Anthony Rhind, chief operating officer at Coty-owned digital agency Beamly, on building an industry-leading innovator within a brand organisation.
In the midst of Coty’s recent spending spree, one acquisition in particular is promising to revolutionise the US cosmetics giant’s approach to media.
The company, whose portfolio of brands includes Calvin Klein, Clairol, Rimmel and Wella, last year splashed out $12.5bn on over 40 of Procter & Gamble’s beauty brands – bringing Coty’s annual revenues to $9bn. More recently, Coty invested $600m in social retailer Younique, and secured the rights to run Burberry’s beauty and fragrance operation.
In contrast, its purchase of digital marketing firm Beamly some 18 months ago slipped under the radar.
Launched in the UK in 2011 as Zeebox, the company began life as a second-screen app, linking TV content with mobile devices, but became frustrated by the absence of a truly viable business model – despite investment from the likes of Comcast, NBCUniversal and Viacom.
Renaming itself Beamly – in part to be “more inclusive” and “gender neutral” – the firm turned its attention to the challenge of prompting consumers to engage with digital content. Such a skill is highly prized in a market where brands fear their digital content marketing spend is being wasted – so much so that Coty opted to acquire the firm outright.
At the time of the deal, Camillo Pane, Coty’s executive vice president, category development, said the acquisition would help the firm to address the “accelerating consumer shift” from traditional to “real time” digital and social media, especially in the case of Millennial shoppers. Intriguingly, it is also allowing Beamly to continue to work with external clients.
Beamly chief executive Jason Forbes has since been promoted to the role of Coty chief digital and media officer – and will be speaking at next month’s Festival of Media Global 2017 in Rome. In turn, Forbes hired ex-Carat global chief digital officer and Adform strategy boss Anthony Rhind to take on the role of Beamly chief operating officer.
“Because we are Coty-owned, there is a degree of confidence created by the fact that we have totally aligned goals”
Since the acquisition, Beamly has focused on delivering digital content for ad campaigns and developing new brand websites for Coty’s international marketing teams, alongside Publicis Media’s Zenith – which won Coty’s estimated $1bn global media business last year – and its roster of creative and PR agencies.
“Beamly is one of the critical stakeholders,” says Rhind. “Because we are Coty-owned, there is a degree of confidence created by the fact that we have totally aligned goals, to build Coty value. In some instances we are used for digital campaigns, website or content development, in others for insight generation – it really does vary.”
So how does the relationship work?
According to Rhind, Beamly is uniquely able to combine design and creative services with media management and optimisation – the “Holy Grail” of end-to-end digital marketing services. “We have a real DNA in technology and data, which is not that deep-seated in most agency cultures, either media or creative,” he adds.
Services are clustered around four “pillars”, says Rhind, incorporating a variety of tasks that would normally require the involvement of several partners.
Firstly, Beamly begins by exploring social and digital trends data – “very poorly utilised” by most advertisers, says Rhind – to understand how consumers are engaging with content. It then takes existing brand or product propositional attributes or statements and seeks to validate them with people. What previously may have been left to a creative person’s “intuition” is now also enriched with data.
The second pillar involves Beamly’s content “foundry”. Its in-house team will create 20 or 30 assets, often unbranded to enable brand neutral responses, which are distributed to millions of potential consumers to measure engagement and interaction – data which is then passed on to the brand’s creative agency of record or is used by Beamly creative team to develop final assets.
The third pillar is digital campaign optimisation, encompassing creative and media levers across paid, owned and earned platforms. Finally, and fourthly, the agency refines the customer pathway to ensure the optimal omnichannel experience.
And in practice?
Take hair colouring. Through its Wella and Clairol brands, Coty is aiming to capitalise on this significant market. However, to do so it must understand the very unique reasons behind each consumers’ decision to colour their hair.
