GroupM’s Brian Wieser on customer-centricity, branding, and identifying trends

January 22, 2021 | By Brendan Flaherty, Copywriter

Inside advertising: GroupM’s Global President of Business Intelligence offers insights for navigating today’s advertising landscape

In the early 1990s, University of British Columbia student Brian Wieser wanted a summer job with the National Hockey League. Rather than submit a resume, he designed a replica hockey card with his picture on it. On the back, he listed his work experience as a line of statistics.

“I’ve always been conscious of branding, while still being numerically oriented,” said Wieser, whose career ultimately took a turn away from professional hockey. After college, he earned his MBA, and then went to work as an investment banker on Wall Street. He honed his abilities to identify trends and key insights at the intersections of advertising, media, economics, and technology in roles at Interpublic Group, as the CMO of Simulmedia, and as an equity research analyst.

Now, he’s the Global President of Business Intelligence at WPP’s GroupM, where he leads the company’s thought leadership practice focused on driving actionable marketplace intelligence. He is also the primary author for This Year Next Year, the biannual ad forecast on media buying and investment.

Here, he discusses customer-centric marketing, reflects on his experience in the industry, and offers insights to help advertisers grow in the year ahead.

How has taking a customer-centric approach shaped your career?

When I first went to work on Wall Street, I quickly learned that even the smallest detail is important, when it comes to serving customers. If you made a mistake on a PowerPoint, say, it wasn’t the mistake in itself that mattered. The philosophy was that if customers saw a reason to doubt one thing, it gave them reasons to doubt others. So, in terms of being customer-centric, it means you have to strive harder to make sure the quality is there at every touch point.

How has that focus on customer-centricity applied to your work with brands?

With a brand, consistency is key. You stand for something, and you don’t give customers a reason to doubt who you are.

What do you think advertisers should be investing in right now?

Advertisers should invest heavily on the front end to understand their customers. That, of course, informs what their product attributes need to be. And then, they need to figure out big ideas that bring what their brand stands for to life.

They also need to invest heavily on the back end to figure out how to measure what mattered. But right now, yes, I think investing in what your brand stands for, and in understanding where your business opportunity is, those are probably the best things you can do.

What got you started writing about advertising and marketing?

In 2003, I went to work for Interpublic. I remember very clearly that, around that time, everyone was freaking out about the DVR, and how it was going to bring on the death of TV. That’s when I started publishing internally, and I encouraged colleagues to critique and analyze and scrutinize what they knew, or thought they knew, about the industry.

Through that, I talked about what I thought people should be paying attention to, while balancing the need to listen and be responsive.

What is the most important message you think advertisers need to hear right now?

When advertisers look at trends involving averages—average growth rates, average media mixes, etc.—remember: don’t be average! Advertisers should try to avoid benchmarking themselves against others and look at their own strategies with a blank sheet of paper, to the extent that they can.

And most importantly, have a point of view on issues that matter, and be consistent with what that is.

Does that relate back to the importance of a brand?

That is what a brand is—an understanding of what something is. Again, not giving customers a reason to doubt what it stands for. It’s a promise that gives a customer some relative certainty about what they’re getting.

What is certain about customer-centric advertising in the year ahead and beyond?

Those who continually look for creative ways to serve their customers' unmet or unarticulated needs will always be best positioned to succeed.