Social: The Key To Learning

by Neil Kettleborough Chalk Global

Neil Kettleborough, Co-founder at Chalk Social, explains why social media holds the key to providing hyper-targeted content that extends brands’ reach

Based on London’s Silicon Roundabout, Chalk Social are a mix of strategists, analysts and technology experts with a background in direct response and branding who pride themselves on “accountability, candidness and transparency.” With a client roster that includes Universal Music, Clarks, Amazon, Kellogg’s, Warehouse and The Children’s Society, the agency’s picked up a rack of awards, including Best Digital Marketing Campaign at the Digital Media Awards and the Best Clothes, Shoes & Fashion eCommerce Award at eCommerce Expo. In 2015 Chalk Social was listed by The Drum as the eighth largest independent agency in the UK. Not bad, considering the company only launched at the start of 2013.

Different class

Founded by Davina Dunlea (winner of Marketing Week’s 30 Under 30 Award in 2010) and ad-tech expert Neil Kettleborough, in less than three years the company’s grown to 22 and the guiding principle, says Kettleborough, “is to take social learning and put it at the heart of all our campaigns.”

Underpinning that has been a desire to get back to the fundamentals of direct marketing – a notion reflected in the agency’s name, which is inspired by the good old classroom blackboard. At Chalk Social, says Kettleborough, the mission is always to “make marketers’ lives easier by providing realistic marketing plans.”

Display, video and social are the agency’s principle areas of focus, though they also undertake PPC campaigns. For Kettleborough, it’s innovation that drives the best new work.

“We’re a bit different from some of the big network agencies in that we’re tech-agnostic,” he says. “We don’t have trading agreements with any of the big players. Some of the network agencies have certain technologies in place across the group, and those technologies then have to be deployed. We don’t do that. We listen to a client’s brief, understand the KPIs and then build a technology stack around that particular client.”

Social media, with its granular perspective and opportunities for providing tightly targeted content, is frequently the starting point. “There may be a lot of key consumers who you don’t think of as being part of a brand’s audience,” he explains. That was certainly the case with Chalk Social’s client Lebara Mobile, who needed to reach new users with a hyper-targeted display campaign.

“What we discovered through the use of social was that business travellers made up about 30 per cent of Lebara’s consumer base. That was something Lebara themselves didn’t know. We then actively targeted that audience via video and display and continued to prospect new customers for them using social.”

Fashion retailer Warehouse has been another repeat client for the agency, and in 2014 Chalk Social led a campaign to boost awareness of their autumn/winter collection. The key objective in this instance was reach. Using a mix of custom whitelists and contextual/semantic targeting around fashion and lifestyle-related content, Chalk Social were able to ensure Warehouse’s ads only appeared in premium relevant locations, including blogs, fashion publications and the national press. Serving millions of impressions across multiple channels, the strategy guaranteed relevance for Warehouse, mitigating the risk of wasted ad impressions. Newsfeed ads on Facebook enabled the brand to further target an audience of fashion-focused women. Promoted Tweets drove Twitter engagement and were also shown to ‘lookalike’ followers who matched the brand’s demographic. The result? Nine million unique users were reached. For Kettleborough, it’s this bespoke approach to marketing technology that distinguishes Chalk Social from other agencies.

“What also sets us apart is that we don’t charge for ad serving,” he says. “We offer attribution free of charge. A lot of big network agencies have all their digital channels in isolation – their PPC, their video, their social, their display and so on. When we work across digital platforms, we’re always looking at the full funnel, not just the top or the bottom.”

Defining programmatic

Anyone who’s picked up a trade publication or attended a marketing industry event over the last 18 months will be fully aware of the buzz around programmatic. So freely, in fact, is the term bandied about that its meaning isn’t always entirely clear.

“It’s true – clients do define programmatic in different ways,” acknowledges Kettleborough. “We were in a senior meeting with one of our clients recently and one of the marketing managers was explaining programmatic in layman’s terms to the rest of the team. His definition was that if you have to pick up the phone and book something, it’s not programmatic!”

As a starting point, however, programmatic refers to the automatic purchase of any online ad space, either through bidding or guaranteed, direct purchase.

“You can set up direct buys and PMP (private market place) deals, but generally we use programmatic as a learning curve,” he says. “If we can see that we’re getting more traction on a cluster of audiences, and that there are media owners looking to buy those audiences at scale, we can go off and look at PMP deals and getting greater client investment as we move down the line.”

So is programmatic, as the marketing press likes to proclaim, really the future of online advertising?

“Well, that’s a massive statement! We’ve got Clarks as a client. With them we’ll have a two pronged approach. We’ll test with real-time bidding and see how we get on. But we’ll also test with a direct buy. When you book programmatic direct with a publisher, 90 per cent of the time you’ll get better results when facilitating a ‘walled garden’. That’s because the publishers are smart and are
withholding certain data sets: there are audiences that they don’t open up to ordinary RTB integrations.

“My view is that yes, things are moving towards programmatic and there’ll always be a large chunk of spend on that. But there’s always going to be a case for direct buy as
well, because the publisher is key. The publisher holds the data and will always be able to enhance direct buys over programmatic.”


With over a decade’s experience in publisher, network, DSP, exchange and ad serving technologies behind him, as well as stints as UK Director of Trading at MediaMind, Head of Trading EMEA at OpenX and Head of Digital and Strategy at DataXu, what other factors does Kettleborough see as shaping the current digital marketing landscape?

“Tracking can be a tricky and frustrating issue, particularly in instances where a client doesn’t operate their own site. If it takes six months to get tracking set up, which it shouldn’t but sometimes does, that’s a real challenge. Another issue is how agencies hold on to clients’ data and who owns it afterwards. Our stance is that clients own their own data and have their own DMP. As an agency, we simply plug buying tools in and out.”

So, for Chalk Social it’s all about innovation, transparency and working with like-minded people.

“We’re not the biggest agency,” says Kettleborough. “But we are the best at what we do. We want to work with people who share our vision of what digital can achieve, of where it’s going and how to get there. There are still those out there who don’t make integration a consideration. We want to work with people who are passionate about digital, who want to push the industry forward and test new things.”