Drum Network Q&A: Found chief executive Tina Judic on the evolution of digital performance marketing

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Tina Judic of Found.

The Drum Network recently caught up with Tina Judic, chief executive officer of digital performance marketing agency Found, to discuss the latest developments at the agency and within the affiliate marketing industry…

You recently announced a significant step change for Found with new international offices opening and a much broader service offering for clients. What was the key driver behind this?

Digital performance marketing has never been for the faint-hearted. It’s competitive but equally compelling, and over the ten years that Found has been part of its landscape, it’s been interesting to watch who’s loudly launched into the sector, who’s then stayed the course and then who’s quietly exited over time. What’s clear is that business survival ultimately hinges on a company’s ability to measure and respond to market need.

As pioneers of digital performance, we’ve always championed insights, impact and accountability for any client, in any sector. Alongside this, we’ve always ensured that our service offering matches the needs and variances of brands, the overall market and of course the audience we’re aiming to reach.

However, over the past 12 months, the digital marketing space has never been as competitive or vibrant. Consumers have become even more tech-savvy and much more open to digital interaction. Similarly, brands have ramped up their challenge for the market to find the optimum combination of channel delivery to maximise this expanded playing field.

It’s the lure of the opportunity to cleverly manipulate and push this combination of channel delivery which was the driver behind our recent step change. We recognised an opportunity to expand our performance ethos beyond our core paid media offering and saw the benefit of overlaying our results-orientated approach whilst strategically interlocking a much broader set of digital channels. By entwining both, we could see the rewards from enabling our clients to cost effectively and cleverly reach customers at each digital touchpoint.

Do you find it easy running an agency in a digital era of constant change?

Constant change and continual innovation are what keep our industry alive. Heading up a team of passionate digital marketers is challenging, but also bags of fun. Client expectation and campaign planning aside, there’s never a dull moment when you have a team that’s literally fizzing with new ideas and new approaches.

My role is to be the facilitator for igniting and then integrating any new thinking. And the best bit is that, over time, we’ve discovered that some of the best ideas don’t necessarily come from those working in client-facing roles.

With performance at the heart of everything we do, our people represent the very heartbeat of our existence. We actively seek to harness all of the outstanding creativity and innovate thinking across our entire team through our FoundLabs initiative (a hub whereby anyone can submit a business idea. These ideas are reviewed fortnightly and pushed forward if the idea has legs). From our newest graduate recruit right through to our senior management team, we make each and every one feel they’re valued contributors to Found’s success, allowing them to unleash their own entrepreneurial spirit and, together, enabling us to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the curve in this ever-evolving industry.

How do you mirror the trends and developments of the digital marketing arena in the running of the agency and the work that you deliver to clients?

Digital marketing moves quickly and ensuring the team here at Found are incorporating the latest platform features and best practice techniques into our work for all of our clients is crucial. Giving them the space and opportunity to learn and explore the changes and innovations from the likes of Google and Facebook equally gives them that all-important much broader view and, ultimately, only positive benefits for our clients and for the agency.

In a nutshell, we view ourselves as the conductors for our clients’ key digital relationships with their customers and with this comes the urge to ensure we always remain ahead of the curve. Whether this is through the introduction of a whole host of new technologies and platforms from programmatic bidding to personalisation, or the culture and freedom to experiment and deliver new initiatives to aid client delivery or even sharpen implementation across the entire industry, Found is a hothouse for innovative, clever implementation that not only mirrors trends and developments in the market, but also stamps success on our client campaigns.

What advice would you give to other marketers struggling to keep up with the change?

It’s imperative that marketers look beyond their own existence and their focus on client delivery and, instead, really examine the market in which they are operating. Digital marketing will never stop evolving and successful marketers will be those who can measure this change, truly harness the opportunities it presents and then ultimately bring new, exciting campaigns and approaches to market.

You have been in the industry since the beginning of the affiliate marketing sector. Can you talk about how you came to be involved and how it has changed over the years?

Now I’m feeling old! I began my digital career at Great Universal Stores in 2000 where I was responsible for establishing and managing its affiliate marketing programmes for the Argos Additions, Kays and Choice catalogue brands. This was ground-breaking stuff with affiliate marketing very much being viewed then as a ‘dark art’ which many brands didn’t want to understand or embrace. The affiliate community was much smaller then and everyone tended to know everyone else which made for much closer working relationships and a combined desire to help establish affiliate marketing as a credible and rewarding channel.

Whereas now there’s a whole selection of different affiliate networks for brands to work with, back then there were only a couple of big players to choose from. Interestingly, both still exist and continue to dominate the affiliate scene. Jumping from in-house to working with market-leading network Commission Junction therefore gave me an even broader view of how the industry ticked and I’d like to think that our team were instrumental in formally placing affiliate marketing into the UK marketing mix.

We still struggled with credibility though and a group of us came together to bring a level of professionalism to the sector; supporting the launch of the a4uexpo conference and awards schemes and ultimately shining a much-needed spotlight on the innovation, creativity and results being achieved in its growing number of campaigns. Affiliate marketing is now deemed a firm participant in the channel mix, which I’m delighted to see.

What do you expect to be the next big thing for 2017 in the digital performance sector?

With the ever-increasing reliance on mobile devices, I firmly believe that 2017 will bring a mind-blowing mash up of sharper data insight implementation with greater emphasis on localised search technology and then further exploration and delivery into the power of consumer intent.

Data specifically has given us much to ponder over; whether big data is now too big; whether consumers are even comfortable with how this manipulation of data is being used to reach them in more targeted and relevant ways and ultimately, where the line stops in what we record and what we can use as progressive marketers.

Align that with mobile technology’s ability to give us 24/7 always-on consumers and then the smarter technology starts to get even more interesting. The growing impact of machine learning and voice search will equally begin to repaint the backdrop for us once more whilst we all race to find the holy grail between those all-important digital touchpoints and a plethora of offline interaction.

However, what really intrigues me is what I see as the next step in intelligent marketing. Looking back, marketing was initially all about selling a product and service to a wide audience group hoping some would stick and others would remember to return. The introduction of personalisation and ad retargeting changed the entire shape of this sales funnel, enabling brands to specifically create targeted relationships with the right products to the right audiences at the right time. Our understanding and ability to gather and analyse our customer data more effectively, and specifically the consumer gold dust that is behavioural insight, is what will now take digital marketing to an entirely different level.

Over the next few years, brands should and can increasingly talk to their consumers as individuals. They should be tapping into their specific motivations and then ensuring they capture every relevant moment along their customer touchpoint journey. For me, 2017 will be all about creating and nurturing these moments.

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