Content conversations: MEC Wavemaker's Ben McKay

Content conversations: MEC Wavemaker's Ben McKay





Content conversations: MEC Wavemaker's Ben McKay


Aled Herbert
Content director

Aled oversees all editorial as our content director. He loves a good story – which is no surprise, as he started out in children’s publishing.

Ben McKay is managing director at MEC Wavemaker UK. Media agency MEC launched its Wavemaker content division last year to simplify its content, social, partnerships, SEO and creative offerings. Wavemaker uses insights from MEC Momentum, the agency’s purchase journey planning framework, to create content based on where it is most likely to change the consumer’s behaviour.
Collective Content caught up with McKay to talk agency landscape in response to the rise of content marketing, what makes great content marketing and the coming trends to watch out for.
Q: How is content marketing evolving here in the UK and what are your predictions for the next couple of years?
A: As audience behaviours and attitudes to media evolve, it’s quite right that agencies evolve their offer for their clients. Knowing what drives behaviour and attitudinal change and then also measuring it through the life of a campaign for the activity is going to be really important to us as a business this year. And I don’t think many other agencies are really interrogating what that means. The reason I came back to this agency was because it brought me closer to data that would help me make more future-proof decisions on our marketing efforts. Marketing measurement is something we have invested a lot in and over the next year or two it is going to be big. Using analytics is much more of a live process than it used to be. This means understanding how best to boost consideration at different points around the buying cycle, and we are using the data we have collected through surveys, through historic data, through live campaigns to inform future decisions. There have been lots of softer measures of what success looks like, over monthly or quarterly, but doing this on a live basis gets us to a very exciting place.

The reason I came back to this agency was because it brought me closer to data that would help me make more future-proof decisions on our marketing efforts.

Q: Where do you see the biggest areas of growth in content marketing?
A: Video as a format will continue to be incredibly significant as a result of its return on investment (ROI) and inherent ability to travel across media formats. We tend to see about half of the most shared content to be video. Video is a flexible, brand- and audience-friendly format. It’s a great storytelling platform and it’s a very portable platform across different channels. It’s important for brands to understand how they can use it. ‘Voice’ is also becoming a thing – accessing content from home, and with further incremental growth from mobile voice search. Artificial intelligence from Google Home’s launch in Q2 will be a significant boost to this field along with an acceleration in Amazon’s Echo.
The B2B sector remains buoyant – data from Forrester and Google, and our work with GE, AIG, Vodafone and B2B FS tells us that – but techniques continue to mature beyond more traditional direct marketing routes. Financial services and telecoms will see growth – sectors where loyalty, customer service and differentiation play a role.
There will be a growing appreciation of the intrinsic link between content and the channel when it’s delivered, and there will also be more accountability over content investments. ‘Why are we doing this?  What is it delivering?’ – I hope to hear more challenging questions asked of content and its distribution.

Q: How are you responding to changing client needs? Is the setting up of the Wavemaker content division about MEC pitching itself as a full-service agency?
A: We were in a good place with so many of the disciplines that clients wanted already but we wanted to simplify the navigation of these disciplines with a single strategy and single plan and single conversation, so five conversations becoming one.
MEC’s ambition is ‘full-service behaviour’ as opposed to a full-service agency. It embraces the fact that the world of digital marketing, content marketing, creative decisions, data is all a lot more complicated, and clients find it more difficult to try and navigate. We want to help clients navigate through that complexity and make smarter bets. So for us it’s more of a behavioural change. It’s not us trying to bring everything in-house. We are looking to be the most open and collaborative agency in London and the UK, and that’s quite exciting. We made a decision to give up a third of our floor space at our offices to our partners and for it to be a space where people can come onsite and collaborate with us. We truly believe the best solution for us to be our client’s most valued business partner is by us helping them to navigate those decisions, make commitments to them and bring on the best talent that’s available from across the marketplace.
We are an audience-first agency as opposed to format-first, channel-first or brand-first. Deep knowledge of the audience as a starting point – that allows us to then frame analysis of what really matters when looking at sector trends, competitors, etc. Audience-first means we obsess about outcomes. In a world of content marketing where the creation of stuff, the creation of value, is so important, that value is in the eye of the beholder – the consumer, the audience. We think that’s the starting point to be more robust on creating value than other agencies. That’s where our USP is.

