How Cream use consumer data

Cream's Lottie Webb's essay earned a Distinction for the IPA Fundamentals of Branding course

We are spotlighting some of the best essays from our MIPA qualifying courses and qualifications. Here, Cream's Lottie Webb looks at the way they use consumer data as part of the IPA Fundamentals of Branding course.

Two poignant messages that stuck with me from the Fundamentals of Branding session came from Oliver Feldwick and Nick Vale. Oliver Feldwick stated that “we have come to place too much focus on the click, rather than building a brand and enriching lives” and Nick Vale said “we need to concentrate on the real people on the street - and as an industry we often forget about them”. As an industry, thanks to the digital age we live in, we are now inundated with a plethora of data and it can be easy to subconsciously disconnect the numbers on our screens with everyday people on the street. We can often become blindsided focusing primarily on data as providing KPIs, and ending up a slave to statistics and metrics. As Steven King said in 1982 “discussions [around advertising] ought to be about people, their motivations and their responses” (King, 1982), so I think it is really important as an industry to always remember who we are serving, ensuring that people remain at the epicentre of what we do as advertisers. These two statements from the speakers made me think critically about the way I use consumer data in my current role at a media agency. The statements will provide the basis of the thinking around this essay. Through them I will demonstrate my learnings from the course, as they have encouraged me to revisit my approach to digital performance reports.

We do a pretty good job at my agency of focusing on the consumer, and pride ourselves on being audience specialists. During the planning phase we use YouGov national survey to build an audience for our clients and paint a ‘picture portrait’ of their customers. We identify features that unite this audience, whether this is through a specific personality trait or their household income or whether or not they like hummus. We segment people into different audience groups which will align with the values of the brand. In effect this is what Ian Edwards described as ‘tribalism’. He talks about an innate need for humans to identify with a group, and if brands or advertisers can “identify ‘something’ that unites consumers and makes them feel part of a – group, then this can be very powerful” (Edwards, 2007 in Kendall). However, as a media agency we often do not have control or creative remit over the branding, but we can control the environment the brand is seen in. This is why it is crucial at the start of the process to get under the skin of the consumer, and recognise they are a human with emotions and behave in different ways in different environments. As Merry Baskin bought to light J.W. Thompson’s example of fresh eggs and flying lessons, which demonstrated that context in advertising is always vital. So when we utilise data in this way it has a lot of power and goes on to influence our media choices for our clients.

However, even though we delve into the audience psyche, I have often found it far too easy to leave the consumer behind once the campaign is live. When putting together campaign performance reports for clients, I would get bogged down in numbers and KPIs and I forgot what it all meant in the real world. Specifically I was working one of these reports for my client, a luxury high street fashion brand. Following the audience process described above we had identified their main audience as 25-45 year old women, which we grouped into three audience profiles. This then informed the media activity for the season which was predominately digital and covered; paid social, in-read display, a fashion haul video partnership with a publisher, and work with influencers.

Our reporting methods are very comprehensive, with data visualisation in the form of graphs and tables, along with extensive commentary. Yet, as the weeks passed and the data accumulated the commentary became very one dimensional. Rather than continuing to focus on the consumer, I found myself only commenting on the highest CTR, VTR, ER and ROI. I had come to place too much emphasis on the ‘clicks’ and these metrics. I was blind to what these figures meant in relation to the consumer and thus in turn what this meant for the brand. I should have been asking important questions, like why were these people clicking on this activity more than this activity? Why have people taken an interest and spent time reading this blog or watching this video? What does this tell me about how the audience relate to the brand? Has this contributed to building the brand?

I overlooked what the clicks meant to the consumer, and what this response communicated to us as advertisers and the brand. People saw the brands image and made a heuristic decision to click to discover more. This simple click registers an affiliation with the brand and expresses an interest to go through to their e-commerce site. Now this might not necessarily be a revolutionary thought, but I think going back to what Nick and Oliver said about placing too much focus on the click and forgetting about the consumer, it was surprisingly easy to only comment on the performance of the campaign rather than uniting both performance and consumer together, letting one inform the other.

This week I have begun to incorporate this thinking into this season’s digital report for the brand in question. Similar to last season we ran paid social on Instagram. One of the images had a significantly higher CTR than the other creatives. Rather than just stating that this image was performing better and was a achieving a higher CTR of X percent. I put the consumer front of mind and thought about why this image might have resonated them over the others. I commented that the audience were simply drawn in by the summery creative, and the reason they had clicked (other than liking the clothes and the brand) was because of the recent heat wave, and they were ready to start searching for their summer wardrobe. Again this wasn’t the most ground breaking behavioural insight; nonetheless it proves my point and my lesson in always linking the data back to the consumer and their behaviour.

I was particularly stirred by something I had read by Matt Sadler that said “the best visualisations turn the data into an involving and engaging story – and the very best help us to reveal the humanity behind it” (Sadler, 2007). This is really something I have known since I started working in media, but often when you are knee deep in numbers and performance statistics it is often difficult to put the human back into the equation. What I’ve now realised is that I can’t take the consumer for granted. I shouldn’t leave them behind because they fundamentally provide the data I use and dictate the success of the brand. I need to have the same approach at the start of the planning phase, where the main focus is on finding out who the consumer is, by the very same token I need to continue to make the consumer the epicentre of reporting. As Jonathan Harris succinctly put it, “really, the data is just part of the story. The human stuff is the main stuff, the data should just enrich it” (cited by Sadler, 2007). Jonathan is exactly right, the data and metrics allow me to measure and track the scale of performance of the campaign, but essentially the people are centre stage telling the story.

Data is now a constant part of what we do as advertisers as the digital age has truly permeated our industry, but we need to continue to think about it positively rather than as a burden. If we utilise it in the right way and do not put too much emphasis on the click, we provide space for the data to help build a brand and educate ourselves about how people consume. There is always something that collectively binds a certain group of people together and with advertising we can enhance these people’s lives by finding their commonality or shared value in a brand. It seems ludicrous to think before the Fundamentals of Branding course the consumer had become an afterthought in my approach to reporting, when ironically I was placing so much emphasis on the consumer at the beginning of the planning phase. This course has re-positioned people at the forefront at all stages of my work as an advertiser.

Lottie Webb is a Media Planner Buyer at Cream UK. This essay earned her a Distinction for the IPA Fundamentals of Branding course.

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Last updated 21 January 2022