Chevy and AT&T Need Help Understanding All Their Data

Here's where media agencies can play a crucial role

Among marketing chiefs, it's a familiar refrain: We're awash in data about consumers and our products, but what does it all mean?

So, it was not surprising that in their appearances today at the 4A's Transformation Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., Tim Mahoney of General Motors and Esther Lee of AT&T encouraged agencies—particularly media agencies—to step up to the challenge of interpreting data.

GM and AT&T are among the top spending marketers in the U.S., so the significance of their plea was not lost among agency leaders at the conference, including Harris Diamond, global CEO of McCann Erickson, lead creative agency for GM's Chevrolet brand (via its Commonwealth unit); and Marla Kaplowitz, North American CEO of MEC, AT&T's lead media shop. In fact, Diamond and Kaplowitz asked the questions that elicited the refrain about data and agencies.

Being able to visualize data is a big plus, according to Mahoney, GM's global chief marketing officer for Chevrolet. During the Super Bowl, for example, GM set up a social media monitoring center at its headquarters to track online chatter about Chevy ads on the most watched program on television. The center also tracked traffic volume to Chevy's website, which swelled after an ad that sought donations for breast cancer research.

"It was truly a fascinating experience to see it and you could see how through big data, the conversations were moving and evolving," Mahoney said. "Right after the spot ran, one of the millennials (in the center) popped up and said, 'Oh my God. We're getting 24,000 hits to our mobile site in a second.' So, that's a lot of conversions and interactions that are really happening. But we knew right away."

Likewise, AT&T has access to a trove of data, but in some ways media agencies are better positioned to understand it all and act upon it, said Lee, svp of brand marketing at AT&T.

"You see at the center of an ecosystem of tools, you have all these data pools, you have the trust of your client and oftentimes our data and you also have this relationship with the media owners," Lee said. "You put that all together in service to … real-time marketing. So, I think that's such a unique role for media companies."

And while AT&T can help drive collaboration among its agencies, particularly when it comes to interpreting data, Lee made it clear that she expects shops to step up and show this quality in their work without prompting from her. In other words, don't just talk about collaboration—collaborate.

"In reality, collaboration I think is kind of flabby," Lee said. "What I mean by that is nobody needs another meeting. So, I get asked to collaborate on many things and there are just too many people in the room. I'm sure all of you feel that you go to a room and you're collaborating. But there's just way too many hours sitting in that room.

"And I think to some degree the collaboration needs to turn to something more convergent," Lee added. "At the same time, we need to really figure out, where are the roles different and how do we divide and conquer?"