When clients like Vodafone go in-house, agencies have an opportunity

If a client decides to take its media buying in-house, it is a sign you have done your job and a new working relationship can be mapped out.

We weren’t surprised by Vodafone’s decision to take its digital media buying in-house. That a client wants to establish full control and ownership of its data and technology stack is not new news and we have and will continue to support it to achieve this.

If done well, it can be the right way forward for some businesses. However, as pointed out recently by many industry leaders, hiring the quality and quantity of talent needed and maximising attention from the major platforms is critical to the success of any in-house model.

As agencies we must get better at identifying the future needs of our clients and their future needs of us. We can then evolve our talent mix, products and tools to partner with our clients on their digital transformation. 

From the start of our relationship with Vodafone UK, we placed data and technology specialists on its business, working alongside Wavemaker performance marketing teams and client technology leads to establish the critical capabilities needed for day-to-day operations, while designing the future vision for the technology stack.

Our data directors became an integral part of the client and agency team, regularly working on-site with clients, and liaising with client teams and with technology partners. We identified strategic priorities for technology transformation, and a roadmap for change that was rolled out across the entire stack.

This process culminated in complete transition to a new marketing technology stack, directly owned by Vodafone, removing its dependency on third-party contracts. 

Wavemaker’s analytics team, working with client-side performance leads, built a data warehouse environment to capture single-source, event-level digital marketing data: a record of every impression, interaction, click and conversion across the digital marketing mix. 

Using this rich data set (millions of rows of data per week), we built Ensight: a custom multi-touch digital attribution model that unpicked the contribution of every touchpoint towards the likelihood of conversion. In the first nine months, optimisations made from the Wavemaker Ensight findings generated incremental sales and revenue.

Vodafone’s ambition was clear: to make the leap from performance marketing to true precision marketing – audience-driven, data-powered and fuelled by continuous optimisation and learning.

So, we committed to working with it in a new way. Seconding a cross-functional team of precision marketing, data and technology specialists to join its in-house team for a three-month period, to embed best practice in precision marketing.

Working with Vodafone UK consultants, we shifted from a traditional client-agency approach to a fully integrated model built around fast iterations and continuous testing. We adapted agile workflow practices originally developed in software engineering, using project workflow tools to break down tasks into smaller, bite-sized units, each with a clear owner and an objective to move them through to completion fast. Our internal digital marketing teams were reorganised into agile ‘squads’, each with a set of tasks and a daily routine of stand-up meetings and progress tracking.

The result has been transformational – smaller teams, achieving more, with clear value back to the business.  

Placing our team inside Vodafone’s headquarters at Newbury allowed us to connect parts of the business that had never previously synced. Marketing conversations were opened with the big data, business intelligence, analytics, commercial and legal departments.

This has allowed Vodafone to not only conduct its own reporting, but to start stitching media data with its CRM database to get new insights of existing customer sales versus new customer acquisitions, which can then be fed into the big data team for further propensity modelling.

By mid-2018 with the technology migration, data and analytics redesign, and agile process transformation across the whole precision marketing mix in place, Vodafone was in excellent shape to take control, and the mark of this was its final decision to bring the whole precision marketing capability in-house.

If we thought of ourselves just as Vodafone’s media buying agency, this would have been a mixed blessing. But our role is to grow clients’ businesses, applying our expertise to accelerate their capabilities in media, content and technology.

With both parties committed to the ongoing success of the programme, Wavemaker continues to act as a consultant for Vodafone’s data roadmap as well as for the continuation of successful joined-up cross-channel planning.

Vodafone’s future is exciting – and together, we’re ready.


Paul Hutchison is chief executive of Wavemaker UK

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