Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Meet the Revolutionaries: Sam Wilkinson, Group Head of Media Solutions, The Hut Group (THG)

New Digital Age (NDA) in association with LiveRamp, is spotlighting the men and women championing a data-led revolution in the marketing industry. ‘Meet the Revolutionaries’ focuses on the efforts of the industry executives helping to push digital marketing into a new era of data collaboration.

Here we meet Sam Wilkinson, Group Head of Media Solutions at The Hut Group (THG), a digital-first consumer brands group, retailing its own brands and selected third-party brands via its proprietary ecommerce platform THG Ingenuity…

Tell me about your current role.

I first joined THG 10 years ago as an apprentice in the catalogue team. I’ve spent the past decade working my way through a variety of marketing and ecommerce roles and made the move into my current role as Group Head of Media Solutions around 12 months ago. 

Over the past year, we’ve been developing and scaling our retail media proposition at a rapid pace. We operate multiple brands, such as Cult Beauty, Lookfantastic and Myprotein, and we have a billion eyeballs visiting those brands’ websites every year. It’s a career highlight to be leading and growing the incredible new team within THG, taking our retail media offering forward.

Can you give an example of a time when you personally have helped to drive innovation? 

Innovation is at the heart of THG’s DNA. It’s the reason we’ve managed to grow at such pace, so innovation is encouraged throughout all corners of the business. It’s one of our core values. 

I’ve been lucky enough to be on the journey from an early stage and have been part of some really exciting innovations, from building our own CRM functionality to launching our own retail media strategy within THG. Keeping innovation embedded in our culture and DNA is a big part of my job. Having my team regularly come to me with fresh, exciting ideas is probably one of the most rewarding parts of my role.

What are the most common challenges to innovation? 

Innovation is never straightforward and, to be honest, you shouldn’t expect it to be. If you are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before inside your organisation, one of the biggest challenges is getting the stakeholder buy-in that you need. Building a business case and putting numbers against a predicted outcome can make things easier but, generally speaking, bringing the right people on the journey with you and keeping stakeholders from across the business engaged is usually the trickiest part. 

When you’re attempting something for the first time and trying to sell an idea that everyone might not necessarily ‘get’, it’s often a sense of the unknown that’s making people uncomfortable. Anything you can do to make the unknown a little more known can help your case. 

What tips can you offer others hoping to drive innovation? 

Do whatever you can to encourage and enable new ideas and never treat any idea as a bad idea.  I have regular sessions with my team to discuss innovation strategy and what might be the next big win for the business. Sometimes that might be simply an hour together with a whiteboard. We’re always looking at the bigger picture. 

Another thing that I think is crucially important and something that we always tell our new recruits is: listen to the customer data. That’s your customers’ voice. If you know where to look, you’ll always find the answers you need in the data, whether they are the answers you expected or not. 

How do you think digital marketing might evolve over the next few years?

The role of the digital marketer has diversified massively over the past 12 to 18 months. The strong emergence of AI will encourage a much heavier data-first approach through the likes of predictive analytics and customer profiling. That will also challenge the human element of marketing, as there’s only so much AI can do. 

I expect AR and VR to become more mainstream as part of user engagement across the customer journey, with customers adapting to new ways of purchasing from ecommerce businesses. I also think AR/VR could become more prominent in the working environment as a way of assisting hybrid working. That sort of idea doesn’t sound as bizarre today as it would have five years ago. 

We’re also seeing a real big shift in where marketers are spending their budgets. I firmly believe that retail media will overtake TV advertising spend in the next few years. It’s going to be massive. Brands want to see a return on their budgets and understand what’s working and what’s not. We’re also in discussion with various big brands at the moment about data collaboration and sharing cleanrooms. That’s something that’s going to be huge for the industry over the next 12 months and I expect it will be huge for THG as a business as well.