In the case of younger consumers, it is likely to be motivated by a desire for “self-expression”, often involving dramatic colours. In contrast, those in their forties and fifties will probably prefer something a little more “subtle”.
The communication of very different consumer needs can be matched to distinct product innovations – how quickly hair colour washes out for expressive colourists versus how consumers looking to permanently colour grey can find product that is gentle on their hair, for instance.
This could mean a brash and arresting piece of video content for those making a fashion statement and a piece of informative, but less attention-grabbing, brand journalism for those looking to cover up grey hairs. It could also mean the difference – in the case of Coty’s Rimmel brand – when selecting creative assets featuring one of its brand ambassador Georgia May Jagger or Kate Moss.
“We need to think about the attributes, match it to an audience and a media context and creative that is relevant,” says Rhind.
Best in class
While Beamly is not expected to pitch for Coty business, Rhind says it is vital that the agency retains a competitive edge. To this end, it will continue to seek out non-Coty business, albeit always ensuring Coty remains its “number one priority”.
On its website, Beamly lists AOL, Immediate Media, Mofilm and UK broadcaster Channel 4 alongside Coty-owned brand clients, and does not flag its ownership situation – instead boasting that it can help to deliver “the future of digital marketing”.
“The fact Coty owns us means there is no diminishment of their expectations”
“Prior to being acquired, Beamly was exposed to the realities of the commercial world. Beamly now benefits from very significant and stable Coty marketing budgets, but if we are going to continue to add value to Coty, it is important that we retain the mind-set that we are only as good as our ability to innovate and find new ways of looking at the digital marketing services arena,” he says.
“The fact Coty owns us means there is no diminishment of their expectations. To ensure that is front-of-mind, it is important we are competing for a share of their consideration. We’ve got to be good.”
With around 150 employees globally, London and New York are Beamly’s primary service and product development hubs. Project managers being hired across Europe, Asia and Latin America, as the agency aims to boost its international credentials. However, Rhind is determined that Beamly not make the same mistakes as network agencies.
“We’re trying to be smart: we’re about automation and technology, but we understand that automation does not mean no human intervention, it means the human intervention is about intelligence and insight. We want to be lean, but we don’t believe in black box, flip the switch,” he says.
“I don’t see us with a flag in every country. I think that old model is something that has hampered many agencies. The largest legacy businesses are the ones that move the slowest. We want to find another way of doing it. We want to rely on technology, data and automation as much as possible.”
Next up, e-commerce
In the case of Beamly’s fourth ‘pillar’ – omnichannel – much is still to be done. The immediate vision is to ensure that, in the case of lower-funnel consumer interactions, digital journeys are optimised to direct consumers to partner retailers, ideally selecting the company based on the likeliest chance of conversion.
The Coty vision is that someone sat in a coffee shop in London’s Covent Garden engaging with its content, Rhind explains, may be directed to a pharmacy store on the Strand, as it is only a few hundred metres away. In contrast, an office worker searching in the afternoon for something to wear that evening might be pushed towards Amazon Prime for one-hour delivery to their place of work.
However, like many FMCG companies, Coty has its eyes on carving out stronger direct relationships with consumers and building a sizeable e-commerce business of its own – an ambition spelled out by Coty’s Camillo Pane when the Beamly acquisition was first announced, and a goal he believes Beamly can help to “accelerate”.
Of course, with its current relatively modest scale, there is only so much Beamly will be able to impact. However, Rhind believes the agency can act as a catalyst for change and innovation beyond the campaigns it becomes directly involved in – not least as a result of Jason Forbes’ appointment to a cross-Coty role.
“We can only be an enabler in certain instances,” he adds. “We are focusing our time where we see the greatest up-side, we will focus on the largest brands and key markets, but we also want to help establish a way of working within Coty that brings the same type of thinking but ensures the brand teams don’t need Beamly.
“[Forbes] focused on bringing that same type of way of thinking and commercial agility to the way that Coty teams are working. It is a very exciting time.”