People are getting more value from Cannes Lions this year: Global CSO, Wavemaker

Stuart Bowden talks about purchase journey, the revised version of Cannes Lions, Wavemaker India’s performance and a lot more

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Jun 20, 2018 9:00 AM
Stuart Bowden-Wavemaker

He is the Global Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of an agency that is barely a year old but has a legacy that is already proving to be its asset. Talk to anyone in Wavemaker and they will talk about their ‘purchase journey’.

“For us, purchase journey was a founding principle,” says Stuart Bowden. In a candid chat with exchange4media at Cannes Lions 2018, Bowden talks about it in detail. He also speaks about the revised version of Cannes Lions, Wavemaker India’s performance and a lot more.

Watch the video or read the edited excerpts below:

How are you liking this revised and compact version of Cannes Lions 2018?
I think it is good that it’s a bit more down-beat this year. I think with changes inside the industry and inside WPP, it feels less pressured. People are doing more real work. I certainly get the sense that people are having more business meetings and there is less emphasis on social networking. And I do feel that people are getting more value from it this year.

Wavemaker is a relatively new entity, have you overcome the challenges of the merger?

I think we’ve overcome a lot of challenges of two large businesses coming together. There are inevitably more to overcome, as there always are. We have fully embarked on the journey and I think that a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ is behind us; in terms of the right talent, the kind of people we want to bring into the business, the way we want to work and the areas of focus.

Obviously, making it real everywhere and making it consistent for us; the Wavemaker way of working--our understanding of purchase journey, our interest in how audiences sit behind it as well as behaviour changes in the market and making those products for our clients-- is a multi-aim mission for all of us.

Wavemaker India has been doing particularly well for the past one year. What do you think is working for your Indian team?

The Indian team has got a lot of the skills and attitude that the top 10 markets need to show for success. There is a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in India. The leadership team there understands their markets and their clients as well as the opportunities. They are very quick at spotting opportunities and changing accordingly. I think factors such as speed and agility of building the business, taking opportunities, building new technology, seeing where client needs are and responding to them very fast are making them so successful.

It is one of the hardest things for a network business to be able to maintain its local freedom of manoeuvre, form its management team and not get weighed down by global processes and operations.

Kartik (Kartik Sharma) and his team there are exemplars for us. I know Tim (Tim Castree) mentioned this when you met him the last time, and it is absolutely true. We hear from him (Kartik Sharma) on a weekly basis about the work, the wins, the people and the initiatives which he is driving there. I am so amazed and proud at the speed at which that business is working and changing.

How about your other markets? Which other markets are doing as well as India?

I would say Italy, when we look internally in terms of large scale markets. There are quite a lot of similarities between these two markets, in terms of how they are led, how they are structured and the entrepreneurial spirit behind it.

Maxus and MEC were both primarily local businesses. Most of our clients are local and multi-market clients; they aren’t global. This means that most of our CEOs and management board members have had to go in their markets and win clients themselves by meeting them face-to-face and proving that they are worth that relationship.

We have more than our fair share of entrepreneurs and more than our fair share of people who have had to roll their sleeves up and work with clients to find ways to do it better. That is certainly present in Italy. We are the largest media agency in Italy and this has been built brick by brick by our team there, same as in India.

When Wavemaker was in the inception stage, there was a lot of discussion around purchase journey. How has that helped you and how do you look at strengthening it further?

For us, purchase journey was a founding principle. The big opportunity for us in creating a new business out of MEC and Maxus was a chance to step back and think about the way we wanted to work and the way we wanted to build our tools and processes so that we knew what product we were making for clients. And purchase journey helped us in all those areas.

It helps us clarify our thinking and gives us a consistent lens on client problems. I think the complexity for clients- the range of choices that they are asked to make within their marketing budget- can become debilitating. It is almost impossible for them to make a rational choice about where to spend their next dollar to grow their business.

Purchase journey reminds us the purpose we are there for. Our professional service guides the clients in a way that their business grows. It has allowed us to build an internal process and guides our tech roadmap. When we’re working with our tech partners or building our own tech, it allows us to be straightforward in our understanding about how consumers navigate the purchase journey. It helps us to know where to place those financial bets for clients. We can understand where they over-invest or where they under-invest and how does the purchase journey work?

We want to deepen our understanding of the purchase journey. At this time, there are 4,00,000 purchase journeys that we’ve surveyed globally. It will reach a million by the end of 2018. With the million journeys analysed by the end of this year, we will have a very strong analytical position to sit behind the investment recommendations that we make to clients.

Keith Weed has made a statement about his organisation distancing itself from influencers because he feels that is affecting the trust factor in advertising. What do you think is the way forward?

We have a large and successful content business with nearly 750 people working on it globally, and part of that is in influencer marketing. I do share a lot of his concerns, but influencer marketing is quite broad. He is right to raise concerns about things that look as if they are properly influencer generated content and things that are advertising. In a lot of markets, that is strongly legislated on a lot of platforms. Sponsored and non-sponsored content is clearly distinguished. A lot of clients are also concerned about brand trust.

What is being done about this? Any measures that Wavemaker has taken in terms of fixing the problems around brand safety and trust?

Group M has very heavily invested in brand safety and brand trust. We are heavily involved in our own white-listing and working with leading white-listing tech. Every client will make their own choice about the range of risk that they are prepared to accept. Even in direct IO based buys, it is very difficult to guarantee 100% brand safety. You may have highly performance-based clients; clients who are very focussed on sale outcomes and would probably accept a higher degree of risk in order to reach a larger number of potential customers. But most clients will have a very clear conversation about the degree of white-listing that they insist on and we take that very seriously.

(Transcription credit: Sudha Joshi)

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