How to Choose Your Agency Partner

The digital marketing landscape is changing quickly, and ad agencies need to adapt if they want to stay relevant.

Executing a highly personalized marketing campaign across a variety of channels is more challenging and complex today than ever before. For many companies, the knee-jerk reaction to this deepening complexity is to turn to an advertising agency for expert assistance. In certain circumstances this can still be an effective move, but it’s no longer the kind of common sense choice it was when print, television, and out-of-home advertising dominated the industry.

As Albert™ CEO Or Shani points out in CMO, “The role of the media buyer as middleman in digital ad buying is very different from the role of middlemen in traditional media.” If companies fail to adjust their relationships with ad agencies and media buyers, Shani continues, “advertisers put themselves at risk of absorbing even more costs in the form of marked-up prices at the bid level — or of the entire service provided by partners.”

As such, marketers looking to choose an agency partner must take a strategic approach to the selection process by making sure that each candidate is capable of providing value in today’s marketing environment, not the marketing environment of the past. Ad agencies that have truly kept up with the times will check all three of the boxes outlined below.

A Demonstrated “Right-Fit” Track Record

At the end of the day, “marketing” is a catch-all term that can take on significantly different meanings in different sectors. A heavy industry manufacturer may need to advertise just as much as a restaurant does, but this doesn’t mean that the same ad agency will be the right fit for both. When choosing an agency partner, a company should carefully examine candidates’ backgrounds to ensure that a potential partner has a demonstrated record of success in the company’s specific field.

This holds true not only for industry expertise, but for account size as well. If your company would be an agency’s largest or smallest account, this should prompt you to reconsider the decision to commit. Is the agency capable of handling a campaign portfolio this large? Conversely, is the agency nimble enough to meet the needs of a portfolio this small? Account size shouldn’t always be a disqualifying factor in and of itself, but it’s vitally important to consider.

A Capacity for Predictive Insights

As the volume of data bearing upon critical marketing decisions grows, strong data analytics will become increasingly important. When it comes to evaluating both specific ad performance and broader campaign effectiveness, a company’s agency partner will often be the only one with all of the data necessary to perform the requisite calculations.

Unfortunately, these evaluations tend to only go as far as a rundown of metrics like impressions, ad clicks, starts and stops, and click-through rates. While these metrics certainly help paint a broader picture of overall campaign performance, they don’t provide companies much in terms of forward-looking insight. True campaign optimization can only occur when a company is able to surface and act on predictive insights, in real-time, like those provided by autonomous tools like Albert. By implementing this kind of AI tech, companies can begin to understand what is likely to happen in the future, not just what has already happened.

Completely Transparent Operations

According to the Association of National Advertisers’ industry-shaking 2016 Media Transparency Report, “Numerous non-transparent business practices, including cash rebates to media agencies, were found to be pervasive in the U.S. media ad buying ecosystem.” When agencies are compelled by these suspect incentive structures to repeatedly direct their clients’ ad spend toward media that may not actually be in the clients’ best interests, the entire purpose of an agency partnership begins to break down.

As such, companies must do everything they can to ensure that the agency partner is organized and dedicated to delivering positive outcomes, not claiming kickbacks or rebates from ad publishers.

More often than not, this will include a willingness on the part of the agency to work alongside an AI platform like Albert. Artificial intelligence marketing tools make marketing more efficient, and an agency that refuses to recognize this value is unlikely to be a good partner for any company hoping to stand out from its competition.

Why Optus Chose Albert For AI Marketing

At a recent iMedia event, Naomi Simson, Co-founder of the Big Red Group, interviewed Angela Greenwood, Director, Acquisition & Customer Marketing at Optus, about her thoughts on:

  • The future of marketing – and our addiction to attribution
  • The role AI will play – and what people fear the most
  • A marketer’s priorities, a melding of analytics, creative and the big idea.

Naomi Simson: At Optus, there was a real sense of urgency driving the implementation of AI technology. What were the commercial drivers behind this strategic direction?

Angela Greenwood: It was a few things. It can be very, very difficult for us to understand what the right level of investment across channels is in digital, and how we move money between these in real-time. Often, it’s very much a siloed approach to how much investment we’re putting into each digital media channel. We wanted to understand if we gave an autonomous AI tool the freedom to move funds between all those channels, and to serve the ‘right’ creative in real-time, what would happen? So there was a healthy amount of curiosity about what we could achieve.

NS: In a marketing environment where the open web is becoming a thing of the past and we’re dealing with the ‘Walled Gardens’ – each of them claiming they ‘own the customer’ – the notion of attribution becomes even more complicated. We as marketers focus so heavily on attribution, so what was that conversation like on your journey to AI

AG: We still have a very healthy interest in attribution. We still put a lot of effort into investigating effectiveness – but you can only ever look at that retrospectively, not future-facing. And for us, the amount of sessions we attribute to one single channel –  when we know that a customer’s journey is way more complex than that – means we can get really tripped up on thinking one channel or piece of creative is more or less effective than it is in reality. What we’ve been able to see with AI is that some of the creative constructs that work today, no longer work tomorrow – so we want to be able to see that in real-time.

