RAPP-ing Up The Customer Experience With Data, Media And Technology

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rappWhen one thinks about media planning, one does not think of Omnicom-owned agency RAPP.

This is understandable. RAPP built its reputation as a creative, CRM and digital agency. But the confluence of advertising and marketing means that the media planning and buying disciplines are increasingly areas RAPP hopes to build out.

AdExchanger spoke about this, as well as the growing overlap between agencies, tech vendors and consultancies, with RAPP Chief Strategy Officer Jessie Kernan and its director of strategy and analytics, Vignesh Clingam.

AdExchanger: What digital media capabilities does RAPP have?

JESSIE KERNAN: The paid media landscape is a very mature industry. It’s not the industry we started out in. You can’t just decide you’re going to be a media agency one day.

Our approach to integrating media planning into our offering is to start with a point of differentiation and create something that’s different, which is data- and insight-driven media planning. Most media agencies have the media operations game down and are adding the analytical layer. Our approach has been to start from our understanding of analytics to inform media in a different way.

That said, it’s a relatively infant offering at RAPP. Our core media client in the US is AAA. The UK has quite a robust media-planning practice, and we’re beginning to integrate a lot of what they do into what we do. But we’re just now expanding our stake in that game.

Why was the UK first?

JK: I don’t think it was an intentional decision to start it in the UK and roll it out. I think it was more of a function of the way the UK office grew up overall. They’re kind of a conglomeration of a creative, data and media agency.

Whereas RAPP in the US had been a strong, stable, data-driven, CRM-focused organization for a lot of the time the UK market was demanding something different. In the last seven to eight years, we’ve matured a lot and evolved our value proposition as well.

But like I said: Paid media is a mature industry and we had to figure out how to integrate our offering at the right time, in the right way.

Why build out the US media practice now?

VIGNESH CLINGAM: The reason we’re starting to test new things here is because of the notion that data is the new media. We don’t develop strategies in customer experience that are channel-specific. We focus on customer experience strategy that can evolve.

In the tech space, there are always new platforms developing. We don’t know what will be the big technology a year from now. So we don’t try to be in that media-specific focus, but we try to leverage data, because that’s inherent in our DNA.

JK: Because that’s our approach, we realized paid media needed to become a component in our offering, particularly in the digital space. It is inextricably part of the customer experience and journey. And it’s very hard to separate the strategy of the experience from the execution of paid or owned media.

When did you get into it?

JK: We’ve had that AAA business for a little over five years. That said, that piece of business is centralized in the LA office. Beyond the LA office, we have not introduced a media planning discipline to date.

How’d you get the AAA account?

JK: AAA hired us to do their media because they were looking for an organization that was data-driven in their DNA, more than they were looking for an organization that had media planning in their DNA. We took that opportunity to think about what media planning could and should be, coming from RAPP. It had to be a different answer because you can’t just stand and go up against Starcom or PHD or GroupM.

What was AAA looking for that the other media agencies couldn’t provide?

JK: They wanted all of the decision-making in our media mix and our media plans to be grounded in data, to emanate from data as the starting point. The second thing they wanted was a response orientation to the media execution itself. They were looking for a response KPI vs. an exposure KPI. When you’re focused on response first, exposure second, you need a different kind of media organization.

To what extent are you expanding your media discipline beyond that client and that office?

JK: That’s all I’m at liberty to say about that at present time. We continue to grow with AAA, not only in terms of our point of view around media and expertise around data-driven media, but also in our scope with them. And we have recognized, based on our new business pipeline, that the integration of digital media is a more common ask of clients. The maturation of our point of view, plus a marketplace asking for an integrated solution, makes this a good time for us to work on expanding that discipline.

What are the common painpoints brands have when working with media agencies?

VC: Clients’ problems with the media agencies they have is that they are extremely siloed. They all keep sending these tracking reports our clients can’t make sense of. And they’re pretty much on autopilot, with the exact same allocation on display and banner, etc. They come and ask us for insights. If growth is this much, the exact same plan from last year might not work. That’s how we support them in media allocation plans. We’ve done consultative work for clients.

JK: We’ve had several relationships throughout the last seven to eight years, either directly with clients or with traditional agencies, to support them in media analytics, to help manipulate a model around media exposure and response data and help them understand what’s working.

Is the technology you use to support this built in-house or do you partner with a vendor?

