A unified system fuses hindsight, insight and foresight to help manage short and long-term decision-making for an uncertain future

Planning for future uncertainty is a hot boardroom topic. It’s especially true now as we continue to deal with the fallouts from the COVID-19 pandemic: dramatic changes in customer behaviour, shifting media consumption, supply chain challenges and overall economic upheaval. 

History shows that, in times of disruption, organisational resilience depends on adaptability and decisiveness. Yet many organisations base decision making  on hindsight (understanding what happened) and insight (understanding why it happened).  



Living in a VUCA world

In a world now plagued with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (aka a “VUCA” world) – hindsight and insight are no longer sufficient to accelerate sustainable growth and gain competitive advantage. 

To quote Professor Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum: “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world.”

We now have an opportunity to reimagine how we manage uncertainty and navigate towards accelerated and sustainable growth. To do this, organisations need foresight. 

From uncertainty to manageable risk

Foresight takes uncertainty and turns it into manageable risk. It considers what is most and least likely to happen in the VUCA world and reveals the signposts and probabilities of them happening. 

Some fascinating examples of foresight already exist. Who would have foreseen, for example, that the Chinese e-commerce platform JD.com would outplay its competitor Alibaba by reliably delivering goods when lockdown hit (and increasing revenue by 21 per cent  in the first quarter of 2020) while Alibaba struggled to find couriers. Recruiting the right volume of couriers at the right time required foresight.

Whether it’s the shift to hybrid working, skyrocketing growth in e-commerce or chip shortages affecting the supply of new vehicles, VUCA events will continue to affect all organisations for the foreseeable future.

Scenario analysis by McKinsey shows that a single, prolonged supply-side shock would wipe out between 30 and 50 percent of one year’s earnings (EBITDA) for companies in most industries. The same study classified different types of shocks based on their impact, lead time, and frequency of occurrence, ranging from theft and common cyberattacks to pandemics and climatic events such as hurricanes. But knowing which possible events to focus on is not an easy task.  

The goal to accelerate digital transformation via online selling and marketing started in 2013 for L’Oréal. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company was well positioned to shift ad spend online. In the first quarter to the end of March, ecommerce sales grew 53% in comparison to the previous year. L’Oréal had invested in this future lever of growth and it paid off handsomely at a time of unforeseen market upheaval. 

Diagnosis before cure

But how do you continue to make good decisions and successfully plan in a VUCA world? First, it’s important to understand what types of challenges your organisation is likely to face. Before you can cure, you must first diagnose. 

Are you facing volatility resulting from an unpredictable supply chain? Or uncertainty caused by new entrants competing with your products? Or complexity due to regulation changes? Or ambiguity raised by not knowing if the current vaccine will protect the population against new variants? Knowing the type of challenge, or combination of challenges, you face is an essential first step.

To make data-informed decisions that accelerate sustainable growth, organisations need faster, smarter, insights that are unified into a single version of the truth to understand what has happened, why it happened and what to do next.

Foresight is key to the unified version of the truth; it enables decision-makers to war-game and simulate; scenario plan and optimise; identify and track leading indicators and to understand the risk and impact of “wild card” events.

A single system for all-round future confidence

We have a unified decision-making system at Gain Theory – HiFusion – that fuses hindsight, insight, and foresight, across all sources and levers of growth, both known and unknown. It identifies long-term strategic opportunities and answers near-term tactical performance questions. 

In the HiFusion decision making system, there is a rich arsenal of foresight techniques to uncover future states of demand depending on the VUCA challenge faced: 

 Future Back Thinking: defining the desired future and then working backwards to identify the potential specific actions and signposts that connect the desired future to the present. For example, setting a target to be net zero carbon by 2030 might involve several potential actions such as planting more trees or swapping to solar power. However, the signposts, such as famine and food shortages, might indicate that planting trees is no longer an option and that we need to switch to solar power as land costs soar. 


• Delphi Method: developed by Project Rand in the 1950s, the method uses a group of experts who anonymously and repeatedly reply to questionnaires about the future, receiving feedback as a statistical representation of the group’s response. The aim is for the group response to converge after each iteration of the questionnaire, ideally resulting in consensus of expert opinion. While the overall accuracy is mixed, the method is used when looking at long-term trends in policy making and technology development.


• War Gaming Simulations: simulating different competitive settings and the impact on consumer demand. For example, the increase in demand for used vehicles during the chip shortage, depending on the duration of the shortage and the actions of competitors.

