Client Data Is The Battleground Says Accenture Interactive Exec Shah

accenture interactiveBaiju Shah is Partner & Managing Director, Digital Media at Accenture Interactive.

Shah recently discussed his company, and the data-driven ecosystem and how it’s impacting the marketer with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: There’s a lot of talk in this space about building a “marketing stack” or “end-to-end solution.” Is Accenture the agency that’s going to take care of managing this end-to-end solution for the marketer?

BS: We view ourselves as the new breed of marketing services provider, which brings cross‑functional discipline from strategy straight through to next generation media buying – and local-driven through experience management and optimization. We also have the technology and analytical disciplines as well as the marketing services. For sure, we can do the technology operations on top of these stacks, but we never forget about the services and the human element either.

What is experience management and how does it relate to what you’re doing for clients?

For many of our clients, as they think about driving more relevant experiences, they think about doing so at-scale – and scale meaning across all touch‑points. So you need new disciplines. Some of those new disciplines and services are experience engineering services.

For instance, how do you take the right creative and assemble the right experience using the right data for the right individual at the right time? Machines can suggest through optimization, but you still need the human element that can guide. It’s a new type of talent that brings the trading desk mentality that’s strong in math, appreciates the value of creative and understands how they come together at the moment of truth for you as a consumer.

What about tips for the marketer who is just beginning to enter the data-driven, digital marketing space?

We advise our clients to just keep it real – don’t chase the shining star. It’s an organizational transformation and will require disciplines that you don’t have today. You will have to engage with IT, as an example.

So at first, the biggest message back to marketers is, “This is a journey. Look for a nice sequenced way of unlocking value as you go.” There’s no single tool, tactic or technology that’s going to allow you to win sustainably. You’ve got to change the fundamental way you operate your business.

You’ve been at Accenture for 15 years and were one of the original executives deployed to lead strategy for Accenture Interactive in 2009.  Any thoughts on what clients might be seeing five to 10 years from now?

What we’re seeing today in the market, will only be amplified over the next five years. Things like relevant experiences as judged by consumers will get rewarded. Irrelevant experiences will get increasingly punished by the back button, by a lost sale and by publishers who don’t allow you to talk to the consumers anymore because they’re going to be held accountable for relevance as well. Facebook and Google are always trying to move down that path.

The way that we assess relevance – that will become a discipline, a KPI and be foundational to what marketing is all about. It all comes back to the data and analytics and the confluence of that with creative.

How could relevance in advertising have impact elsewhere?

Obviously, the Holy Grail is when – from a consumer’s vantage – the distinction between ad and content and experience is gone. It evaporates. Today, it still pretty much exists. But that is one definition of relevance, which is you’re so relevant that they no longer feel like they’re getting spoken to as an ad. But there are other consequences, as well. Once those lines start to blur, which is obviously objective, how do you measure? Who’s responsible? Because now those silos within your organization have to start falling because the ad group and the brand group and experiences group and the site group and the social group, they have to work together because the distinctions have all blurred and the consumer is very much in charge.

There are some fundamental transformations as you think about the evolution of ads as they become more content experience rich.

One other thing – we talk about the principles. The good news is that we’re actually in market with major brands executing against this today, against this transformation. Basic things like breaking down the silos between paid media and owned media and unifying those experiences in a data-driven way with multiples of increase in conversion rates because now you can start seeing how there’s a unifying experience between those. That’s just a few touch‑points. We haven’t reached it across every touch‑point for any client yet. No clients there yet, but if there’s one thing to take away it’s that this is more than theory. We are actually out there implementing this in a sequenced way and showing real value.

What’s your take on Facebook’s ad and marketing strategy for the marketer?

Certainly, Facebook exemplifies the consumer-centricy movement. From a marketer’s perspective, all of our clients are not only enamored with the opportunity of Facebook but they’re also confused, in terms of how to exploit Facebook. I applaud Facebook on trying to get more relevant to marketers, to reach those consumers. We’re still in the early days, so if that’s where the consumers are, that’s where the platform is – and, they’ve won the platform battle.

All of our marketing clients are wondering how they can use that as the right medium. There’s some interesting case studies out there, but I don’t think anyone’s really cracked the code in prescriptive way. We’re still very much in the early days.

Do you expect things to get more closed or more open on the Web in the future?

I look at it through a slightly different lens, which is, “Who has control?” The fundamental question our clients ask – and not just the marketers but the CIOs – is “What’s the consequence of using Facebook Connect for fundamental login? What do I lose and what do I gain?” I think the trade off’s fairly clear, but the concerns are not. In our world view, data about your consumers is the currency that allows you to be relevant at scale. Anything that constrains your ability to control or access that data needs to be looked at very seriously.

That’s what we’re fundamentally telling clients and why everyone’s taking this in a very thoughtful way because if you believe data is the battleground, you can’t give up control to someone else.

By John Ebbert

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