Post-Acquisition, Acquity Group Talks Digital Transformation Challenges

JayHeadshotShortly before its acquisition by global management consultancy Accenture last May, digital marketing and ecommerce services provider Acquity Group went public in 2012, recording revenues of more than $140 million that year.

Accenture also acquired UK design and creative agency Fjord last year, which, along with Acquity, was rolled into the Accenture Digital division designed to service the needs of brands around digital marketing, analytics and mobile. Management consultancies and marketing services companies today face similar challenges as traditional agencies, according to Jay Dettling, president of Acquity Group, who detailed those demands to AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: Has Acquity done an about-face since joining Accenture? What’s changed?

JAY DETTLING: We’ve just had an opportunity to get involved in some ginormous initiatives we wouldn’t have been able to before. It’s always great when you’re welcomed in with open arms, and Accenture was essentially clamoring for the expertise we had. They have really strong demand for what we do in the digital marketing, ecommerce space. Since we joined, they’ve done a lot of things to signal that they’re serious about this space. Accenture recently launched Accenture Digital, so we’re a part of that new [division], which is 23,000 people. It was a little daunting at first. We were 700 people joining a 270,000-person organization.

How has the acquisition impacted client conversations?

We learned very quickly we share a lot of the same target clients, whether it’s CPG, retail or heavy, industry-focused B2B, manufacturing and client services. There’s a lot of overlap, which is good. Where it’s been accelerated, I’d say, is we’ve been able to attack larger initiatives. Today, it’s not so much about let me build a smartphone or tablet application or new ecommerce catalog. It’s about digital transformation, which may sound like an overused term, but when you have a lot of these retailers with same-store sales that are flat or declining real estate, they’re looking at, “How can we grow and transform our value proposition to our customer?” and it’s not just about putting in ecommerce. It’s about putting in ecommerce, lighting up digital marketing, redoing their back-end systems, improving their supply chains. It’s a bigger problem set that we could not have solved alone before. I think Accenture needed the ecommerce and digital marketing expertise to solve bigger client problems.

One of the talks at the National Retail Federation show touched on the disconnect between mobile intent and actual investment and execution. Do you think this holds true?

I think it’s definitely front and center at the board, leadership and manager-level meetings – [the acceptance] that they need to engage with customers via mobile. That’s no longer a debate and it permeates those three levels. How it’s measured is still a little ambiguous. To deploy a really transformational mobile experience, there are a lot of back-end things you need to do: realign some technology and some business processes. And that’s really expensive. When you measure the budget and what’s spent, I think that gets a little bit nebulous. People might [undervalue] it because they may be talking about the creative or the glass and not all the work that happened on the back end. I think we, as media, analysts, agencies [and consultants] need to almost define a standard for when you say “mobile” so that it’s ubiquitous. They’re really wide-reaching initiatives unless you’re just talking about “the glass.”

Acquity Group worked with Digital Li-Ning, a major Chinese ecommerce company pre-acquisition. Is the Asia-Pacific region attractive to your clients?

As a result of the acquisition, we divested from that joint venture. It was a strategy where the Chinese market is a huge consumer market to bring brands to and we thought, digitally, we could do that and then bring them to the US. I don’t think it’s a wrong strategy. I think we chose to go a different way as a result of the acquisition.

Will Acquity pursue other international opportunities?

On the surface, we do see developing opportunities in APAC, Latin America and South America. The nice thing about Accenture is they already have teams that are focused there. We, at Acquity, would have been challenged to take advantage of some of those opportunities because we didn’t have the size. While there is tremendous need there, there is enormous demand in both North America and Europe, traditional markets. The demand for digital services has just accelerated. Where a year and a half ago you might have said, “Well, it’s hypercompetitive in North America, let me go in these emerging markets where it’s less competitive and I can maybe take more market share,” the demand has surged so much in North America and Europe that there’s still a lot of work to do here, too.

What do you see as the key opportunities and challenges for CRM agencies, management consultancies and even traditional agencies in the year ahead?

[What] is most exciting is that while there are a lot of mature technologies, be it in CRM or offline analytics, ecommerce or digital marketing, there’s this Wild West of how do we bring these things together to help people win in the marketplace whether they’re a retailer, a B2B distributor, etc. The number one theme is get closer to the customer and understand the customer’s behavior so you can tailor your offerings.

I’d say the other thing that’s a huge challenge and also exciting is while there’s all this demand on the client side and while we think we have all these new capabilities and solutions for them, we still haven’t completely solved the challenge our clients face, which is that whatever they’re deploying today is based on decisions [that were made] 12-18 months ago. We have to solve that, help them move quicker, get answers out to meet customer needs in a more rapid fashion. It’s figuring out how you move quicker and deploy.

The third challenge is revolutionizing the way our clients market and introducing digital marketing expertise to their organizations. I think there are some organizations that are almost intimidated by it.

How do you define “digital marketing?”

Retargeting, search engine marketing, ad placement, offers. And maybe the fifth thing would be new loyalty programs. … We have a number of clients looking at their various channels and touch points with their customers and they’re realizing they’ve deployed spot digital solutions, but we haven’t thought about the whole relationship in the digital sense. For me, I’m excited about solving that riddle for clients.

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