• Forecasting: projecting future events by taking signals from the past mixed with likely future states caused by internal and external factors and shocks, such as pandemics, international tension, climate change and competitor threats. For example, how will grocery evolve to meet the challenges of rising interest rates and potentially lower demand in 2022/23?


• Lead Indicators: measurable signals that provide an early warning system or prediction of what the situation could be in the future. For example, new car registrations used to be a reliable lead indicator of economic strength and consumer propensity to spend. But in the face of supply constraints, how reliable is this indicator today?


• Scenario Planning: making assumptions on what the future is likely to be and how your business performance might be affected, for the purpose of creating a more robust strategy. Often scenarios are run under “what if?” assumptions to work out the best possible path. For example, looking at the impact on both short and long-term sales and profit resulting from pulling all advertising in the final quarter of the year.

 Trend Analysis: collecting qualitative and quantitative information to spot patterns or new trends, and thus paint an indicative picture of what might happen. These trends can often be used later in scenarios. For example, Wunderman Thompson’s “The Future 100: 2022” which forecasts 100 trends to watch in the coming year or GroupM’s “This Year Next Year” forecast of ad spend, used to augment media response curves in future marketing campaigns.

By fusing hindsight, insight and foresight, HiFusion enables organisations to identify future sources of growth and give confidence to decision-making across all levers of growth. It enables organisations to invest in the right data sources, technology, and methods to confidently answer questions around: 

• the role of brand equity and customer experience in maintaining price resilience

• the short and long-term impact of investments

• drivers of customer choices and product trade-offs 

• identifying and tracking signals that provide an early warning system

• targeting new audiences based on their motivation

• acquiring new customers in a cookie-less world of walled gardens

• conducting complex multi-test-and-learn experiments at scale

• preventing customer churn

• growing spend from existing customers by making the right recommendations

• …and, ultimately, judging correctly what is likely to happen in the future.


HiFusion creates a holistic loop to support strategic decision-making by weaving foresight, insight and hindsight across time horizons and a range of stakeholders. It unifies tactical execution, plus annual and longer-term strategic planning into a single measurement system. 

In a VUCA world, navigating the range of future possibilities to accelerate sustainable growth requires an organisation to invest with confidence. Foresight gives us the ability to manage uncertainty and, ultimately, create and tap into future states of consumer demand. 

By knowing tomorrow, we can disrupt today. 

This article was originally published in Campaign – click here or download the PDF on this page.

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In our fifth episode of our Ask the Experts series titled “Agile Decision Making”, Claudia Sestini, Global CMO of Gain Theory, discusses best practices and advice for being agile in the face of changing priorities with a full panel of industry experts.

With regards to measuring marketing efficacy at speed, Claudia Sestini asks:

“With a greater focus on e-commerce sales channels now, should marketers pivot media strategy to drive digital footfall?”

Panel Guests:

Georgia Thodey, Head of Brand and Media Planning at NatWest Group

Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director at Thinkbox

Matt Chappell, Senior Partner at Gain Theory

Key Takeaways:

  • Digital is the key destination, so it’s important to ensure brands are there, easy to find, and easy to navigate as customers are searching.
  • Digital is the end destination for sales; however, a customer’s journey doesn’t necessarily start there.
  • Consumers begin to consider purchase decisions before the sale, so when planning media strategy, marketers need to focus on the principles: build awareness, build consideration, and keep your brand top of mind.
  • Give people a reason to talk about your brand by putting the right message in front of the right customers in the right place at the right time and in the right context.
  • Customers are fulfilling purchases digitally, but a brand’s advertising needs to create mental availability and put your message everywhere your customers are consuming the media—whether online or offline—particularly during lockdown.
  • Using 2020 as an example, the same principles for media strategy still apply. Overall, the advice is to find where your customers are consuming their media and place the right messages to them in those places at the right time. This year in particular, we have all spent a lot of time at home, so investment in OOH advertisements has fallen.

Other topics addressed in the “Agile Decision Making” Ask the Experts Session: 

To stream the full video click here.  

In our fifth episode of our Ask the Experts series titled “Agile Decision Making”, Claudia Sestini, Global CMO of Gain Theory, discusses best practices and advice for being agile in the face of changing priorities with a full panel of industry experts.