NS: Being able to test ideas at scale was one of the driving factors that attracted you to Albert AI. Tell us about that.

AG: AI can take a lot of the heavy lifting away from some of the lower-level tasks around digital media buying. But what it actually creates is a lot more tasks around how you feed this engine with enough creative to be able to personalize at scale to prospecting leads. Because the possibilities are endless – they’re only really limited by what we’re able to put out there.

NS: Let’s talk about the agency relationship, and the human side of AI and what it means for the people on the team and their concerns and challenges.

AG: I was pretty concerned and challenged myself. As performance marketers, we have a bit of a reputation for being just a little controlling, so to be able to go from a very detailed digital marketing plan that’s broken down to the nth degree, to a single line item that says, ‘here are the dollars, go do’, that’s terrifying. It was really important to get the set-up right. We had to get back to basic things like getting our naming conventions right and making sure all of our campaign structures were set up correctly.

NS: I can imagine there was a lot of fear for the individuals involved – but as you’ve noted it’s really the low-hanging fruit that AI takes care of, to really free up the people to focus on those interesting strategies and learning pieces. Tell us about that journey for your people, and your agencies, and how they shifted from the execution to the strategy.

AG: It will never cease to amaze me how much people will cling to low-value tasks. So once you separate your people and your agencies from all that, you free yourselves up to think more strategically – like how we’re going to tailor our value propositions to different audiences, how can we actually do that really personalized creative at scale, and how can we take the insights we’re getting from the engine and do something with it? And that’s the really big step that we’ve been able to take. And also, because this type of tool works very fluidly across all the different digital channels, it has actually opened up opportunities for our internal teams to become more cross-functional, and they’re now thinking much more holistically about the customer journey.

NS: What does success in marketing look like for Optus?

AG: It’s a number of things. We want to be as efficient as possible. Digital still pays a really massive role in driving brand consideration, but it’s also really important for us to keep building the top of the funnel through that activity. It’s really important with an AI solution that you’re actually pointing in the right direction – because if you feed it the wrong signals and optimise towards the wrong thing, it will go really hard after the wrong thing. So that’s been a really important learning – how do we make sure that we’re actually optimizing the right activity to the right result? And that’s never going to be uniform across everything that we do.

NS: Let’s talk about cookies. We didn’t just set this up for now, we wanted to plan for the future – so how does this AI solution deal with privacy issues and knowing who your customers are?

AG: For advertisers, the most important thing we can do is make the most of all our first-party data, and being a telco, that’s a unique position to be in. We do actually have a fair bit of that, so for us, it’s about how we can we utilize that first-party data for the AI to find suitable look-a-like audiences. And then how do we incentivize uses to engage with our own platforms? How do we ensure we get more people using our app so that we are not dependent on the outside world for that view of our customer.

NS: Do you have any particular campaigns you have run that have helped you identify intent to purchase?

AG: Where we see value in Albert and how some of our assumptions have been challenged is around thinking that certain audiences have intent for a certain product, and how Albert then runs through a full range and offers alternatives. We’ve actually found some really interesting crossovers between audiences in terms of intent that we never would have understood before Albert. For example, if someone has intent to buy a post-paid mobile, they actually have a strong intent for accessories as well, so then how do we capture that as part of the ongoing conversation with that customer?

NS: That’s what AI does particularly well – it’s looking for, based on certain previous behaviors, that intention data, and taking all of that information to start predicting ‘what next?’ It’s almost impossible for a human to do that.

AG: You would need a massive team of data scientists to achieve anything similar at scale. And anyone who’s tried to hire a data scientist knows how hard that is. Albert enables us to do all this very rapidly.

“We have had a very established test and learn program at Optus for many years, but the speed now and the scale at which we can get those insights is just so much faster now. We are an incredibly competitive category – telco is a blood sport, and it’s very much about how you gain market share and take market share from competitors. So we will do anything we can to get a competitive advantage.”

NS: What does the future look like for Optus and your AI journey? And I’m talking no more than the next 6-12 months.

AG: For us it’s about how do we get more signals in? How can we get more data in for that to work for us? How do we do a better job of ingesting offline data to optimize towards an omnichannel result, and how do we better leverage our first-party data? And it’s also about the creative side – we have only dipped our toes in terms of what Albert is able to do when it comes to creative optimization, so for us, it’s about how we set up so many different creative variants to be able to really maximize results.

“Don’t fear the machines. It frees us to be more creative and more strategic and that’s a win for the client and agencies.” – Angela Greenwood.

Read how other clients used Albert’s AI capabilities to fuel their digital marketing and advertising

Albert is distributed in Australia by Marketics, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Big Red Group. This interview was originally published by Naomi Simson.