In a world of content marketing where the creation of stuff, the creation of value, is so important, that value is in the eye of the beholder – the consumer, the audience.

Q: Data is clearly becoming increasingly important in understanding the audience and planning content marketing strategies. What’s your approach at Wavemaker and MEC?
A: MEC Momentum is a purchase journey-planning framework that informs what will drive attitudinal and behavioural change around the buying cycle. I spent months trying to stitch these channels together in planning and measurement in my previous life client-side [for], and so was very excited to see the launch of this just after I joined MEC. The most important thing from our perspective is that Momentum gives one version of the truth, so what really matters to drive those behavioural changes. That’s incredibly helpful to start to organise very disparate teams with very different capabilities and very different behaviours. If they know what their role is in trying to drive a certain change at different points across the consumer journey, that’s really powerful in helping us bring these different capabilities together. At a practical level it means some of the Momentum insight fuels the Wavemaker analytics process, so it’s really important for us in selecting the key performance indicators (KPIs) that really matter.

Q: What are those KPIs that really matter, and how do you measure success and return on investment (ROI) in content marketing? For example, in a LinkedIn post you talked about the need to move on from traditional industry standard benchmarks.
 A: Success is typically measured in sales and lifetime value of target audiences, but we know that some brands find it refreshing that we go further than these anecdotal KPIs. We prefer to understand what KPIs will drive change in consumer behaviour and/or attitudes in a way that leads to business outcomes for our clients.
Those macro measures of success – such as change in consideration, purchase outcomes or lifetime value – are not enough for making creative and media and distribution decisions at a campaign optimisation level. Underneath that we need media, experiential and creative campaign marketing signals that we know ladder up to those points. The KPIs that we use differ quite widely and there’s no silver-bullet KPI. It’s what matters to that individual or that segment that matters the most.

Q: What’s your take on organic and paid distribution in content marketing?
A: Paid is a key component – increasingly so. Our clients are seeing 2 to 3 per cent organic reach, but we know industry averages are 1 per cent and declining. But organic is alive and well, just in new forms. Think ‘dark social’ (e.g., WhatsApp) and away from the key social platforms and in to other means – influencers, forums, blogging. The internet and world we live in remain a social, discursive, sharing place but we just need to think about social as a behaviour not as a platform. We undertake ‘citation audits’ to understand what people engage with, what people share, when, where and why… across the web as a whole.

Q: Can you give us some insight into the Wavemaker approach to content marketing in the context of a successful campaign you’ve executed?
A: In 2015, Wavemaker created the #wimblewatch content series for bottled-water brand and Wimbledon partner Evian to help it engage better with a youth audience. The series featured celebrities, influencers and tennis-loving members of the public reacting to the day’s tennis action from the Wimbledon Championships. The first year exceeded targets with 4.5 million views but the challenge for 2016 was to surpass this with a bigger and better series. Through the content series and social media interaction (see box out below) we achieved almost 12 million views, which was nearly 90 per cent over-delivery, and #wimblewatch was the most visible campaign of Wimbledon 2016 on social platforms. The client, Evian, also saw a 29 per cent increase in purchase intent and a 15 per cent sales uplift.

Game, set and match – the secret to #wimblewatch

Social played a big role in engaging the target audience. To create Twitter interaction, we created a daily social ‘Celebrity Match Point’ competition. In each content episode, our celebrity pairings would participate in a table tennis challenge. Viewers voted via a Twitter conversation unit spreading the #wimblewatch word on who they think wins the point for a chance to win Wimbledon tickets. The winners were revealed in the following day’s episode. We also partnered with Amobee Brand Intelligence to identify and target real-time trending topics and conversations during the Championships, enabling Evian to join the conversation, target content in real time to an engaged audience and optimise media spend for maximum engagement rates. And we released an Evian-branded Wimbledon Snapchat lens, which achieved 6.3 million lens plays versus a target of 1.6 million. Users could swipe and share their #wimblewatch Championship selfie, engaging young Millennials with the traditional Wimbledon heritage.

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