With regards to measuring marketing efficacy at speed, Claudia Sestini asks:

“Econometrics will always be the main stable of any marketing effectiveness toolkit for measurement. What other approaches can marketers leverage for increased agile decision-making as they look to course correct?“

Panel Guests:

Georgia Thodey, Head of Brand and Media Planning at NatWest Group

Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director at Thinkbox

Matt Chappell, Senior Partner at Gain Theory

Key Takeaways:

  • Prior to the pandemic, the variables of marketing measurement and effectiveness were relatively known, allowing optimization and forecasting with confidence. Now, we’re experiencing a world where marketers need to use the existing models and data we have and to embrace scenario planning.
  • 2020 scenario planning has involved new marketing investment parameters to analyze at what point effectiveness begins to decrease with increased spend. This lets marketers know when to reduce advertising to a level of optimal effectiveness per spend, which both requires and enables marketers to increase agility in their planning.
  • The scenario planning tactic is less about methodology and more about how agile marketers can use the data to look forward and make quicker decisions. There is an increased push for utilizing dashboards and platforms that bring results to marketers’ fingertips quickly, without the need for a lengthy econometrics reports.
  • Free tools like the Demand Generator from Thinkbox are useful to gain insight and help marketers make faster, informed decisions.
  • Consultancy backed decision making platforms such as Gain Theory interactive can also bring to life tactical decision making across creative, geography, market and much more.

Other topics addressed in the “Agile Decision Making” Ask the Experts Session: 

To stream the full video click here.  

In our fifth episode of our Ask the Experts series titled “Agile Decision Making”, Claudia Sestini, Global CMO of Gain Theory, discusses best practices and advice for being agile in the face of changing priorities with a full panel of industry experts.

With regards to how TV advertising is changing for more agile decision-making, Claudia Sestini asks:

“Globally, people have watched a tremendous amount of television this year. For marketers, consumer demand has been constantly changing, which requires a flexible media plan. The perception is that TV doesn’t allow for that level of agility…or does it? “

Panel Guests:

Georgia Thodey, Head of Brand and Media Planning at NatWest Group

Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director at Thinkbox

Matt Chappell, Senior Partner at Gain Theory

Key Takeaways:

  • During global lockdown and stay at home orders, with more time spent at home and fewer daily commutes, people chose to watch more linear television and on-demand programming.
  • Several larger brands have been making the most of advertising during this period where demand (and cost) for television advertising has been low, while viewership has been high.
  • However, because Covid diminished marketers’ guarantee of securing television advertisements with the right quality, timing, and programming, broadcasters removed the penalties for the late-booking deadline to afford marketers more agility.
  • Marketers have appreciated this nimble structure, desiring to continue the reduced booking period beyond the pandemic. With shorter booking windows, more marketers can utilize television advertisements instead of using their funding across other typically agile platforms, like Facebook or Google.
  • The drawback to this ‘new’ booking deadline structure, is that TV advertising is finite with a limited number of spots and programming. Broadcasters are not allowed to increase or decrease the minutes of advertisements; it is regulated by the government in the UK. Due to these limitations, the risk with more agile options is that the preferred programs and spots may ultimately not be available when marketers are ready to book.

“How has the TV industry pivoted to accommodate these new agile decision-making needs? How are TV networks dealing with unpredictable programming, where some shows may not be greenlit for production to continue filming and making new episodes?”

  • TV production was hit hard due to Covid, limiting some options for programming. However, some shows were able to create production ‘bubbles’, with cast and crew leaving their friends and family for a few months to film safely. This was a step beyond what most broadcasters were willing to take.
  • For broadcasters, the loss of revenue due to drop of demand for advertising in certain sectors leveled out because there were not as many shows or programs to spend on this season. Broadcasters were able to save up and reallocate those budgets for new programming in 2021.
  • Broadcasters have been forced to be as agile as marketers, coming up with new formats and new programs to keep their schedules as strong as possible in lieu of new show content. There may ultimately be new formats that spring out of this time of ingenuity and creativity due to Covid.

Other topics addressed in the “Agile Decision Making” Ask the Experts Session: 

To stream the full video click here.  

In our fifth episode of our Ask the Experts series titled “Agile Decision Making”, Claudia Sestini, Global CMO of Gain Theory, discusses best practices and advice for being agile in the face of changing priorities with a full panel of industry experts.

