Essence Global

Supercharging a digital advertising agency’s products and processes

Essence has risen rapidly to become one of the most disruptive and effective agencies in the expanding sphere of digital advertising. We set up shop inside their London office to work across their product suite, helping them to define new products to stay way ahead of the curve.

Born in the digital revolution and still growing

Beginning as a startup in 2005, Essence grew rapidly and today is part of the WPP Group. Essence boasts a plethora of digital products and systems which collect, aggregating and analysing terabytes of data daily. As they continued to scale up, more pressure and demands were being put on their systems and products. We were commissioned to help them advance their products and processes, aligning with their rapid expansion.

We worked across the entire campaign lifecycle to improve and advance the current products, develop new products to meet new needs and provide better services to their clients. Our work covered product evolution and innovation, streamlining different processes, supporting data integrity, automating manual tasks, improving user experience, building trust in the systems, improving productivity and exploring new innovations.

Immersing ourselves in their industry, company, culture and understanding their users

To understand Essence’s context, we ran ongoing benchmark analyses, market research, and customer engagement research. Employing the Playback Method, we quickly experienced every detail across the campaign lifecycle, workflows, and all the people involved – to get to the core of what Essence does, and how. We plugged in straight away: listening, shadowing, and interviewing people from every department across the globe.

We created a UX Pod in their London office, embedding our team in their day-to-day activities, we set up a story wall on which we mapped every step of the campaign lifecycle, inviting staff to come and interact, to clarify steps, test our ideas, and to talk to us about their work in an open, informal and confidential setting. We established trust as discreet, objective observers, and through this process we gained invaluable insights into what people were really doing, following their thought processes, and playing our findings and recommendations back to stakeholders.

...it's so easy to make mistakes that we spend a huge amount of time going back and forth between the teams and systems to resolve issues.

Ad-Ops Team Member

The team from Playfields, whom we feel are an integral part of our in-house development team, have transformed the way we approach user interaction on our systems at Essence. Their impact spans across the business through diligent discovery sessions and acceptance testing with users, ensuring that the business needs are met in the most user intuitive manner. The team are always professional and insightful, producing beautiful yet pragmatic UX designs. Playfields are awesome!

Helen Thi
Lead Product Manager, Essence Digital

Identifying efficiencies across products and processes

Based on our research and analysis we identified gaps, issues and opportunities. Their products and internal systems are exceedingly powerful, but difficult for staff to pick-up, understand and use easily. This meant that a lot of human capital was being spent learning when things should be clear and intuitive. Only certain aspects of the advertising campaign lifecycle had been incorporated into their systems, while many of the processes in place were still being dealt with manually, costing them far too many employee hours.

Due the breakneck rate of their growth, each team had evolved differently. Although independent initiative and problem solving had been, without a doubt, a driving feature of the company’s success, there also needed to be a standard form to make their work consistent from start to finish. For this, they needed to have a clearer picture of how their processes ran at all levels, and to improve communication across their internal teams.

Advancing their current product portfolio and developing new innovative products

Expanding Olive, their core campaign management product

Essence needed to better integrate Olive – their proprietary campaign management software – into their workflow across all their departments and operations. We demonstrated the feasibility and desirability of creating role-specific application interfaces within Olive, enhancing the software’s usability with a focused app world with clearer architecture and interfaces. We evolved the products with a whole new range of complex features and improved the experience and look and feel of their products’ interfaces.

Expanding Olive, their core campaign management product

Essence needed to better integrate Olive – their proprietary campaign management software – into their workflow across all their departments and operations. We demonstrated the feasibility and desirability of creating role-specific application interfaces within Olive, enhancing the software’s usability with a focused app world with clearer architecture and interfaces. We evolved the products with a whole new range of complex features and improved the experience and look and feel of their products’ interfaces.

Creating Invent, a platform that forges innovative media partnerships faster

We developed a stand alone platform for Essence to make the process of forging media partnerships faster, more cost effective and ultimately help both parties land on better ideas for innovative advertising. Spotify, Red Bull Media House, Channel 4, Sky and The Guardian were the group of select publishers to be given the keys first.

[This is] a much more powerful way to ensure our client briefs are being addressed and ultimately we want to connect our client’s brands with audiences in deeper ways.

Erfan Djazmi
Head of Innovation at Essence

The platform is extremely user friendly and allows for only concise responses. This approach offers a seamless exchange of ideas between publisher, agency and client which I am sure will result in great campaigns.

Joe Summers
Sales Director at Guardian News & Media

Defining how to use AI to accelerate advertising campaigns

We were tasked with defining the opportunity to revolutionise how digital advertising campaigns could be accelerated, made more accurate, and ultimately deliver more value for less effort. First we needed to immerse ourselves into the world of AI. We collaborated with Essence’s subject matter specialists, tech leads, and collaboratively worked through over 100 hours of iterative 1-2-1 conversations and focus groups to understand how the base hypothesis could be realised and tested via a proof of concept prototype.

As our knowledge expanded, opportunities and practicalities started to crystallise. Flows and key steps were formed, ratified until the core opportunities had been identified. Our learnings gave birth to an interactive proof of concept which was tested by the subject matter experts and staff and iteratively improved.

Envisioning and developing a process management product

We devised, named, designed and developed a Process Hub product for Essence to visually realise every step of the campaign lifecycle and their related internal processes. Staff can now clearly see what steps, tasks and actions are required along the campaign lifecycle, their role, who’s involved and responsible.

With its intuitive, interactive interface and clear structure, the Process Hub helps Essence to align workflows, save time on-boarding staff, make communication and processes more transparent, and facilitate the role out of process changes to staff across their global offices clearly and efficiently.

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The takeaways 

Our work expanded Essence’s product portfolio and advanced the product’s functionality, effectiveness and usability, and we helped them into their first foray into the AI sphere. We streamlined processes across departments, across teams, and across countries, reducing waste, unlocking their employees’ creative potential, fostering better communication across department, and generated more trust in the products and systems. All these transformations pushed the business forward, and allowed for a much more efficient use of employees’ time, creativity and intellect, giving the right space to the fast-paced, forward-thinking brains which keeps Essence ahead of the curve.