As entries for the WARC Awards for Effectiveness (Global Edition) open, Ross Sergeant, Global Head of Media and Touchpoints at Asahi Europe & International, spoke to WARC’s Anna Hamill about media effectiveness and judging the path-to-purchase and channel integration categories.

Download the Entry Pack to have everything you need to submit your work. The deadline for entries is 29 March 2023.

Ross Sergeant

Ross Sergeant, Global Head of Media and Touchpoints, Asahi Europe & International

As a judge, what is your philosophy on effectiveness in channel integration and the path to purchase?

I’ve been involved in writing many awards entries as a client and also at an agency. I think the most important thing is truth. It’s very easy to present a case study that looks great on paper or looks good in PowerPoint but in actual fact, it either didn’t really do what it said it did, or [the work] wasn’t the whole reason for the result.

These two categories are where you really pull in a lot of different touch points, and it’s a challenge to be able to represent a full story and, at the same time, be fully honest about the bits that you don’t know. There’s nothing wrong about saying that: i.e., “I’m not entirely sure about everything, but I can tell you that the portions that I was involved in contributed this much to it” rather than attributing the whole thing to the work.

The path to purchase has changed a lot in the last 10 years. What are the biggest changes?

The concept is not new, but the way that we do it nowadays is significantly different. In a lot of businesses – in our business, particularly – we speak about very ordinary paths to purchase when someone goes into a store, buys the product, and then leaves. However, marketers tend to get very obsessed about digital paths to purchase because we can track them.

I think that, in a lot of businesses, we need to understand both of those very, very clearly. In my category [alcoholic beverages], there is a normal person who may or may not drink the beer once in a while. You may buy that online, you may do that in person, you may be tracked and may not be tracked. But we really need to understand the brand’s entire path to purchase and in it needs to be a lot of careful thought about how you really analyze that after purchase.

Are some of those changes new challenges for brands?

We need to have single source data. We can’t just spice together things that may or may not be related… one of those challenges comes that in the last 10 years, we’ve suddenly been thrown all the standards data. Single source data says, well, actually, we need to research the people from before they even heard of us to way after they bought the brand for the first time, not just that tiny little portion where they suddenly activated.

There’s no one single consumer journey. They’re all different, and we all have different ones. And what’s great about what we have at the moment, I think, is the ability to dig deeper into what those journeys are.

How can brands make the right decisions about which channels they need to be in?

I think the first thing every single brand needs to get right is cross-media measurement – however they want to call it. It’s a very, very simple first step that a lot of brands don’t fully understand – even just the TV stuff that they’re running across multiple different platforms, like a bit of YouTube and Facebook. The first step is just understanding who you’re reaching for, and if you’re reaching more than you should or less than you should and – for us, most importantly – not reaching. I think that’s a very key first step.

The second part is understanding more clearly who your category buyers are… Our job as media people is to understand the different types of journeys that people go on, and there’s different types of segments that sit within this category of buyers. If you get this idealistic view of what the average category buyer is, it’s a disaster.

As a marketer, you need a passion for trying to understand the people [outside the typical category buyer] that you didn’t necessarily want to buy. Nobody should ever not want anyone to buy it. But the reality is brand teams will tell you, ‘we really want those people’. Go for it. Understand that.

How have all of these changes that you’ve mentioned impacted how you approach effectiveness at Asahi?

At Asahi – and at all businesses like ours – we need to look at effectiveness in terms of short-term effectiveness and long-term effectiveness. We have managed to come together with a really good framework which helps us resolve those two. The reality about any business like ours is that this year is the most important year, without a doubt, but we all have a 10-year plan. So how do you balance long and short?

We have also taken a very clear first-party data culture within the business to get much closer to what those journeys are, i.e., getting our businesses around the world to think about everybody as a single data point and how we can accommodate them that way. That allows us to really understand our effectiveness much, much better.

The other thing is that we are very cynical of the effectiveness metrics. If I was a performance agency, I would be telling you that the performance metric is the most important because that’s the one I can deliver on. If I was an average normal media agency with a lot of TV and outdoor, I might tell you it’s all about reach. So our job – and we are good at this – is to say, ‘right, those are interesting. But they’re probably not going to affect anything.’

What does a winning entry look like to you in terms of the categories that you’re chairing?

In terms of both path-to-purchase and channel integration, it is clear, clean and concise thinking. I think the challenge is to try and make your world as uncomplicated as possible because, essentially, we are trying to break through simple human emotions and that requires clarity of thought. For me, a great entry is clearly articulated and is very clear what the contribution of the team was to the outcome with a very honest sharing of the margin of error, or the bit that they don’t know.

Then the most important thing is the innovation piece. Now, there’s nothing wrong with doing things that work, and it’s good advice to stick to things that you know are going to work.  However, you’re not going to grow exponentially, and you’re not going to achieve new things.

You need to include things within your plan which show that you’re trying new, innovative things. I personally believe it’s a very simple 70-20-10 rule: 70% of the stuff that you do should be things you know are going to work, 20% of things that you know other people could make work and 10% is about being brave and trying stuff that you have no idea will work. Innovation and experimentation is a part of us growing as an industry.