With regards to pivoting marketing strategy at the right pace and place, Claudia Sestini asks:

“What examples of agility have you seen this year and what advice do you have for marketers to become more agile in the coming months?”

Panel Guests:

Georgia Thodey, Head of Brand and Media Planning at NatWest Group

Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director at Thinkbox

Matt Chappell, Senior Partner at Gain Theory

Key Takeaways:

Know your fundamentals: know your goals, know your strategy, and know when/how to say, “no” to ensure you stay on the correct path and are able to move nimbly in the right direction.

“Covid” advertising examples:

  • The best Covid-related advertising examples this year were created by brands that have clear brand structures, brand identities, and distinctive assets during “normal” times – and have managed to mold their Covid communications around those brand basics to reflect the new reality in our evolving “new normal”.
  • Some brands were already well-poised and well-spoken about caring for their communities prior to the pandemic, which allowed them to perform even better and more authentically during these times where CSR and a brand focus on giving back to support communities is important to consumers.

Other topics addressed in the “Agile Decision Making” Ask the Experts Session: 

To stream the full video click here.  

Exec summary:

Privacy updates made by Google and Apple will have implications on how media is delivered, what information can be captured, and how media performance can be measured.  These actions won’t kill major sectors of digital media and media measurement, but they will create significant challenges.  New processes will need to be built to account for these privacy restrictions.  These new processes will likely favor larger media partners which will continue to fuel media consolidation.  We expect that these updates will drive adoption of more privacy-compliant Multi Touch Attribution alternatives such as Gain Theory’s Sensor.

Key implications:

  • How legislation (GDPR, CCPA) and business decisions by the major internet browsers (Safari, Firefox, Chrome) have limited data capture, media delivery, and measurement over the past few years
  • How Google’s decision to block third-party cookies/tags will impact Chrome
  • How Apple’s release of iOS14 will impact user opt-in requirements on apps
  • The difference between “first-party” tags and “third-party” tags and the implications on consumer data capture and media delivery standpoint
  • The implications of third-party tag and cross-app restrictions on AdTech, i.e. the challenges of server-to-server integrations to audience pool sizes, retargeting, and implementation bottlenecks
  • The impact on Multi-Touch Attribution and potential alternatives such as Gain Theory’s Sensor
  • Media consolidation and how it plays to advertiser’s ability to create contextual audience targeting

Legislation and business decisions have limited data capture, media delivery, and measurement

Over the past few years, a combination of legislation (GDPR, CCPA) and business decisions by the major internet browsers (Safari, Firefox, Chrome) have made data capture on the open internet and via Apps more restrictive.  Legislation broadened (or formalized) the definition of PII (Personally Identifiable Information) for the digital age.  This broadened definition created a potential liability issue for non-compliant business (e.g. everything needs an “opt-in” now).  At the same time, the browsers and web operating systems have begun rolling out privacy features for several reasons: to protect consumers, to comply with legislation, and to avoid liability.  Beyond the basic implication that these events limit data capture, they also by proxy impact how media is delivered and measured.

Where we are right now?

Two major events are unfolding currently:

1. Google will soon be blocking third-party cookies/tags “by default”, joining Safari and Firefox, who are already doing so. 

Chrome represents a clear majority of U.S. web browser installs.  When Google activates this change, the impact will be huge.  Between the three browsers, 90+% of browser-based internet activity will have third-party tags blocked by default.  For definition, “by default” means the user of the browser would proactively have to opt-in for third-party tracking…but why would anyone do that? Once Google releases the Chrome update, consumers will begin updating their software and buying new devices.  As consumers start doing this, the % of third-party tags blocked by default will grow until it’s virtually the full Chrome user base.

2. The release of iOS14 Apple will require users to opt-in for IDFA (The Identifier for Advertiser) cross-app tracking, on an app by app basis. 

IDFA is Apple’s “Identifier for Advertisers”.  This will limit an app’s ability to see a user go to another app on the same device.  Cross-app tracking is similar in nature to third-party tagging (as described below) but one could argue that it’s easier for an app to make the case for how cross-app tracking can be a benefit to the consumer.  For instance, American Express could argue that allowing their app to be able to talk to the apps of their business partners could be a benefit to their cardmembers.  Since this iOS opt-in is at the app level, the consumer will be able to choose if they want to allow American Express cross-app tracking. As iOS14 is released, consumers and app owners will begin to face this choice very quickly.  And as consumers update their iOS and buy new devices with it pre-installed, it will become standard across the iOS ecosystem.

