Thought Leadership
MRM McCann on Creating the Perfect Customer Experience in Digital


Mary McBride
VP, Engagement Director
MRM McCann



McCann is one of the most famous global agencies of our generation, under the IPG family of companies. Can you tell us a little more about MRM//McCann and how it differs from the main namesake agency McCann?

McCann and MRM//McCann both fall under the McCann Worldgroup network of agencies that rollup into IPG. All of the Worldgroup agencies (McCann, MRM//McCann, McCann Health, Universal McCann, Momentum, Futurebrand and Weber Shandwick) have a different expertise. McCann delivers high-impact creative. MRM//McCann is an integrated customer experience management agency.


Over the past few years, advertising has taken a turn towards a focus on efficiency and scale, through means such as programmatic ad buying and RTB. Do you think brands and agencies, or maybe the industry as a whole, has forgotten about what matters most – the customer experience – and if so, how do we bring it back into the forefront of our thinking?

The world of digital advertising opened wide with the development of programmatic buying and RTB. The potential of reaching customers at scale was (and is) enticing. The web and how to access it is evolving so quickly, and programmatic is a means to place ads across that expanse. It is key though, to be mindful of is the reason this growth is happening. The idea of a one size fits all outlet for information, news and entertainment is incongruous with how people want to consume media. There are so many sites because everyone wants something a little different. Layer onto the innumerous sites that there are many devices that can access them, and the combinations are endless.

Because individual demand caused the explosion of the internet, it is dangerous to think that a one size fits all advertising approach through programmatic will achieve absolute success. It is critical to consider both who the target audience is and what the advertiser’s message is. The puzzle is how to get both of those paths to cross often. Creating a customer experience that goes beyond paid advertising into owned social, branded sites, content, nurturing, channel programs, etc. is how brands deliver a relevant experience.

Programmatic is evolving to help target and message meet in more strategic ways. Through unique data, location based targeting, account based targeting and contextual targeting, there are ways to make programmatic relevant in a customer focused approach. But we, as advertisers, can’t stop there. The rule of 3 no longer applies (run 3 ads in one magazine and you’ll be noticed). While we can find the right audience with banners, that isn’t enough to change behavior/invoke sales.

What programmatic can do is only part of a customer experience. It is a single touch point. Once you’ve found them, always ask, “What’s next?” We’re using targeted programmatic buying to reach the audience. What’s next? They go to our website. What’s next? They spend time with some content. What’s next? They submit a lead gen form. What’s next? And so on until we’ve converted them to a happy customer who wants to advocate on our behalf. Since people’s desire for a relevant experience led to the web of today, we need to make sure we meet (better yet exceed) their expectations of having a relevant experience.   


Recently, there seems to have been a shift towards quality, viewability, and transparency where ads are placed, to provide the user with a truly positive experience of the brand (as opposed to just bombarding them with ads). Due to this, many publishers have seen early success with Branded Content and Native Ad Units / Sponsored Posts. What is your take on this?

Banners have their place in many digital advertising strategies, but purely based on real estate, an advertiser can only do so much with them, and, with click rates averaging 0.07%, we can’t expect banners to be a format that users will interact with. Using advertiser content is a great way to take the message to the user. The key is to have content the target audience will care about. A sales pitch will fall flat in that environment, but when advertiser content provides education, entertainment or food for thought, these formats are a very successful way to start the relationship. It shows the user that the advertiser is speaking their language and wants to be a resource to them.


How do you think the widespread of adoption of ad blocking will affect the advertising industry? What do you think we can do as a whole to mitigate this? 

The adoption of ad blocking is another example of web users wanting to access information on their own terms, so let’s acknowledge why they’re pushing ads out. Ad blocking is noise blocking. To keep advertisers in the mix with publishers and their viewers, each party involved has a role.

It starts with the publishers. The notion that “Content is king” as coined by Bill Gates is not outdated. Good content is valuable. So, how is it monetized? Sites know their audiences and content and can make the judgment call of what is acceptable. There are many approaches being considered from paid subscriptions if ads are blocked, to a few pages for free and then viewers are asked to disable the ad blockers for more. The method has to be right for the site and their audience, but sites need to educate audiences on the role that advertising plays in keeping that good content coming.  

