Taming Complexity: Unlimited Group’s Tim Hassett on True Human Understanding

The Drum sits down with Tim Hassett, managing director of conversion agency group Unlimited, to discover the value of its “laboratory of human understanding”: a team of 120 behavioral experts.

Genuine expertise in human behavior is no longer uncommon in the marketing industry. Knowing what motivates people, and how, is a clear competitive advantage in getting people to do what you want them to do. As a result, thousands of behavioral and cognitive scientists, among all sorts of related experts, now inhabit this industry.

London-based conversion agency group Unlimited doesn’t claim to have started this trend, but they claim to do it better than their competitors. Of a staff of 650, 120 are assigned to its “human understanding lab,” which contains behavioral scientists, neuroscientists and data scientists alongside others. “I say this without humility and without hyperbole,” band general manager Tim Hassett told The Drum. “We have an unrivaled set of capabilities.”

Understanding starts with you

Hassett has been leading the Unlimited ship since 2019, having cut his teeth on the brand side with brands like Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s and the Campbell Soup Company.

According to Hassett, the formalization of the agency’s offer of human understanding resulted from a sort of cleansing act upon its arrival. “We are owned by a private equity firm, DBay [Advisors, which acquired the group, then known as Creston, back in 2016]who frankly didn’t know much about marketing departments when they got into this business… They invited me over to help them sort things out.

“I enjoyed looking at the incredible abilities we had,” Hassett says. These capabilities had joined the group through a variety of acquisitions and roll-ups, leaving “no consistency as to how they evolved into something that could actually benefit customers. I saw this amazing array of capabilities that frankly just didn’t have a clear positioning in the market.

With a client-side hat, Hassett says he recognized this as a “golden set of abilities,” hidden in a “treasure chest.” Responding to this meant an organizational change: one P&L across the whole group; grouping of agencies; and repositioning. “Marketers hate to use the word ‘sell’, but what we really did was work in the middle of the funnel, lead generation and product sales and retention… The first thing we had to do was declare who we were and what we did and be proud of that. We can certainly do creative and content, but the reason our customers have loved and trusted us is because we fulfill a unique part of their ecosystem: we manage their complexity.”

It didn’t require reinventing the wheel – “brilliant marketing starts with brilliant ideas; we happen to possess a breadth and depth of insight abilities that others do not” – but this required dealing with a range of expertise that was, in itself, rather complex. “I thought I had come to run a marketing agency and we had people walking around in white coats,” Hassett says. “I was like, ‘I literally don’t understand what these people are doing.'” The ‘big pivot’, organizationally, came when these experts were pulled from an ‘information division’ and let loose. “at the center of all our clients and all our work” as a laboratory of human understanding.

Complexity first

Putting all the power of its capacities for human understanding at the heart of the agency’s offer is at the heart of this strategy. Although Unlimited has competitors in the field of data-driven marketing, few, he says, can match their depth of knowledge. “What most do tends to be demographics and transactional [from which] they will derive ideas from it,” he says. “But our premise is that 90% of consumer decision-making is based on the subconscious, so if all you’re using to infer consumer behavior is transactional data, you’re not under the emotional drivers of the how consumers make decisions.”

In contrast, says Hassett, “we start by managing complexity first. This is how we build trust with customers; we’re driving a lot of growth with our existing and long-term customers by offering them extended sets of solutions and capabilities once we’ve taken care of the complexity part.

It starts with “decomposing audiences at a much more granular level,” moves through “evaluating content and creative,” and ultimately fuels products that aim to deliver authenticity without the need for extensive work. and expert on each engagement (“the cost and availability of doctors is extraordinary, that’s why we started producing and developing platforms”).

Surrounded by complexity, times may seem difficult — but now may well, Hassett says, be the perfect time for agency deals based on deep human insight. “Our world is increasingly complex and fragmented, with media streams multiplying – it feels like new streaming services are being offered daily – and fragmented customer journeys. All this enormous complexity: we [at Unlimited] were wired for it; the market is turning to agencies like us.

Sharon D. Cole