Why are third-party tags and cross-app tracking important?

Firstly, let’s look at the difference between “first-party” tags and “third-party” tags:

  • First-party tags: When a consumer is on Amazon.com, Amazon can track that visitor via first-party tags.  “First-party” in essence means the company doing the tracking owns the website the consumer is on.  This is akin to a shopper being in your brick and mortar store; they’re on your property therefore you have the right to observe where they go. 
  • Third-party tags: this is when the company who owns the “tag” is not the owner of the website the “tag” is placed on.  This allows the third-party to track consumers on sites they don’t own.  In the real world, this is akin to companies following people around all day and logging everywhere the people go and when.  This would obviously be a breach of privacy.  But on the internet, this is exactly what third-party tags had enabled companies to do unrestricted up until now. 

So, what were the implications? 

AdTech was basically built around third-party data capture.  Picture this: if a company places third-party tags across several hundred websites and paid media ads, capturing all the data of consumers hitting those media properties, that company could create a fairly accurate representation of internet behavior.  They could then mine their repository of cookies, all their associated behaviors, and leverage the data to deliver targeted media to their pool of cookies. 

Companies have been doing this for well over a decade.  And while cross-app tracking isn’t exactly the same as third-party tags it enables many of the same things: broad data capture, retargeting, audience/creative optimization, etc. 

If companies can’t use third-party tags and cross-app tracking, is AdTech dead?

No, AdTech isn’t dead. But it has to change.  There is a new approach to data capture that has come along to replace third-party tags and cross-app tracking: server-to-server integrations (S2S).  A server-to-server integration is when ABC.com matches its users to XYZ.com’s users so they can see the overlap in users on their sites.  Doing this is a bit more restrictive than what’s possible with third-party tags; ABC and XYZ need to have shared data elements they can match on.  They would typically match on an encrypted email address.  Net/net, they can only match consumers that have registered on their sites; they can’t match general visitors.  As a result:

  • Shareable audience pool size shrinks
  • Major implications on retargeting and, more generally, at any time digital audiences are created
  • Implementation bottleneck: for instance, Facebook can’t just do a server-to-server integration with every major media property and/or client overnight.  Right now, they have a waitlist that could be upwards of a year

Measurement implications: Is Multi-Touch Attribution dead?

No. However, everything above implies severe limitations as these changes take effect.  The challenge is that it will become increasingly difficult to create a “complete” user path of media touchpoints that led to a conversion.  There were always challenges at play, but they will only become worse.  Server-to-server integrations will become the major way raw media data gets stitched together across platforms by players such as LiveRamp, but they, too, face challenges due to the blocking of third-party tags (which LiveRamp uses heavily). Since server-to-server integrations only work for registered site visitors, not general visitors, the audience scale and matching accuracy of partners such as LiveRamp will suffer. However, with data integrators such as LiveRamp it is nearly impossible to actually QC their work; it’s all anonymized.  As a result, the true gaps created by the loss of third-party tagging and the switch to server-to-server integrations may never be known; this could sew distrust within the Multi-Touch Attribution (MTA) ecosystem, for example, raising questions like, “how accurate is this?”  Measurement partners will still deliver MTA solutions to clients but will the accuracy decline?  The marketplace doesn’t quite know yet.  If it does suffer, we can expect to see clients begin to reevaluate their measurement needs and become open to other near-term measurement solutions like Gain Theory’s Sensor

Media consolidation is at play as well

While this privacy battle has unfolded there has been significant consolidation in media.  We’ve seen the rise of major video platforms like Hulu, YouTube, etc.  These platforms have an endless supply of video content and consumers are typically logged in when they use them.  These two factors enable a massive amount of contextual understanding of the consumer. Given the scale of these platforms, and their ability to target, we’re seeing a massive shift towards contextually targeted media.  These platforms simply know so much about their massive audiences that they don’t need digital behavior data from outside their ecosystems to optimize media delivery effectively. 

Long story short, the large streaming video partners aren’t being hamstrung very much by the blocking of third-party tags and cross-app tracking.  And consumers’ attention and media consumption will continue to centralize around these platforms.  This means that with a handful of large-scale server-to-server integrations across these platforms, plus Google, Facebook, etc, we will be able to see a very comprehensive view of users’ digital media consumption. In the future, there will simply be fewer “critical” media partners, and all of them equipped with logged-in users.  This will make it easier to integrate a handful of major players than it was to track hundreds of third-party tags on mid-tier media partners.  Eventually, new measurement solutions or measurement workspaces like “white rooms” could become much more prevalent and holistic.

