Interviews

Mel Edwards: living and breathing the collision of data and creativity


Mel Edwards - CEO Wunderman EMEAChange is the only constant. Consumers change as do marketing, technology, brands and people. And it is all connected. At Wunderman EMEA there have been some recent changes as well. This new blog is one of the results, recent announcements on the people front another.

To “officially” kick off this blog here is an interview with Mel Edwards, EMEA CEO since this year, on changes in marketing, the things that haven’t changed and how everything – more than ever – is interlinked.

The 3 key fundamentals leading to value

Mel, you’ve been appointed as Wunderman CEO EMEA in February this year. And what a year it is. Let me throw some random buzzwords (or better: buzzing words) at you, even if the reality behind them deeply impacts us all and many aren’t really new at all. Here we go: digital transformation, actionable data, the age of the customer, collaborative economy, disruption, data-driven marketing, content marketing, the end-to-end customer experience, unstructured communications, storytelling. How does it impact the business, you, customers, the Wunderman network,…?

Mel Edwards: Buzzwords come and go. We all know that. A couple of years ago every meeting was about trans-media storytelling. Last year it was all about content and now everyone seems to be talking about service design. Next month it could be neuromarketing. No matter the buzzword, we need to ensure we’re giving our clients what they need.

We need to ensure we’re pushing the boundaries to keep them one step ahead of their competitors. Moreover we need to ensure that we don’t get embroiled in the hype these buzzwords bring – we can’t just be taking our clients down a route because it’s what the industry is talking about at any one time, we have to look at the value that they provide.

“We can’t just be taking our clients down a route because it’s what the industry is talking about at any one time, we have to look at the value that they provide.”

— Mel Edwards

However, let’s not forget that three key fundamentals – data, creativity and technology are all as relevant as they were 10 plus years ago.

The collision of data and creativity – realising the full potential

Let’s elaborate on one topic: the marriage between an avalanche of ever more data on one hand and creativity, emotions as the – finally recognised – power behind customer decisions and everything really, customer intent and the brand. Some see data and creativity as opposites. Black and white. Left brain and right brain. But they’re most certainly not opposites. And maybe it tells us more about we, people, like to think in terms of “this versus that”. Can you enlighten us?

Mel Edwards: More data is great. We just need to ensure we’re using it for the benefit of the consumer. Giving them something that is relevant, timely and engaging. We need to be the agency that our clients and consumers are saying “isn’t that clever?” or “how did they do that?”. And “who did that?”. That is beneficial!

But as soon as it starts to become like we’re ‘Big Brother’ then we aren’t using data to its full potential. This is where we’re not making it work for our clients or their consumers.

“If our ideas are backed by hard numbers and tangible insights, we’re giving ourselves the best chance of succeeding.”

— Mel Edwards

Here at Wunderman we live and breathe the collision of data and creativity. What is more interesting than these two opposites colliding?

Any number of agencies can hazard a guess at what their consumers want and create something off the back of it. But if our ideas are backed by hard numbers and tangible insights, we’re giving ourselves the best chance of succeeding.

Holistic – or how touchpoints need to be joined up better

Going back to that left brain and right brain. It seems like everything is about the brain nowadays. We touched upon neuromarketing, as one example. I like to think there’s more than meets the eye or the IMR scan, using this expensive word “holistic” as in holistic or integrated marketing, holistic customer views and so on. What’s your take on neuromarketing and on the need to be more ‘holistic’?

Mel Edwards: The more information we have about consumers the better. Whether that is data or sensory – if it’s adding benefit to what we’re doing for our clients, I’ll be the first to read the next published book. But again is it a buzzterm?

In terms of us being more ‘holistic’ I couldn’t agree more. On a personal note there are multiple times in a day I engage with the same brand across multiple touchpoints. And they aren’t joined up. They aren’t seamless or consistent. The question is can neuromarketing help? I don’t personally think so. Why? Because multiple brands out there have been able to successfully deliver a joined-up message without it.

“Data–driven marketing is modern-day direct marketing. It is what Lester Wunderman’s original term has developed to become.”

