2012 M&A Buzz Favors Big Data, Point-of-Sale

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M&A activity in the media and marketing sectors jumped 52 percent in the first half of the year, led by "smaller, complimentary acquisitions." So says investment banker Jordan Edmiston Group Inc., which tracks deal activity in the space.

Among the high-profile acquisitions were those of social CRM platforms Vitrue and Buddy Media, by Oracle and Salesforce respectively. But is the proximity of those two deals indicative of a shift toward community-driven marketing acquisitions -- or something else?

In a call with AdExchanger yesterday, JEGI co-president Tolman Geffs discussed the lift in deal volume.

AdExchanger: Is the wave of M&A among social CRM firms played out for the moment?

TG: There will certainly be more activity, and it's not limited to social CRM. It's about adding and integrating more channels to communicate with customers.

If you look at what's going on in the broader economic world, on the one hand there are massive threats. The U.S. economy remains fragile, Europe's a mess, unemployment is high. On the other hand, you have waves of innovation that we haven't seen in a while.

At a time like this, companies focus like a laser on serving their core customers with new products and channels. What social CRM is tapping into is being able to serve your customers and communicate with them through more businesses and integrate that better.

The acquisitions of Vitrue and Buddy Media were announced within a week of each other. In your view, what motivated the deals dropping so close together?

They had both been in the works for a while, and I suspect there was a race to see who could announce first.

You mention a lot of deal activity happening between smaller complimentary companies. Is that a nice way of saying "shakeout"?

Not really. There are two different things going on. One is what I just emphasized, which is companies buying businesses that allow them to serve current customers with new technology and channels. There are a lot of very healthy companies getting sold that do that.

Then there are sectors that have absorbed too much investment and companies need to be shaken out.

The most interesting action isn't in the capitulators. It's in a healthy, profitable, fast growing, technology powered products and services and channels.

Each enterprise company has its own notion of the "stack." Are there new combinations we should look for in the next half?  

You're going to see a number of moves by the scaled incumbent players in managing customer and prospecting data for large companies... to tap into new channels and better manage their customers' data, and deploy it through new channels.

There are some very old companies in that big data space, many of which are trying to ramp up fast. Where do you see the biggest opportunity for those players?

Broadly speaking, they are the trusted managers of massive amounts of data for their client. This is not cookies. It's very private, very valuable data. They will move deliberately but effectively into putting that data to work for their clients in point-of-sale, in social, and in mobile.

I think point-of-sale (POS) is going to dwarf social in terms of the amount of channel activity, innovation and M&A. POS, meaning either at the register or in close physical or temporal proximity to a purchase.

Yes, POS seems to be a big focus for digital agencies. Willl they be able to own it or will they work with third parties?

They'll buy a few of them and work with a bunch of others. Getting closer to the customer in time, space and data is going to be huge. This is not about retargeting and email. It's about the next generation of Near Field Communications, very targeted promotions, and commerce-enabled advertising.

Many platform companies offer a managed services approach. Meanwhile agencies have brought technology in-house. In the long term, do you see a clear distinction in between services and platforms? 

Absolutely. Every few years, agencies and marketers get serious about producing content. Remember Bud TV? [When that happens] the trades report, publishers and agencies are embracing each other's businesses and will become one and the same. Nonsense. Operating agency services and developing technology are very different businesses. That's like asking if basketball players are going to invade football.    

-By Zach Rodgers

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