The role of the visitor is to understand and weigh their priorities. Understand that publishers want to give a valuable user experience. Decide if having all of the content is worth seeing some ads along the way. It isn’t about taking away their control. It is about education and choice.

From an advertising perspective, we need to create a different kind of advertising. Be relevant. Be entertaining. Matter. This requires a carefully orchestrated melding of messaging, format, placement, targeting and frequency.


What are some core criteria you use when evaluating new advertising vendors?  

It all boils down to differentiation, both in terms of who the vendor is and the depth of their understanding.

Differentiation as a company:

Everyone can do RTB with DMP data. What makes your offering unique/more qualified?

Differentiation in understanding:

We’re primarily B2B focused in our office, and B2B is a different animal. Consumer targeting doesn’t apply. How do you differentiate your B2B offering from B2C?

Differentiation in approach:

I’m looking for a vendor who understands that every target audience and campaign objective is different. One targeting approach won’t be successful across everything an advertiser does. Does your proposal reflect consideration for both the target audience and objective? Do the tactics tie to this? Do the targeting parameters? Does the media weight? Etc.


Have you had the opportunity to run any private marketplace deals, and if so, what was your experience with them?

I think there is still value in working directly with publishers from start to finish. When my strategy calls for a publisher (or set of publishers) to be on a plan, it’s because a holistic experience is needed (consider banners plus native or sponsorship or custom ad execution, etc.). I’d rather work with them directly to make sure everything is well integrated to deliver the customer experience.

If a straight banner play with contextual relevance is the ticket, I’ll look at a whitelist or contextual targeting through a relevant programmatic partner.


In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges we face today as an industry? 

Building relationships:

Brand affinity is a hard thing to build, and that becomes more challenging as our society becomes more interested in individuality and instant gratification. How do we compose a full experience that both finds the right audience at the onset and communicates with them in a way that keeps them engaged beyond the point of sale?

Change from flash to HTML5:

As an industry, we weren’t prepared when browsers started blocking Flash and only allowing HTML5 banner ads late last year. Creative teams are use to concepting to what Flash could accommodate, but HTML5 can’t accommodate those same intricacies without becoming very heavy. There aren’t standard specs yet. What was a pretty smooth process has become temporarily bumpy. There will continue to be some growing pains around this for a while.

Data obtrusion:

I often get excited and freaked out at the amount of data at our disposal for digital ad targeting. We need to be mindful to balance what is plausible with what is effective. Just because something could be done, doesn’t mean customers will respond well to being targeted that way.


What are some innovations happening in digital + mobile advertising right now that excite you the most? 

I’m excited about the cohesive experiences that we’re at the forefront of providing. We target a customer on their laptop/desktop during the workday with a large banner. When they are commuting home from work, we give that same individual a rich media ad on their tablet to spend some time with. Then later that night we find them on their smartphone with a video ad. We’ve talked for some time about a customer’s day-in-the life and how it is possible for ads to run across screens, but there was no promise that one individual would get all of the ads. Now that we are starting to match a single user across devices, we can really make that day-in-the-life idea something a brand can really be a part of.


Lastly, what is your take on the future of customer-experience marketing & advertising?

Paid advertising on its own can’t do the heavy lifting that it previously could. 60 years ago, there were few television stations, a handful of radio stations, a newspaper or two per market, and no digital. Audiences would come to advertising because they wanted the content the advertising surrounded. That isn’t our world any longer. Audiences can go wherever they want to get whatever they want, either with or without advertising. Our relevance lies in creating that experience which includes paid as an inroad to the brand, but goes beyond to show relevance and even establish meaning. How does all marketing work together to deliver this? The future of what we do is in asking this question. That question will only grow more crucial, and means delivering it will change as quickly as the web does. It’s an intricate puzzle, and there will only be more pieces coming. For that reason, I love what I do.  



MRM//McCann is a leading Customer Experience Agency that puts people first. This philosophy guides our approach to creating moments that matter to both people and brands. Through data infused insights and engaging creative that is enabled through technology, we build seamless, connected experiences that result in profitable relationships. The agency is part of the Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG) and a lead agency in the McCann Worldgroup network, with 40+ offices across North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. For more information, please visit

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