In our fifth episode of our Ask the Experts series titled “Agile Decision Making”, Claudia Sestini, Global CMO of Gain Theory, discusses best practices and advice for being agile in the face of changing priorities with a full panel of industry experts.

With regards to media allocation decisions across brands, Claudia Sestini asks:

“Many marketers have evolved their media plans and strategies to meet the needs of their customers in 2020, which can be particularly difficult when managing media allocations across multiple brands, products, industries or customer sets.

How should marketers decide media allocations across these portfolios to avoid spreading advertising budgets too thin?”

Panel Guests:

Georgia Thodey, Head of Brand and Media Planning at NatWest Group

Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director at Thinkbox

Matt Chappell, Senior Partner at Gain Theory

Key Takeaways:

  • There are four key factors that can help marketers, whether you’re allocating media across a full portfolio of brands, products, or different segments.

1. Consider all marketing and media allocation as investment choices:

  • Look for opportunities to invest that will drive ROI financially for the brand and benefit the customers. Look at where and how much you are investing, what you’re driving from that investment, and analyze the gaps to see if you’re over or underinvesting anywhere.
  • Look at the market as a whole, where you think the market is going, and compare your activities to others.
  • Consider your investment and activities to see whether they align with your business objectives.

2. Create a level playing field for assessment.

  • Create this level playing field across all your brands, products, or segments and find a way to compare apples to oranges to see where the true value of investment is for each.
  • Work with an econometrics expert to build a model that can help you make these investment comparisons.
  • Utilize multiple sources when researching and assessing.

3. Prioritize and make the tough decisions.

  • Doing fewer things well is a key to success.
  • Make informed decisions that align with your objectives and strategy to help you say “no” when needed.

4. Set the guard rails and be prepared to adapt.

  • Once you’ve established how much you will invest, where you will invest, and why – be ready to shift continuously through the year.
  • Review your results, analyze how the market is changing, and encourage agile decision-making.

Other topics addressed in the “Agile Decision Making” Ask the Experts Session: 

To stream the full video click here.  

The pandemic-driven recession is leading marketers to plan against various economic scenarios into 2021. To succeed in these testing times when consumer behaviors are uniquely unpredictable, marketers will need to apply a new way of thinking that fosters agility in their marketing strategies to acquire and retain customers.

In our fifth episode of our Ask the Experts series titled “Agile Decision Making”, Claudia Sestini, Global CMO of Gain Theory, discusses best practices and advice for being agile in the face of changing priorities with a full panel of industry experts. Our panel guests included Georgia Thodey, Head of Brand and Media Planning at NatWest Group, Matt Hill, Research and Planning Director at Thinkbox, and Matt Chappell, Senior Partner at Gain Theory.

Topics addressed:

You can stream the full episode below.

In this livestreamed “Ask the Experts” session, Ajay Ahuja at Kellogg’s and Chris Sloane, Senior Partner at Gain Theory, discussed how marketers can drive present and future data-informed decisions.

Claudia Sestini, Global CMO, opened stating that in today’s world, understanding what happened, why it happened and what will happen are key to informing the actions that drive business growth.

The session kicked off by getting to know Ajay and Chris. Ajay’s CPG career spans over a decade covering analytics to reporting across multiple markets such as China, South Africa and Australia. His remit at Kellogg’s sees him answer key business questions and participate in business future proofing projects.  Chris spoke about his extensive career in marketing effectiveness traversing both the UK and Australia, whilst writing industry-leading thought leadership in WARC, covering topics such as optimal advertising frequency and ROI of integrated marketing campaigns.

In conversation, Ajay and Chris covered the following topics:

  • The Role of Marketing & Media within Overall Sales Drivers
  • Decisions that Drive Value for Consumers
  • Role of Online and Offline Channels and Media to Drive Business KPIs
  • The Switch to Private Label During Recessions
  • Justifying Investment in Brand
  • Selecting Media Platforms: Emotional Decision Making  

Stream the full video here and read the key take outs below.

The Role of Marketing & Media within Overall Sales Drivers

How should marketers think about media and marketing within overall sales drivers? 