JK: I would say a combination thereof. It really depends on the relationship specifically. When we have an analytical relationship, either the agency handling media planning/buying or the client itself invests in its own deployment technologies, and that’s where the data flows into. We get, most typically, the data set to work with as opposed to manning actual technology.

That said, we have been working for the last year and a half on a solution called Dynamo, which is a proprietary platform with a decisioning engine. [Ed: Dynamo is a data-management platform built in collaboration with Omnicom's Annalect, which as of last year standardized on Neustar Aggregate Knowledge's technology.] You can hook it up to your email deployment technologies or your media deployment technologies or anything else that serves dynamic content, whether it’s your CMS or what have you. And the decisioning takes a combination of customer knowledge as well as paid and owned media exposure and response, and models out what is the right experience, the right number of touchpoints, the right channels for communication going forward to optimize a given KPI.

Seems like you're getting into territory that’s traditionally been the purview of marketing tech vendors.

JK: We used to compete quite a lot on tech stacks. We’d have a bespoke solution and we’d say, “If you’re our client, you use these technologies. We’re a Unica shop or an ExactTarget shop, etc.”

What happened was an evolution in which the IT departments of clients bought those platforms, investing in their own technologies, and wanted their agencies to be adept at using their technologies. In a funny way, the (marketing tech suites) are both friend and foe. Clients will buy a (marketing tech suite) if they want to. We would layer on the Dynamo solution, which is more the math than the technology. It’s our scripts that tell you, based on the data coming into (various solutions) that are accumulating data, what makes the most sense for each individual customer going forward and how to optimize ROI on the customer level.

That math part is not what (marketing tech companies) are doing. While they are definitely talking about exposing what people should know about their customers and have visualizations of what’s happening in the marketing ecosystem, the translation of that into "what next?" is the layer we add.

As the lines blur, what do agencies bring to the table that technology companies don’t?

VC: Five years ago, there was a lot of focus on productizing these things. Every big technology company is competing with the marketing company  saying algorithms can replace people. They say marketing is part art, part science. The science part has been nailed down. Big data companies have the most powerful data centers and we can’t compete with them.

But the art in this instance is that math. To the extent technologies companies can replicate that, you can buy automated, off-the-shelf solutions. But they lack insights that we bring to bear. That’s what marketing agencies can bring to the table.

There seem to be more stakeholders in the marketing world these days.

JK: Today, marketing is business whereas historically your business team was different from your marketing team or advertising team.

When you’re in an era of ecommerce and mobile utility, marketing is business. The inherent challenge that comes with that is everyone wants a piece of it. Now that marketing is business and we recognize that marketing is business, we have management consulting firms that want a piece of the action. We’ve got IT companies that want a piece of the action. We’ve got startups that want a piece of the action. There’s all this encroachment in the marketing services space. So our opportunity and need is to do the things we can do particularly well, better than those who are invading the space, if you will.

What are those things? You’ve got tech vendors and marketing services providers…

JK: Management consulting firms, what we understand that they don’t, is execution. There’s that old adage: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Management consulting firms will have brilliant grand ideas around the right kind of experience, or what brands should be doing in their marketing, but they’ve never done it before. They don’t know what it takes and they can’t take it to the finish line. Having the capacity and the expertise and the experience of doing those things lets us stand out in that competitive set.

IT knows how to build stuff, create systems, but I can’t tell you how many times a vendor or tech company will show us what they’ve got and I’ll say, “Do you realize what you can and should be doing with this technology? What it could be doing for marketers?” They usually don’t. They don’t understand what the service layer needs to look like. That’s where we come in.

A lot of times you have to embrace the frenemy opportunities. We have a lot of clients that have been given directives from management consulting firms that say, “You need to do these type of things.” And they say, “Crap, we need to hire an agency that does these kinds of things.” And we’re that agency.

Likewise, there are a lot of times those technology vendors let us do the things we want to do, because we can’t build that technology.

VC: Fortune 500 clients have an email technology vendor, a social media company, an online company that manages them, an SEO company and a DoubleClick program. They have all these things, bring us on board, and it’s the issue of incentives and how it all aligns. Technology firms sell their own technology.

If you go to Google, as much as we talk about omnichannel, most of the solutions are still around advertising, whether it’s AdSense, AdWords. All their platforms, which can do one thing and one thing really well. Same with Facebook. We own the customer experience. That’s our product. It’s not platforms or impressions. We help create the experience across whatever channels or consumers, recognizing those channels will keep changing over time.

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