Matt Sutton on a New Era for Marketing Specialists

Matt Sutton on a New Era for Marketing Specialists

Learn from the CEO of Whalar APAC about how seismic changes spark new opportunities for specialist suppliers

Nick Fawbert
/ Categories: Analysis

This week major agency groups warned of more threats to top-line revenue in 2019 in an environment where overall marketing spends are ramping up. But, for flexible entrepreneurial companies, changing investment patterns offer a flourishing opportunity...

Matt Sutton, CEO of Whalar APAC thinks so too.

With almost 20 years in the marketing industry in APAC, Matt’s been a leading digital change agent. From early networks to programmatic, and from data driven marketing to content at scale, Matt prides himself on leading the way.

We caught up with him at Campaign 360 in Singapore to see what the industry has to offer for challenger businesses.

Building the Profile

New companies need a public platform to build on, and Matt and the Whalar team don’t shirk their responsibilities:

“The Whalar squad were discussing all things connectivity at the Barcelona Mobile World Congress last week and will be sharing how we see the role of online brand storytelling at AdWeek Europe with our Chairman John Hegarty a fortnight hence.

“Meanwhile, we are in the midst of planning our Cannes Lion activation and the great news is we have secured a huge space so the scope just got bigger!

"Here in Asia, Campaign 360 is perfectly placed to really set the scene for the year ahead.”

For Matt, the context is critical. Whilst technology and digital marketing suppliers often veer towards the comfort zone of the ‘tech’ conferences,  Whalar have focused on their customers:

“We are going through a period of seismic change in how the marketing ecosystem fits together to add value for brands.  That has caused many of them to rethink everything about how, where and why they partner with agencies, suppliers and specialists.”

It’s a communications strategy driven by the desire to reach out and engage directly with customer practitioners and their teams, and finding out first-hand about the problems Whalar have set out to solve.

Shifting Sands

If marketing spend is increasing, and the traditional big groups are losing out, perhaps it’s because smaller specialist suppliers are stepping into the gap.

Matt sees it as a case for change in the way companies provide core services:

“Brands increasingly want and need specialism to perform the complex task of marketing in a digital world.  However, they also want their agencies to simplify their model and become more integrated and transparent.

“Ultimately, we are all going to have to get comfortable with the fact that change is the new norm and there is no one model that works for one brand - never mind across brands and markets.

“Partnerships are now more important than ever and brands will, and should, flex to multiple models and partners based on the requirements and business goals at that time.

“Tech is the partnership enabler and brand marketing partners need to live with that and collaborate.”

Securing the Business

As marketers move from traditional campaign approaches to managing customer relationships, data is an important factor.

In the early days of digital, customer data was owned by technology platforms, and seen as a vehicle to secure customer commitment.

If we have the targeting data’, the theory went. ‘then our customers are tied to the partnership’.

If that sounds a bit like holding customers to ransom, then it has certainly been perceived that way, with brands becoming increasingly anxious about ownership of the insights that keep their business afloat.

Matt is clear about effective solutions:

“Data’s natural home is (mostly) in-house. Decision making, omni-channel consumer engagement and media buying can then happen through a variety of changing partnerships. They are going to need to access that data though.

“Getting data right is an existential challenge in almost every vertical and in a world where partnerships matter and things get replicated and commoditised fast, it is one of the single biggest determinants on the value of a business.”


Where data provides a backbone to operations and communications, Matt sees creative output as the key differentiator for brands building productive partnerships:

“The one thing you can’t build, buy or own and can’t be commoditised is the creative idea.  And ok, maybe love!

“Authentic, localised and personalised marketing matters. Moment marketing matters. Making people ’feel’ matters

“Brands have a constant and never-ending desire to inspire, delight … and be loved! There are a myriad of delivery mechanisms now - too many - so the single biggest thing a partner can bring to the table is creative ideas, insights and reporting on how they are resonating and the impact they are having.

"Partners and solutions that enable and help understand this are in demand.”

The Medium is the Message

Matt highlights concerns in creating breakthrough messages on behalf of brands.

Whether it’s true or not, consumers consider themselves much more media aware. They take pride in a cynical approach to marketing activity and crave authenticity.

For Whalar that means changing not only the way the message is constructed, but the channels through which it is distributed:

“The role of the marketer and the journalist has now blurred. Brands are having to fight harder and harder to tell their own, unique and authentic brand story online. The upper and mid marketing funnel is fast moving online.

“The consumer has become both a more impatient and a more conscientious animal and is exerting more and more discretion. Ad fatigue is rife. Expect to see product placement and authentic content marketing become more and more prevalent.”

Audiences and Accountability

Whilst traditional media channels squirm against the stranglehold social media and online Search have on their content and business models, Matt feels the equation for brands is much simpler:

“Facebook & Google still monopolise attention and eyeballs across their various platforms. Working with them to weave a brand story authentically is still what brands are spending a hell of a lot of their time and money on.

“The holy grail [for the industry] will be understanding how this is affecting the performance of paid media ads at the bottom of the funnel.”

Collaborative Solutions

Regardless of the destabilising effect of rapid change, Matt sees a route to success:

“What is fast becoming clear is that 2019 is the year where marketers will be focused on how they leverage creative, data and specialism to deliver a more seamless, engaging and authentic experience for the consumer.

“The brands and marketers that will win will be the ones that enable this through successful collaboration between their in-house teams, agencies, suppliers and specialist partners.”

Seize the Day

Many of Matt’s observations chime with the perspective we have here at Mutiny.

The opportunity for practitioners is underpinned by new skills acquisition.

Traditional roles in major industry groups may be slipping away, but in their place,  we see a forest of specialist suppliers and the rapidly swelling ranks within the marketing departments of major brands.

As Matt concluded:

"What a time to be alive!"

If there’s anything we can do to help practitioners and their teams make that change, we’re here to help!



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Nick Fawbert

Nick FawbertNick Fawbert

With 25 years in the media and marketing industry, and almost 20 of those in digital marketing, Nick is one of the most experienced practitioners in the Asia marketing industry. He is Founder and CEO of Mutiny Consulting.

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