Key Takeaways:

  • It’s important to drive awareness and salience while simultaneously creating a long-lasting effect on customers and shoppers.
  • To discover what is most important during the “new normal” period: test, test, test. Find out what is working; ask if the fundamentals still apply to your business and how you can optimize for the future.
  • Immediate steps to consider for optimization, both online and offline, include pausing to understand what is happening with consumers and then exploring e-commerce and new channels.
  • Take a step back to trace the insights from consumers and shoppers, noticing changes in trends.

Decisions that Drive Value for Consumers

Insights from data can assist with decision making to drive KPIs such as sales. How should marketers factor in the value they are delivering to consumers?

Key Takeaways:

  • Some products, such as Kellogg’s products, appeal more to shoppers and consumers post-Covid because they are safe, well-known, and associated with good hygiene.
  • When you have “safe” products with these attributes known to the market, you’re not limited to solely driving sales in the organization.
  • Rethink what value means to consumers and how that translates to both your product offer and how you convey value to consumers.
  • Marketing requires more than driving value for the organization, creating high ROI, long-lasting effects – it’s also about making a difference in your community, inclusive of your corporate social responsibility.

Role of Online and Offline Channels and Media to Drive Business KPIs

Regarding the “new normal” world and purchasing behaviors, what role do online and “offline” channels and media play in driving business KPIs?

Key Takeaways:

  • Marketers see everything as either online or offline, but consumers don’t. Their priorities revolve around convenience and availability, which is most important, making visibility key for retailers and brands.
  • Customers may be more loyal now, shopping in-person and/or online more frequently, often multiple times a week, from the same retailer on both online and offline channels.
  • Marketers need to maximize the opportunity for people to purchase. Simply because more sales have flipped online doesn’t mean that everyone’s media consumption has flipped online.
  • The fundamentals still stand. Ask yourself: What is the path to purchase? How and when can we influence consumers on that journey to buy that product? That matters more than where those sales are actually realized.
  • It’s vital to think about the cost to effectiveness ratio of your advertising investment across your channels.

The Switch to Private Label During Recessions

There’s an assumption, based on historical trends, suggesting that in times of recession people are more likely to switch to private labels. If we assume this is correct, or challenge it, how do you maintain relevance of the brand? 

Key Takeaways:

  • Comparing the 2008 recession to the 2020 recession reveals this is not a “regular” recession. It’s about value, getting the best deals and shopping to different places. Paired with this realization is the focus on hygiene.
  • Consumers want to ensure what they are buying is hygienic and has value. You want to know the products you buy for yourself and your family have product superiority. These factors challenge the hypothesis of an immediate switch to private label.
  • This is being termed the “first natural disease-driven recession of modern times”. Therefore, the consumer mindset will be different, and brands shouldn’t treat this recession like the last one. Comfort is found in brands that we trust and love, and people will return to them.
  • “The lipstick effect: Consumers don’t want to splurge excessive amounts of money on products, but they want to do something indulgent for themselves. Offering a variety of tastes, sizes, and indulgences is a key to defending your brand from switches to private label.

Justifying Investment in Brand

Currently, several organizations are tightly focused on driving short-term returns. How do marketers justify investment in brand, which arguably has a longer-term ROI, to the CFO?

Key Takeaways:

  • You can prove that brand advertising now will pay back greater dividends over the longer term. That won’t have changed in this pandemic recession.
  • Conduct research, gather as much industry and brand-specific information as you can and make that case to the CFO.
  • Gain Theory has several pieces of research including The Long Term Impacts of Advertising, The Business Case for Advertising Now and Marketing Investment in Uncertain Times: Tactics to Ally with Finance.
  • What we’re trying to do is minimize risk and maximize value, in both the short-term and long-term.
  • Cleverly approach difficult conversations with Finance by utilizing learnings from the past and performing certain advanced analytics around the data.

Selecting Media Platforms: Emotional Decision Making

We appear to be entering a world where media platforms are politicized, which may impact media investment decisions. How do you layer this type of “emotional” decision-making into fact-led decision making? 

Key Takeaways:

  • Consider first, “How should brands plan across media channels given those factors?” and second, “Who decides that the platform isn’t suitable for the brand?”
  • It’s not a planner’s decision to choose what media channels should and shouldn’t be part of a mix. They need to optimize reach point, sales, business outcomes, etc.
  • It’s for the C-suite to choose which media platforms and channels are acceptable for the brand or not.

