When Competitors Choose The Same Agency

data-agenciesAt last week’s Merkle client summit, marketing chieftains from Geico and Travelers were present.

[Record scratch here.]

Wait a second – an agency has two ultra-competitve clients on its roster?  Yes, it’s true.

As Merkle CEO David Williams readily admitted to AdExchanger last week, the competitive nature of clients does create sensitivity around the data and teams associated with the accounts, which are aggressively, and regularly, vetted by the client side. But, he believes the operational efficiencies his agency provides precludes the need to do what holding companies have done, for example – spin out multiple agencies within the holding company “borg” and attempt to circumvent the perception of conflict-of-interest.

Fair enough – that’s a fairly safe answer and one you’d expect from the CEO of an agency that has managed to pull off what might be unthinkable for his counterparts elsewhere.

It certainly speaks to Merkle’s unique ability to bring successful CRM (customer relationship management) strategies for its customers. It also may suggest the options elsewhere are non-existent.  Merkle’s Williams sees his “Connected CRM” business as very different from a traditional agency role and breaks it into three parts: management consulting, marketing technology platform and digital agency.   This integrated pitch is meant to elevate the CRM world to the CMOs office – where addressing the consumer at every touch point is key.

Agency holding co’s should take note on several fronts, including the need to embrace data science and to create strategies that look beyond the paid channel.  Agency trading desk efforts are one thing. Effective CRM strategies that create seamless online-offline connections with the consumer are something else entirely. Moreover, CRM strategies seem to be coming on stronger with digital’s unique ability to address the consumer in real-time.  If you can pull it off, as Merkle seems to be doing, you could have two of the biggest ad spenders in a single category in-house.

The Keynote

At the outset of his lunchtime keynote at the Merkle summit last Tuesday, Travelers Personal Insurance CMO Jay Gauthier graciously gave a shout-out to his Geico competitors in the audience on the success they’ve enjoyed. Gauthier then offered stats on how the insurance sector dominates within financial services when it comes to ad spend pouring through online and offline channels – including those ridiculous-sounding Search CPCs ($50 and up) for keyword phrases like “car insurance.”

Next came a fairly detailed use case of Travelers’ marketing strategy around an insurance product for teen drivers that – through a device the size of a garage door opener in the car – provides a real-time data feed of the teen’s driving performance back to Travelers.   This allows parents to see, and share, a report card of how their teen is behaving on the road.  Travelers says this feedback loop makes teens better drivers – thereby reducing risk in insuring the teen.

Gauthier painted the marketing “picture” all the way to the Yahoo login page (Yahoo still matters!), where he said Travelers’ digital retargeting “hooks” are now in place – and this is where he slammed on the breaks to his marketing presentation. Geico was in the room, after all.  And yet, they both shared the same agency responsible for their digital CRM strategies.


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