Merkle Acquires LiveArea, A $250 Million Bet On Commerce Integrations

Dentsu-owned Merkle has acquired LiveArea, an experiential commerce agency, for $250 million, the companies said Tuesday.

Merkle will add LiveArea’s 590 employees to its roster.

LiveArea works with retailers and brands, though mostly retailers, on commerce and marketing. It provides design and creative strategy, but its primary offering integrates customer data with ecommerce tech such as order management systems (OMS) and marketing clouds. A few of its clients include Adidas, Advance Auto Parts and Barbour.

Brands and retailers’ customer data tends to exist in siloes that support individual business functions, such as advertising, customer service, sales and commerce. Now these companies are trying to connect these departments with a common customer-based data set, said Pete Stein, Dentsu’s global lead for experience and commerce.

Many brands are investing in a customer data platform right now, Stein said. That can lead to conversations about why data from a loyalty program doesn’t connect to data from customer service, or email-based ad campaigns.

“(Brands) are looking to find partners who can help them connect that customer experience across every touchpoint,” he said.

Even straightforward “trigger-based” marketing can bring huge value, according to Stein. For instance, connecting email marketing to OMS data, which includes shipping and fulfillment, can improve campaigns because the marketers will know if and when someone made a purchase, or whether they visited the site to, say, leave a poor review, rather than check out a new product.

Merkle is an old hand at data analytics and data-driven advertising, including emails. LiveArea adds back-end commerce integrations. The new capabilities mirror moves by marketing clouds Salesforce and Adobe to link their own formerly disconnected cloud suites: Experience, Commerce, Sales, Advertising and Analytics.

Within brands and retailers, these trends are playing out in the expansion of marketing and technology across the organization. Merkle and LiveArea both have experience working with CMOs, heads of marketing and CTOs, Stein said. Lately however, the urgency around customer data is bringing those constituents together with heads of merchandising, CROs and even CFOs, who often oversee commerce investments.

Among the factors that made LiveArea an appealing acquisition target are its size, its existing client base and its brick-and-mortar retail experience, Stein said. When holding companies talk about adding “commerce agencies,” they typically mean a small media-buying shop that’s focused on Amazon. They don’t have experience with omnichannel retail or with other commerce technology, such as marketing clouds.

“For us at Merkle, what we’re really good at is helping brands to develop a strategy around data. And then now with LiveArea, we can effectively execute on the commerce side of it,” Stein said.

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