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In an increasingly data-driven world, finding a place for creative work can be challenging. But Jamie Gutfreund, CMO of digital agency Wunderman, understands how marketers must use data to inspire and support creativity.

Wunderman recently published an eye-opening study called Wantedness, which found that most American and UK consumers prefer brands that demonstrate that they care about them and truly understand their needs. But for many brands, the challenge is how to learn about those needs? More importantly, how do you translate customer needs into successful marketing?

We recently sat down with Jamie to get her thoughts on these questions and to explore the biggest trends facing advertising agencies and the clients they serve.

What are the most significant challenges facing your clients today, and why?

The ubiquity of data has pros and cons. Data empowers marketers, but it also makes them more accountable. The typical CMO now has direct responsibility for measurable revenue and growth, opening incredible opportunities as well as new challenges.

At Wunderman, we now have a process called rapid mass experimentation, or simply RME. This process helps marketers more efficiently communicate and learn what influences behavior. It’s a method of experimentation that we’ve employed for clients like Air Canada and Best Buy. RME goes way beyond A/B testing. It allows us to test and determine the best content, the best approach, the best creative and the best time of day—the best of everything to give consumers the most valuable and timely offer.

Data and the RME approach give us great opportunities. Last year, Best Buy didn't just have Black Friday: the company had Black November because it was so successful in its sales efforts.

Why did Wunderman conduct the Wantedness study?

Customer loyalty is top of mind for many of our clients. They often ask, "What does loyalty mean in the digital era?” And we didn't want to come up with just an answer; we wanted to deliver a strategy. That was the catalyst for the Wantedness report.

Consumers today have access to the best prices, stories and products. Nobody will settle for average. That puts a significant pressure on agencies and our clients because everyone now is competing against the best brand experiences. That's why creating customer loyalty today is so complicated. Marketers need to stop seeking loyal consumers and start serving as loyal brands.

How do you balance the need for creativity and the need to be data-driven?

Creativity and science shouldn’t be in two separate buckets. They should co-exist.

Creativity lives everywhere, even in a data-driven approach. Balancing creativity and the need to be data-driven starts with an awareness of what consumers receiving the information need or want. Marketers need to rethink the traditional approach of simply creating ads and campaigns in the hopes of finding loyal customers. To be effective, you have to use data to learn about your customers, and then use creativity and cultural awareness to address real consumer needs, issues or passions.

All the data and creativity in the world won’t do anything if you don't keep in mind that you're dealing with people on the other end. Marketers should remember the people behind the data. You're talking to a human being on the other end. That is a fundamental element that both creatives and data scientists know. But when those two groups come together, sometimes that idea gets lost. Wunderman’s proposition, which is “creatively driven, data inspired,” tries to bridge that gap.

"Listen to your customers, learn what's important to them and serve their needs."

To market effectively, companies today can’t just push marketing messaging out. Connecting with consumers requires a completely different approach. Listen to your customers, learn what's important to them and serve their needs.

What's your favorite thing about working in the agency world?

I work at a company that’s driving change on a global scale. Every day, I get to talk to smart clients who challenge and push what’s possible.

I get to collaborate with incredibly smart colleagues such as our chief technology officer, Stephan Pretorius, and our CEO of Wunderman Data, Jacques Van Niekerk, who co-founded Acceleration. They deliver the most sophisticated consulting capabilities for clients across the technology-enabled marketing field. I also work with our global chief creative officer, Lincoln Bjorkman, who manages creatives from Peru to Paris. I love working with our CEO Mark Read. He’s rethinking how advertising agencies can help clients grow and become more efficient and drive value.

Working in a global agency is like changing tires on a car going 80 miles an hour. I think I'm a bit of an adrenaline junkie because that's what keeps me going. Being in an industry that changes quenches my curiosity. I always want to know what's next, what's new, what are people thinking?

What do you think is the future of ad agencies? 

From my experience, we get the best results when both the agency and the client recognize that we’re both invested in the company’s success. The relationship should be a partnership. Often, we will embed our teams in the client's offices so that we can feel like we're part of one team with one common goal.

As an agency, we look at the complete experience. Sometimes we collaborate with other agencies. We try to break down the silos so that we can look at it from the customer’s perspective. It doesn't matter if a team member is responsible for social media or analytics. Everyone should be working towards making the customer experience as fluid and frictionless as possible. Providing that seamless experience requires alignment and long-term collaboration between an agency and clients.

"Providing that seamless experience requires alignment and long-term collaboration between an agency and clients."

One significant shift is that we believe agencies need to rethink the campaign mentality. That traditional approach used to be more effective because you could just put together a TV ad, it would run for a specified time in a more contained environment. Clearly, the world has gotten much more complicated; Lester Wunderman, our founder who created the direct marketing industry, realized that you could deliver a much better experience and results by delivering customized messages. And so, we've come back to where we all started. As our CEO frequently says: "All marketing is direct marketing."

If you were to give an advice to young marketers just starting today, what would it be?

Read things from a wide variety of sources, including from outside of your industry and from people who have different views. Don’t get stuck in our own little bubble.

When we hire younger people, we want their fresh ideas and perspective. I love when people are aware of things that can help me stay on top of trends and behavior shifts. As a new marketer, you can bring a lot of value to the company by helping your colleagues stay curious and informed.

Recently, a younger colleague told me about Patreon. It's like Kickstarter for content; you can sponsor a content creator for as little as a $1 a month. For $12 a year, for instance, I can support my favorite creator. It’s a powerful concept that lets consumers vote with their dollar. I wouldn't have known about Patreon if it weren’t for my colleague.

Are there any books that you've read that shaped your career or your thinking?

Anything by Simon Sinek. He’s one of my favorites.

Also, General Stanley McChrystal wrote a book called Team of Teams. His military leadership and willingness to adapt to change is inspiring.

I also love the book Essentialism. I read it at the same time as Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Both books helped me become more selective with where I spend my time and energy. They both remind us about the importance of saying no. It’s really challenging but learning to say “no” helps keep my priorities and options tied to a more strategic objectives.

Finally, I recommend Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s a book about success, efficiency and creativity. It’s not about business, but it’s fantastic.

We would like to thank Jamie for taking the time to answer our questions and share her illuminating insights. Can’t get enough of information from thought leaders? Read our Q&As with dozens of experts in different fields.

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