As originally published by Thinkbox on May 22, 2020

Matt Chappell, Senior Partner at Gain Theory, outlines four data-driven reasons to invest in advertising now in order to succeed in the future.

The common reaction to the unprecedented situation we have been facing over the last few months is to pull up the drawbridge, adopt defensive positions, and more often than not in the world of marketing, cut, cancel, pause, delay and reduce. 

But there are two sides of the coin. 

Unfortunately, there are businesses who have had to shut down completely or have experienced a decrease in demand. On the flip side, many in-demand businesses are finding themselves butting up against capacity limits. All of this leads to a reduced demand for advertising, especially if you’re of the school of thought that believes that advertising exists to prompt demand in the here and now.

However, Marketers that can hold their nerve, as well as the nerves of their Finance Director and board, know that advertising has an impact beyond today and will drive profits far beyond this crisis. 

With that in mind, here are four data-informed reasons to invest in advertising now in order to succeed in the future. They are:


1. Advertising’s long-term impact

Gain Theory’s Long Term Impact of Advertising analysis from Thinkbox’s report showed that 58% of advertising’s payback came in the long term (in general, 3 months to 3 years) versus 42% in the short term (now to 3 months). This means that even in a world where short term returns are not viable, there is still value over the long term. If your short-term advertising ROI, as measured by econometrics, was £1, then investing now will generate a further £1.38 over the long term, showing that advertising can have a value over and above what it delivers in the present time.

It is this long-term value that informs findings around companies who invest in a recession doing better afterwards. 

Here are a few famous examples: 

1. Consumer Packaged Goods
Post was the category leader but cut advertising spend during the Great Depression. Kellogg’s the younger competitor, doubled spend, and remains to this day the category leader. 

2. Automotive
During the recession of the early 1970s, triggered by the oil crisis, Toyota maintained advertising spend as part of its long-term strategy, overcoming both Honda and Volkswagen to become the number one imported car brand into the US. 

3. Quick Service Restaurants
In the recession of 1990-91, McDonalds dropped its advertising budget which allowed competitors Pizza Hut and Taco Bell to increase sales significantly. 


2. Great value media

It is not new news that a lot of media is very good value right now, indeed Matt Hill at Thinkbox has already written about this in detail in the WARC article ‘Cleaning up with TV in Lockdown’.  

We are hearing about media costs decreasing significantly due to demand for advertising decreasing and supply increasing as locked-in families watch more TV and spend more time online. What this means in practical terms, is that if your ROI from TV was £2 before the crisis, it could now be up to £3 or £4. If your demand has held strong, or even declined slightly (i.e. by less than costs in media have been decreasing) then it makes sense to place a strong bet on media.


3. Running from a walking start vs Running from a standing start

Some of us have taken up running in this lockdown period. As you will know, it’s a lot easier to sprint from a jogging start than it is from standing still. The same is true for media.

Behavioural research shows that consumers often need to see a piece of advertising multiple times before they are in a position to respond. This might be due to a complex message needing multiple views, a big reveal at the end that keeps the brand in suspense, or the fact that most consumers ignore or forget a number of ads to which they’re exposed.

When life goes back to some semblance of normal, most advertisers will want to capitalise on this moment and increase their advertising. Those who do so from a walking start, where consumers have already been exposed to some advertising, will do much better than those who try to start from scratch for the reasons outlined above. In fact, this can be equivalent to a 30-50% differential in a month’s worth of advertising effectiveness.


4. Spreading risk

As mentioned above, most advertisers will want to be present when the economy starts revving up again. But no-one knows exactly when this will be, with guidance on lockdowns and social distance being necessarily flexible and responsive to the latest risk and rate of infection.

Most advertisers will have significant lead times to getting an advert on air, impacted by creating the message, gaining business alignment, or buying the media. We have seen some fantastic examples of flexibility and strong messaging being created quickly but these are well-regarded exceptions and not the norm.

Because of this lead time and the uncertainty over exactly when we will return to normal, sensible businesses will be spreading the risk and reward of their advertising through the summer to ensure they have a presence when this occurs. And because of the above three points, they will also be reaping the benefits of good planning for long term success.

So, there you have it: four solid data-informed reasons to maintain advertising investment through this period. The best Marketers should never waste a crisis.


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