New-age planner is a mix of old and new: McCann Worldgroup’s Suzanne Powers

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Updated: September 2, 2015 4:55:52 PM

It all began in 2013 with the global launch of Truth Central at McCann Worldgroup. This new division was tasked with unearthing consumer behaviour insights from across the globe – a strategic thrust to sharpen the planning function.

It all began in 2013 with the global launch of Truth Central at McCann Worldgroup. This new division was tasked with unearthing consumer behaviour insights from across the globe – a strategic thrust to sharpen the planning function. A recent report ‘The Truth about Global Brands’, from the Truth Central stable reveals that 85% of consumers surveyed believe global brands have the power to make the world a better place.

For Suzzane Powers, global chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup, such studies help group agencies prepare better to understand various cultures and their impact on both consumers and brands. In a conversation with FE BrandWagon’s Anushree Bhattacharyya, Powers talks about the new-age planner. Edited excerpts:

How has creative planning evolved in the last few years?

Creative planning has changed, but it also remains the same in many ways. We are on a constant hunt for insights – which we call ‘truth’ that reflects consumer behaviour. We have now more ways to find those thanks to the availability of various sources to obtain data. Also, data helps us with precision. But as planners, we fundamentally hunt for truth, trying to find answers to questions such as what a brand should do in today’s world, how it should behave or what platform it should use.

The objective as planners is to unlock a universal human truth for our global brands and then deliver it in a nuanced way. At the same time, we try to not get overwhelmed by big data; we still need to have a creative soul. Our creative solutions should have the magic to really move people. Even as the art and the science are very much alive, we live in the constant fear of not going overboard because then we would move out of the business of creativity to accountability.

What does a global brand need to do in order to stay locally relevant? Vice-versa, what should a local brand do to be truly global?

We have always talked about the gift of ‘globality’ that a global brand brings to a market. It’s the same in case of a local brand which brings its own gifts to the global market, whether it is to do with the product offering or even what the brand stands for. The objective is very simple, that is, to take the usual characteristics and deliver them with a local spin as the brand travels from one market to another.

For example, a new beauty brand is created based on local needs but when it comes to packaging, companies take a leaf out of existing global beauty brands to lend a global look. Also, we should not forget that consumers have a new way to discover products thanks to the internet. When it comes to beauty, people take to YouTube to learn so many different ways of make-up, skin care, etc., – brands should not forget that there are many markets in this world and people are seeking different solutions.

You had earlier spoken about agencies which are led by a strategist, while in India the scenario is different with three leading agencies being headed by the best creative leaders of the country.

How are the two types of agencies different?

I don’t think it is very different. To us, strategy is equal to creative and vice-versa. We are very tightly linked with our creative partners. Although I have worked in agencies led by strategists, I usually sought out an agency because of a creative partner I really wanted to work with and create extraordinary solutions. That said, there also resides a strategist’s mind in many creative heads. For instance, minutes after one starts to talk to Prasoon (Prasoon Joshi, chairman, Asia Pacific and CEO & CCO McCann Erickson India) about a product or a campaign, he oozes strategic thinking. Similarly my partner Rob Rielly (global creative chairman, McCann Worldgroup) thinks very strategically.

How would you describe a new-age account planner?

The new-age planner is a mix of the old and the new. We always talk about how a really powerful truth can set creativity free. So a good planner really needs to dig into that. We also put a lot of pressure on our planners  to take a deep dive into the culture, the land, the people – every aspect that has an impact on consumers’ lives and could have a possible impact on a brand’s life. So we give a lot of importance to narrative, storytelling, etc., as sometimes one can create a strong plan based on the most basic findings. A strong planner requires skills such as curiosity, dexterity and finally, ‘art plus science’.

How important is it for McCann to understand culture and then implement it in its creative solutions?

A majority of our findings is based on Truth Central knowledge. The proprietary knowledge gives us an edge when it comes to understanding different culture as other agencies don’t have it. Moreover, we also know different ways of using the knowledge. One may argue that Truth studies are nothing but whitepapers. But actually, it is more than that as we ensure the knowledge is utilised across the world and implemented through tools that help build brands.

For example, with the aid of the recently launched global Truth study that also features India, we wanted to understand how one should club countries when it comes to creating a singular creative solution. So far we have done it either on the basis of developing/ developed markets or geographies such as South East Asia.

So once we got the study, we knocked off the countries and looked at similar patterns. We joined similar patterns and put the countries back. The result showed that South Korea is very similar in terms of consumer behaviour to the UK. So, telecom brands such as Vodafone, if they were to launch services in a new country, should lay their bets on South Korea as opposed to, say, another European country.

Face off: Suzanne Powers, Global chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup

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