1.2m people for the client, then analysed the entire lives of those people who met this particular market segment,” he said. “We looked at things like if they used Uber, or are they more likely to do something in one place versus something else.

“It’s all the colourful stuff that typically gets missed out when you think about a CMO’s database, where invariably, the data capture requirements have been name, address and date of birth. That’s great as they’re primary identification points, but they don’t tell you how often a person goes on holiday, how many kids they’ve got, or the colourful stuff of life that allows you to have more of a relationship with them.”

Ultimately, it’s about brands building better relationships with end consumers, Lassoued said.

“Relationships are better when you know more about each other. The more you know about your customers, the more likely you are to have a better relationship with them as you’ll be able to market to them in a much more effective, targeted basis,” he added.

“You’ll have more engaging and relevant conversations in a timely manner.”

More on customer data from the CMO archive:

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