Expert Voices

Five Questions with M&C Saatchi Performance on Why ‘Action Planning’ is Key in Digital Marketing

10 min read


In this interview, Ella Kersey from M&C Saatchi Performance discusses how the agency differentiates itself, the importance of “action planning” to engage customers effectively, and their focus on anticipating industry changes. The agency’s testing framework and strategic approach help drive growth and ensure client success in navigating the rapidly changing marketing landscape.

The world has changed so quickly in such a short period of time. Social, economic, political, and technical changes — as well as the global pandemic — have forever changed the way we live our lives. And these changes have impacted how omnichannel marketers need to evolve as well.

By aligning with the new realities of business, marketers can best engage consumers and drive them to action. Conversely, misalignment to this new landscape means that your messaging may not land the way you hoped, your media plan is out of whack, and your marketing investments will suffer.

Of course, change can be difficult. No one can see the future, so for the most part, companies are betting on what they know now in terms of how these various shifts and trends will play out. So, it’s imperative to be able to see ahead, as a misstep now might mean that you’re misaligned later. 

This is where a world-class agency can help guide you through the chaos.

We’re not responding to these changes; we’re predicting them.

Ella Kersey

M&C Saatchi Performance is an agency that delivers measurable results to its clients with a clear return on investment and there’s a reason they’ve won Media Buying Agency of the Year seven times, most recently at the European Agency of the Year Awards . Founded the same year as Skai (2006), the agency was built to handle disruption and help clients connect with their customers via performance marketing. With offices that include locations such as London, Los Angeles, New York, Sydney, New Delhi, Singapore, Bangalore, and Jakarta, M&C Saatchi Performance has the scale to call itself a truly global agency. 

We chatted with one of its leaders about its core mission, its ‘action planning’ point-of-view, and how it helps clients navigate today’s unpredictable and turbulent times.

Our entire strategy revolves around these action points. We put action planning at the heart of our strategy.

Ella Kersey

Five Questions with Ella Kersey

Ella Kersey knows M&C Saatchi Performance from the inside out, building her career on the ground floor. As almost a ten-year veteran of the agency, Kersey started as a media planner in the London office, helped the agency launch its San Francisco office, and eventually moved back to the UK in 2016. Along the way, she’s managed clients such as Microsoft Office 360 (for both B2B and B2C campaigns), Audible UK, and EROW. 

Today, as Head of Business Development & Marketing, at EMEA, Kersey leads the EMEA Commercial team and is responsible for driving growth for the agency’s EMEA offices.

As the one pitching her company’s value every day, she’s the perfect person for us to interview and learn more about what makes M&C Saatchi Performance such a dynamic agency.

1) How does M&C Saatchi Performance differentiate itself from other agencies?

We’re not exactly a traditional marketing agency. In 2006, we were founded as an answer to the growing demand for marketing support in the mobile space. At the time, mobile as a channel was only just starting to be considered a viable option for brands and was even before the first iPhone. Beginning our journey in such an unknown area means we’ve always thought about marketing differently. We’re always on the hunt for new opportunities, new digital channels, and finding a way to make them work for world-leading brands. 

Today, consumers switch seamlessly between devices and have constant exposure to brand messaging. We’re now trying to sell in a world where consumers have a heightened expectation for relevant, personalised, and authentic communications. Relevancy is no longer an option, it’s a necessity, and lazy media planning can switch off a consumer just as quickly as they’ve been switched on. 

Reaching and resonating with this new modern consumer is proving more difficult thanks to the changing restrictions in the digital space. From the updates in iOS tracking to the imminent removal of cookies to the shifting demand for privacy, navigating the digital marketing space has never been quite complex. 

As an agency, we’re now focused more than ever on helping brands connect with that shifting consumer. We’ve got a slight upper hand in communicating in the modern space. Since we started in digital, we’ve grown alongside it and even played a part in shaping its functionality to work for brands. As we face tracking, privacy, or ad fraud changes, we’re not responding to these changes; we’re predicting them.

Our heritage has made us think differently about what performance marketing is. Rather than bottom-of-the-funnel conversions, we see it as an action that can be measured and optimised at every stage of the consumer journey. We plan our media against this using a rigorous testing framework we call Action Planning. This delivers meaningful results that demonstrate success and ensure accountability for our clients’ investments.

