Woolmington On The Shifts That Will Drive AdLand in 2021

While Canvas Worldwide’s CEO Paul Woolmington avoids participating in the typical agency roundups (citing there are more than enough trend-spotters offering their thoughts), he instead spoke with MediaPost about broader industry shifts and guiding marketers as the landscape evolves post-pandemic.

“Data for data’s sake is insane,” he states as he encourages the industry to re-evaluate their usage of this information. Canvas itself is hoping to shift data into a new phase that will integrate data science with behavioral science more holistically in an effort to reimagine the entire customer journey.

His agency — “coincidentally making this big investment pre-COVID” — has launched a multi-phase, multi-faceted research study across industry verticals to track shopping habits from their initial intent to purchase.

“We will apply magic to the logic,” promises Woolmington. “There is too much illogical siloing without a Sherpa to decipher when to use data intelligently.”

The three-phase report will reveal behaviors of American shoppers pre-COVID, during the pandemic, and post-pandemic. These new learnings will then underpin the agency’s future media insights and decision-making processes for its clients.

As Woolmington pushes for a better understanding of data, he adds it will likely be bolstered by the redefinition of the role of strategic planners and their coordinated efforts. At the heart of the strategic planning process has always been the notion of business outcomes through a very coordinated effort.

While the position is currently more of an architect building the framework for the various team members to execute, he foresees  the evolution of strategic planners leading to more hands-on integration, using their skills to unify all of the various disciplines within the agency, more deeply unifying behavioral science with data science.

Concurrently, there will be a reintegration between media and creative content, he predicts. “You cannot divorce these two things,” he states. His media agency continues to see clients seeking more guidance about content strategy and harmonizing content and context, a topic he further explored in an article published last month.

As for developing storylines for brands, Woolmington admits he misses the “heart” in brand communications.  “There is too much of an emotional void in our pandemic, digital-led journey,” he sadly states.
“A big lesson going into 2021 is that we need to find the right balance between a digital and frictionless world… while also making sure the messaging taps into consumer emotions,” says Woolmington. “How you experience and remember and differentiate a brand is a very complicated thing. The science of what makes a lasting memory rarely has anything to do with just a laptop or a mobile screen. The pandemic has forced us all onto our phones more than ever, but we are all craving real, tangible life experiences that require all our senses – smell, touch, taste, etc. – once again. All the elements that create the most memorable communications.”

As businesses re-emerge into this new world order, Woolmington foresees the continued bifurcation of the “upper” and “lower” funnels of the industry. The new emerging digital platforms, for instance, started as lower funnel opportunities, providing the tools, pipes and hardware to others, but have since expanded over the years, including developing content. D2C strategies are increasingly about brand building, shifting away from focusing on online sales.

The growth of D2C and challenger brands are good examples of the blurring lines, he says. Having built their business on lower funnel practices, they are now understanding they need to build brand and are pushing up the funnel versus well-established incumbents, who were historically very brand-focused, and are now pushing down the funnel.

“I would love to be a fly on the wall when they meet in the middle,” jokes Woolmington. “What will be interesting to watch is what these companies will have in common and what is different — everything should be in service of delivering a business result and understanding the context of what’s most critical to brands and CMOs. Clients want someone who can connect the dots.”

He is optimistic advertising may finally be recognized for its contributions to a company’s bottom line. For far too long, advertising has struggled to financially demonstrate its effectiveness as zero-based budgeting emerged as a company’s preferred business model. “It is always seen as an expense, not an investment,” he says. “This is a major battleground. We as agencies most prove business outcomes to prove our critical worth and enhanced value.”


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