An Interview with WPP’s Tom Hutchison

The Data Alliance might be WPP’s secret sauce. They assist agencies in the WPP group with access and interpretation to consumer data for more effective marketing strategies. As the Director for Agency Data Platform Development, Tom Hutchison is at the forefront of bringing data to life, together with some very creative organizations. We had a chance to speak with Tom recently about his experiences.

SpotRight (SR): Tom, you have a wealth of experience with both marketing data and technology, and yet you recently published an article about data storytelling like Shakespeare. (link to post) Do you see a need to return to basics with our data use?

Tom Hutchinson (TH): You know, I don’t know if it’s even a matter of getting back to basics. For as long as computers have been creating data, we’ve been using that data poorly to tell stories. When I first started in the industry, we consumed data using stacks and stacks of green bar paper and then we used massive spreadsheets, which we printed out. Basically, the data was the same, but the paper was different. Now we’ve moved into using graphs and charts as representations of data, but even those are becoming more and more complex as we try to jam as much data as possible into a tiny space.

No, I think we need better techniques for telling stories. Sometimes that will mean simplifying the data that backs up the story, but not always. You can still tell a complex story with lots of data as long as you’re doing it in an organized way. If you skip setting the stage or establishing the problem or explaining the resolution, then your story won’t be very effective. If you fail to provide perspective or highlight the effects, then your story will lose impact. The data is important but focusing too much on the data without context or meaning will prevent your audience from understanding the point you’re trying to make.

SR: You have also worked both for a large marketing service provider and a leading agency. How have these experiences changed your perspective on marketing today?

TH: Back in the day, I’d go to client meetings to review a campaign that that didn’t perform the way we wanted it to. The creative people would blame the campaign managers for pulling the wrong lists. The campaign managers would blame the creatives for developing an ineffective message. Sitting in the middle, I never knew which one was right. I was working with the campaign managers, so I really didn’t understand what the creatives were doing.

When I moved into the agency world and was able to see firsthand all of the work that creatives do to define the personas and the customer journeys; When I was able to see all of the work that goes into planning the customer interaction, I had a better idea of the relationship between the creative and the audience.

For me, I’ve become more convinced of the need for a bridge between the creative part of the process and execution, especially as consumer engagement becomes more and more complex. We have so many ways to reach people and they expect us to know them and know what they want and what they care about. It’s tough planning all of those touches and executing them in an organized way. So, I suppose my perspective has changed in that I see things more holistically. Being great at identifying audiences isn’t enough to win in the marketplace. Being great at creative isn’t enough to win in the marketplace. You have to do both.

SR: At WPP’s Data Alliance, you have access to many different types of data and insights. What do you recommend to marketers trying to make sense of the many insights available to them?

TH: There’s so much data out there and for me it just drives home how much I don’t know. So, when I start looking for an insight, I start broad, usually working with syndicated data sources where their experts have evaluated the data in context with industry and market conditions. Those sources are great for establishing a fairly specific directional point-of-view. Then I go and check the news sources I trust. I’ll search those sources for any articles that are talking about the insights that I’ve found, and they can help identify the ones that are the most relevant. Next, I’ll check internal knowledge repositories to see if there are some insights that we’ve found that I can add to what I’ve already got. This is a great way to leverage any distinctive competence we’ve already developed, which can further refine the insights I’m working with. Finally, I’ll do some research of my own using tools like SpotRight to confirm the insights I’m using. Often, that data will allow me to find connected insights that create a competitive advantage.

SR: Why have you chosen to work with SpotRight?

TH: Two reasons, really. First, I like how approachable the interfaces and outputs are. There are a lot of tools in the marketplace, but most of them are a drag to work with. Their query interfaces are complex and counterintuitive, but SpotRight apps are easy to understand and use. I also like how the reports are geared toward creative professionals. The personas are great for driving innovative strategies in social spaces that extend to all aspects of customer communication. The analysis and comparisons of groups are useful for understanding the customers and prospective audiences.

Second, I like the fact that you can build an audience within the tool. Too often, there is a chasm between the strategy developed by creative planners and the audiences derived by media planners and buyers. By providing a method to bridge planning and execution, SpotRight has the potential to make advertising campaigns more effective.