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Planning for the Best: Finding Solutions That Are Not Just Ads with Melinda Lofts

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The head of CX strategy at M&C Saatchi Australia on the importance of data as a way to understand why, solving complex business problems and taking calculated risks

Planning for the Best: Finding Solutions That Are Not Just Ads with Melinda Lofts
Melinda is a strategic marketer and leader with over 14 years experience with a dedicated focus on data and CX. She has a passion for exceeding business objectives by utilising data & analytics to develop deep insights, to create meaningful customer experiences and connections for customers, that drive bottom line results. Her unique skills have been developed through working in both agency and client side businesses, as well as experience performing roles in strategy and account management. She has a great depth and breadth of knowledge across industries, having worked extensively in media, banking, automotive, healthcare, charity, government, telecommunications and retail brands



LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?



Melinda> I personally feel that the term planner refers to a more traditional approach, where we take a brief and plan an ad campaign around that brief. The term 'strategist' speaks to a broader skill set, where you understand and develop strategies across your client’s entire business. Strategists will also think laterally to solve problems facing a business.
 


LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best?



Melinda> My approach is to completely entrench myself in a client's business. Great strategy comes from not just receiving a brief but understanding how the entire business operates (inside out). 
 


LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective?



Melinda> From a pure strategic perspective I can’t go past General Mills “Add an egg” Campaign in the 1950’s. It would have been so easy to develop a simple ad campaign that tackled guilt. But it was so progressive at the time to look at consumer psychology and completely change the product. And the proof is in the pudding (excuse the pun) - we still add eggs to our cake mixes. 
 


LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, do you find the most useful resource to draw on?



Melinda> I rely on data to identify and quantify problems and then leverage qualitative to understand the why. Sometimes you can’t always get access to data but I find using public customer reviews and social media a really good litmus test.
 


LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?



Melinda> I love solving really complex business problems and finding solutions which are not just ads but experiences.
 


LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?



Melinda> Breaking a problem down to its most simple question - what are we trying to solve? Then I try to ignore the legacy ways of doing things and think about how we could solve those problems with a clean slate. We so often zoom past the foundations of marketing - understanding your segmentation, targeting and positioning and the full buyers’ journey we often miss things or make bad assumptions.
 


LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?



Melinda> I love working with creatives who are open and who care about the customer, not just the creative idea. It’s been interesting finding the right balance of how much information or data to provide and what is useful. But the more creatives are exposed to your frameworks and thinking the easier it gets and the better the work. 
 


LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?



Melinda> My focus is always on the customer and their ultimate experience. I ensure that data does the talking, ensuring for every campaign we establish a comprehensive measurement taxonomy which means that we are accountable for all campaigns. This helps build the trust of the creative team, who ultimately wants the campaign to succeed. 
 


LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?



Melinda> The right attitude is most important for me, I want someone that is hungry and solutions focussed - this is much more important than the technical skills (which can be taught). Covid has been challenging for nurturing talent, the physical distance and the fact every conversation has to be much more structured and organised via a call. Being open and allowing people to connect in a way that makes them feel confident (SMS, Google messenger, video) is important. Great strategists need to be confident enough to make mistakes in trying things, but also own the mistakes and learn from them.
 


LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?



Melinda> As a CX and data strategist, this shift makes me incredibly happy and it means i am connecting much more with brand strategists and creatives. 
 


LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?



Melinda> I feel sometimes we don’t value (calculated) risk-taking enough
 


LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?



Melinda> Be proactive and show your passion for strategy. 

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M&C Saatchi Australia Group, Thu, 20 May 2021 13:09:00 GMT