Meet: Tash Whitmey, CEO of Havas helia

The future of marketing lies with data and creativity.

Tash Whitmey, CEO of Havas helia, has had a long love affair with data. At this year’s Cannes Lions Festival, Tash will serve as Cannes Lions Innovation President of the Creative Data Lions, and in a master class on June 22, she will share why she loves data so much—and what we can do with it.

As a preview, we sat down with Tash to learn how data can be a powerful marketing tool for enhancing the creative process, delivering valuable experiences, transforming businesses, and changing people’s lives. She also shared three exciting predictions for the future of data.


The Mag: Your career in the data industry has spanned about 25 years. How have you seen the role of data evolve over this time?

TW: I think that those of us who have lived and breathed data are at a difficult time. The bandwagon has well and truly arrived, and it’s threatening to come to a standstill with the sheer weight of the sheep on board. There are those who talk about data with the sophistication of old snake oil sellers, peddling technology or services that deliver very little value. Many agencies and data service providers add to the problem with their jargon, complexity, and mis-aligned business models.

Someone has to implement data, connect it, ask smart questions, and come up with the right strategy to make it all work. And that’s what I love: when data is used by smart people to solve real problems because they know that it is just another medium, a powerful medium for creativity, problem-solving, and transformation.

The difference is that they ask the right questions first, the human questions, the ones that don’t revolve around cost per click, impressions, or “omni-channel.” They are helping people build businesses and improve their lives through peer-to-peer payments, helping cities reduce pollution, or helping to bring education to more people faster and more efficiently.

It’s time we stopped looking backward to find opportunities in gaps that already exist, and start looking forward to find opportunities to make a difference.


The Mag: You’ve been named as president for this year’s Creative Data Lions. What’s your take on the relationship between data and creativity?

TW: As the role of data in marketing becomes more widely known, we need to provide guidance around how data can effectively help as part of the creative process.  It is clear to me that data is the future of marketing. As such, the jury needs to look for brilliant examples of how data has been used to inform and inspire creativity in a way that delivers insightful and helpful solutions, with business-changing results.

If I could do one thing, it would be to get everyone to love data as much as I do. Make them understand that it enhances the creative process, rather than stifles it. Make them recognize that data plus creativity is where the future of marketing lies.



The Mag: What does the future of data look like?

TW: The market is changing really fast. These are a few significant changes:

We are seeing a growth in the importance of first party data. Media companies and brands are now starting to develop their own data management platforms to bring together multiple data sets and increase their ability to target more efficiently. Along with this will come the ability to deliver customized creative at an individual level. This more relevant approach to messaging will in turn drive more trust and increased sales.

Platforms are opening up different technology stacks via API’s. When companies release an API, it allows them to pursue other industries via an open source model. You allow other business to build on your core services, which further grows your business. The ability to connect API’s for marketing will be the next level of development as companies start to look to build closer relationships to consumers. Marketing will become a service. This is best seen in how Amazon has just announced its own FMCG products brand, which will be delivered via its Prime service and ordered through its Echo and Kindle technology. The more you connect, the more you will know about consumers.

There are some interesting developments in the Internet of Things area around how you can connect products and services back to consumers. Diageo teamed up with the Johnie Walker Blue Label smart bottle, which used NFC labels to provide information on the bottle, its quality, and its personal history. This ultimately drives more trust in the brand as consumers can be confident in the quality of the product. BY 2020, it’s expected that the IOT market will be worth in excess of $7.1 trillion dollars.


The Mag: Tell us about some of the work Havas helia has been doing recently. How have you been able to successfully uncover patterns in human behavior and create valuable consumer experiences on behalf of brands?

TW: We created aviation’s most successful eCRM program.

In a dramatic shift for easyJet and for the airline sector itself, we moved away from the obvious tactic of sales-driven, batch blasted emails, and actually reflected the human truth about travel: Travelers care more about the experience they have when they arrive at the destination than they do about how they get there.

And easyJet travelers are the ultimate trip tailors – carefully piecing together their experiences, saving a little on a flight, so they can spend more on a boutique hotel or special meal. So by using “inspire me” emails to direct our travelers to a handy inspiration tool, they were now able to search destinations based on the experience they want.

We used past booking behavior in a personalized and meaningful way to serve up timely and relevant inspiration. By using dynamic content to connect with travelers at the moment when they are dreaming up their next getaway, we were able to tempt couples with romantic escapes or families with fun-packed beach holidays.

As the strategy is based on understanding real people traveling, the creative had to reflect this too. We chose to talk to people like people – not as numbers on a database, not as customers on a journey, but as real, individual people. For example, families saw family images, city breakers saw cultural shots, skiers saw winter destinations.

By joining the conversation while our customers were still in the planning stage, using data that we knew would be recognized and relevant to them, we were able to connect on our promise to make people feel every bit as important as the places we were taking them.