— Mel Edwards

Consumers do want relationships with brands – where stories meet data-driven

We’ve talked about black and white thinking. Let me think black and white with some statements. People are fed up with marketing. They don’t want a relationship with a brand. In fact, they don’t even care about the brand. They just want to do what they want to do. Storytelling is just the sugar, with apologies to Mary Poppins, making the traditional push medicine go down. And data-driven marketing is the last breath of marketing trying to get through the noise before dying. Reactions?

Mel Edwards: Consumers do want relationships with brands. If they didn’t I struggle to think why we’re doing what we do. Let me take my time working with Telefonica O2 as an example. They were constantly pushing into new sectors – money, music, health – and moving away from their traditional homeland of telecoms. Why? Because their 21 million customers loved them as a brand and wanted more from them. It was our job to always add the ‘O2 magic’ and ensure they were getting something they wouldn’t get from any other telecoms brand. We listened then gave them exactly what they wanted.

Everyone loves a story. Everyone remembers their most favourite childhood book. Storytelling makes everything more digestible, engaging and interesting. Consumers don’t want to be shouted out. They don’t want traditional push comms. As much as we love storytelling, they love engaging with it.

Data–driven marketing is modern-day direct marketing. It is what Lester Wunderman’s original term has developed to become. It isn’t for the masses like broadcast media is. It may not sound as sexy but we certainly know it works. And for that reason it will live on way past my retirement as clients always want to know “am I maximising the return on my investment?”

“Consumers don’t want to be shouted out. They don’t want traditional push comms. As much as we love storytelling, they love engaging with it.”

— Mel Edwards

Getting up close and personal

You have put 5 skills on your LinkedIn profile. In order of most recommendations: integrated marketing, digital marketing, direct marketing, relationship marketing and CRM. Three questions for the price of one:

  1. Would you like to see them in a different order and why (not)?
    Mel Edwards: To be honest I’m pretty happy with that. It is what I’ve built my career on.
  2. On which of the five would you like to be interviewed in the future and/or read more about on this blog most with a maximum of 3 topics?
    Mel Edwards: Any of them. They’re all interlinked.
  3. The reason why Mel Edwards put these five skills on her LinkedIn profile is…
    Mel Edwards: Because it is what I do, have done and am going to carry on doing.

“Integrated marketing requires collaboration.”

— Mel Edwards

Along with some other people you decided to launch this blog. Why and what can readers expect in the future? Or more directly: why would anyone follow this blog via Twitter, LinkedIn, email or any other channel they value?

Mel Edwards: It’ll give both our teams across the region and clients an everyday perspective of what we’re thinking about, who’s doing what and what we’re finding interesting.

You’re responsible for 1,650+ people in 50+ offices across EMEA. What would you like to tell them right here right now?

Mel Edwards: People are our most important asset. Keep putting your hands up, getting involved and let’s press on with this.

Before letting you off the hook, here are a few statements I would love you to complete:

  • When she is not working Mel Edwards…Is relaxing with her husband and kids by the seaside, whilst potentially tucking into her favourite curry with a large glass of Shiraz.
  • The future of CRM…Is going to be very exciting.
  • In her previous role as CEO at Wunderman UK Mel Edwards launched an in-house publishing capability and content studio because…We saw a trend and jumped on it. And now it is an integral part of our offering to all our clients.
  • The silliest question in this interview…Is yet to come.
  • The biggest myth in marketing today…It’s anything like Mad Men.
  • Expressed in 120 characters the Wunderman difference…Our ability to understand our clients’ consumers better than anyone else then deliver something unique across any channel
  • Mel Edwards’ favourite gizmo is…My iPhone power pack. I can’t go anywhere without it.
  • Integrated marketing requires…Collaboration.
  • The sweet spot of data and creative…Is us.
  • What’s certain about today’s consumer…They have a voice and aren’t worried about expressing their opinions.
  • At Cannes 2015 Mel Edwards was most proud of…Winning a Silver Lion for our CHECT work out of our UK office, plus seeing our Columbian office win gold and silver and San Paulo win silver.
  • People…Are our most important asset.
  • The best curry…Is just around the corner from my house.
  • Mel Edwards is interested in a calming virtual reality helmet that lets her explore the cosmos because…It allows to me to be on multiple places at one time.
  • The coastline Mel Edwards has on her bucket list…Ipanema Beach (Brazil).
  • This interview is over and…Out.

So it is.