Former MullenLowe Open executives Ant Hopper and Si Goodall have launched a new customer experience consultancy that aims to cater for everyone but the out-of-touch “1%” that pervade the ad industry.
It is called The Ninety-Niners to convey how the business will “stand with the 99%; the real customers who experience brands, not the 1% who create them”, Hopper said.
The Ninety-Niners will offer strategic consultancy and solutions for businesses that want to “unlock the value of customer-centricity”. As co-founders, Hopper and Goodall will each own a 50% stake in the business.
“We take a scientific approach to improving the experience,” Goodall said. “We will carry out the first-party data analytics and consumer research where necessary, but more important is the process to generate and test insight-led hypotheses. That is how deep knowledge of different customers builds over time.”
Hopper and Goodall exited MullenLowe earlier this year after the Interpublic Group agency merged Profero and Open, its digital transformation and customer engagement units.
The duo met in 1999 (another reason for the name) and The Ninety-Niners will be their fourth company working together. They led the creation and growth of MullenLowe Open, having joined the business in 2012 when MullenLowe was known as Lowe & Partners, with Hopper as global chief executive and Goodall global chief strategy officer. Before then they worked together in leading roles Saatchi & Saatchi X, Saatchis’ shopper marketing division, for four years.
Despite being agency veterans of two decades, Goodall and Hopper insist that they remember their own challenges of being made to feel like outsiders when entering the ad industry.
“Both of us went to comprehensive schools in the Home Counties and were from what would have been working class families,” Hopper said. “My first day at my first agency, I remember well because two of the four directors had been to Eton and the first question was 'what school did you go to?'”
Upon learning of his non-elite schooling background, Hopper recalled being taken aback when he was then asked: “So, how did you get in [to the agency] then?”
It is a lack of diverse thinking and blunt approach to analysing customer data that is holding brands back from really taking advantage of all the data that is at their disposal nowadays. The duo aim to combat this with “fresh analytics” of first-party data, and enriching it with third-party data from trusted sources or carrying out behavioural insights.
Because they are launching the business without an office, they believe they will offer a low-cost more agile alternative to the growing number of consultancies and network agency alternatives for data-led customer engagement services. As the business grows, their plan is to create a “collective” by recruiting bespoke project teams to work on client briefs, with the help of a chief talent officer which they hope to hire soon.
Goodall added: “Brands are leaving money on the table by failing to be relevant to different types of customers… A lot of customer experience is built on broad personas, so often our own biases affect the way we view those personas. We want to create a process that sees individuals at that level. We need to slow down to take the time and ask ‘is that right?’ instead of going with your gut instinct.”
Hopper and Goodall are upbeat about launching in the middle of a global recession. “The crisis has shown that clients can have the holy trinity of ‘faster, better, cheaper’ if we reduce overheads and embrace nimble ways of working. Clients want top-talent solving their problems,” Hopper said.
“But only want to pay for what they need, when they need it. It’s one reason so many of them are looking at new agency models and why it’s a great time to be launching a disruptive business."