2) You mentioned that one of your proprietary approaches is ‘action planning’ to help your clients engage their customers better. What is it, and how does it do this?

When you look at marketing, you’re just looking at human behaviour — understanding it, influencing it, and driving it to take action. Consumers are taking countless actions a day on digital devices, so our focus is on using those actions to create value for our clients. We’re not just trying to make valuable actions happen, we’re trying to make them happen more often. It’s why we call ourselves the ‘action planning agency.’ 

Our entire strategy revolves around these action points. 

I think traditional media planning approaches were made for a different time. First, you’d see a television ad and learn about a brand, then you’d see a billboard for some relevant products for you, and then brands would hope you’d go in-person to a shop and purchase.

Digital has disrupted this linear process between attitude, intent, and action. Today, that action can happen anytime, on any device, anywhere. That’s why we put action planning at the heart of our strategy.

3) How is action planning a good fit for the new normal of business brought on by the pandemic?

The pandemic has forced many businesses to adapt or pivot their business models quickly. Likewise, consumer behaviour has changed so much and so quickly over the past 18 months that it’s been hard enough to keep track of changing behaviours yet alone modify product offerings to meet this demand. 

With human behaviour evolving so quickly, working with Skai makes sure we’re embedding the most up-to-date data to fuel our action planning strategy. We need to know how consumers are acting today, not yesterday. That’s why it’s so important to have intelligent, predictive, insight underpinning any consumer-focused plan. 

Our strategy is naturally reactive to these changing behaviours by planning media around actions rather than being trapped in strict, inflexible structures. We use action planning to adapt creative and media strategies to drive growth in this new environment. As the pandemic has shown, this unique circumstance can happen incredibly quickly and be made irrelevant in a short space of time. 

I think brands overlook how many levers they have to take advantage of in these changing times. Whether it’s showcasing popular products, highlighting valuable app features, or reworking the call to action in campaigns. The slightest change can have the most significant difference in results, so brands need to identify and optimise beyond what they have done in the past. 

To succeed in this new normal, brands need to be willing to take the insights from campaigns and feed them into their larger business strategy. For example, what products do your customers want to see more of? How are your price options holding you back? What user experience functionality are you missing out on? These insights help you stay ahead.

4) You mentioned that your agency’s testing framework is fundamental to client success. How does M&C Saatchi Performance’s approach testing?

We focus our testing across the three pillars of marketing: media, creative, and product.  

  • Media: We have control over this and can test against many variables – from platform device, audience targeting, bid price, and buying model. 
  • Creative: This is the first touchpoint for consumers with any brand, and we need to set a great impression right from the start. It also presents an excellent opportunity for testing with so many optimisation opportunities. We can also think about the different audiences and their interests and what key elements to highlight. 
  • Product: We may not have much control over this but working closely with our clients’ products, we’re still able to test different things within our Action Framework, such as landing pages, product price points, and product features. 

The process begins by gathering results on an initial set of media, creative or product hypotheses. These are predictions based on previous evidence and experience, creating a starting point for our investigation, with many being suggested by the team at Skai. These hypotheses continuously evolve as we test, learn, and refine our approach.

Through this testing strategy, we can quickly learn what works and then double down on it. We can attribute the increase to the testing and create a real understanding of our clients’ incremental growth. 

What is important to note here is that although benchmarks will be established for both media and creative, our hypotheses will still continually evolve, as we are constantly testing, learning, and refining our approach across all campaign levers. You can’t ever stop with testing, and you need to make sure all insight is taken into account when deciding your next hypotheses. 

5)What does M&C Saatchi Performance see as the next big market evolution, and how is it positioned to handle it?

We’re interested in where consumers spend their time today, not where they might be in 20 years. Something like our relationship with the metaverse and virtual reality will change how we deliver media, but it’s not where they are right now, so it shouldn’t be an area of focus. 

What’s more exciting is looking for the next channel that will be digitally enabled. We’re seeing channels like connected tv, which have been around for a few years, finally become a financially sound opportunity for brands to take on. Then there are digital placements we never expected, for example, elevator advertising companies. 

It’s all about an intelligent, relevant, consumer-led approach to your marketing strategy and ensuring your message is placed where your audience is currently spending their time. 

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