Not Your Daddy’s Database Manager: KBM Group Wants To Be A Strategic Partner

william burkart kbm groupKBM Group might be the data services unit of WPP agency Wunderman, but don’t think of it as just a database manager.

“Our job is to provide strategic leadership, not simply be a database vendor when clients need one,” said William Burkart, who became KBM Group’s president and COO in late September.

So if you need someone to manage clumps of data, sure, call KBM Group, but Burkart is trying to position the division as a strategic partner, not as a database manager.

“Our clients expect us to be a leader as it relates to CRM initiatives,” he said. “They’re looking to us to provide answers and recommendations proactively. You’re familiar with the whole Lumascape world. Clients are trying to navigate that and figure it out.”

Burkart comes from Acxiom, a marketing data provider trying to shift into a major ad tech player. As VP of Acxiom’s global agency, he cut his teeth integrating email and direct mail into databases.

“My responsibility at Acxiom was in the deployment of email and direct mail to the platform as well as partnering with other email platforms,” he said. “We connected the one-to-one channel of email to the broader database, using the database intelligence to drive a relevant email or SMS communication.”

Of course, marketers today need strategies that go beyond those channels, delving into paid media across the web, mobile and social channels. A large part of Burkart’s purview will involve expanding the capabilities of Zipline, the data-management platform (DMP) it inherited via the 2010 acquisition of i-Behavior.

[KBM Group has] all of the components,” Burkart said. “We will be absolutely leveraging what we have today. It’s not a situation where we have to buy another company or make a multimillion dollar investment.”

While KBM Group declined to reveal its headcount, citing the Sarbanes–Oxley Act, it has 36 offices in 22 countries.

Burkart spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: How does KBM Group work with Wunderman? Do they just call you up and say, “Hey, we need help.”

WILLIAM BURKART: The model is established in a customized client manner. In some cases, there are relationships we have where the KBM Group handles the entire engagement. That engagement requires heavy lifting in terms of data, in some cases utilization of our DMP Zipline, and the executional aspects of business including reporting, analysis and strategy recommendations.

And in other cases, the relationship begins with a Wunderman opportunity to build an overall CRM program of which a database or DMP or ongoing execution becomes an important part. It depends on the client relationship.

I think of Wunderman as a data-driven agency. What does KBM Group have that’s beyond Wunderman’s core offering?

Where there’s a strong reliance on database and the management of massive amounts of data, we’ll usually be asked to come to the party. If a client is asking us to store their marketing database or prospect database and house it, and utilize heavy analytics tools, that’s something we fulfill.

What’s the DMP you use? Did you build it in-house?

We have our own that was built by one of the companies we acquired some years ago, I-Behavior. That’s now part of our complete operations and the DMP is called Zipline. It was primarily a tool built to help cooperative catalog or ecommerce clients. Now we are fully utilizing the DMP to extend the reach for our clients who want to move outside of email and direct mail and simple retargeting.

That’s a good growth area for us, looking at the shifting media landscape in terms of creating a one-to-one relationship with a customer. Reliance on simply email, direct mail, or web personalization or simple retargeting isn’t enough to the sophisticated marketer. You need broader reach across channels.

That’s a major area I’m putting my shoulder against.

When you say other channels, I’m thinking mobile and video.

For sure. Mobile, video and the broad reach across social media as well as the whole world of DSPs. Reaching into networks in a one-to-one or targeted way.

Seems like the DMP initially was built to harness first-party data. Now you’re expanding it to include third-party assets. Is that an accurate assessment?


What’s the status of that right now, and where will you be in the next six months?

It’s probably premature to answer that now.

Besides the DMP, what other tech components do you house?

We have our own internal IT environment and data center environment. It lets us build and maintain large client databases. We allow access to those databases via a variety of BI tools. We use a number of known vendor organizations for that stack. But we have all the internal capabilities to maintain and manage access of those databases.

We have a customer engagement platform that lets us take our core data infrastructure and connect other parts as is relevant for a client. Let’s say the client needs an email platform. We’ll use Adobe, unless there’s another one they want us to connect to. If there’s a BI requirement, we’ll use our BI suite unless they want us to use something they have.

Can you connect with social networks as well or are you still building that out?

Early for me to respond to that. The I-Behavior team has significant solutions. [The Zipline DMP] can connect to Facebook and Twitter for sure, but in terms of how extensive that connectivity is, it’s premature for me to answer that.

There are a lot of features you can add onto the DMP. Is there one element above all that you’d like to have activated?

Realizing true omnichannel reach. It’s very different than making sure if digital online advertising works effectively through your current DMP or through your current ad networks. How is email working? How’s direct mail working? If you treat those as individual siloes, you’re kind of doing multichannel – but one at a time.

My view is to work across all those channels simultaneously. And that’s where there’s major growth for clients in terms of performance. You’re building an environment around that consumer, who’s at the center, and you’re building an environment around them to capture them when they are ready to buy.

What about the media aspect? You’ve got the ad network or the media agency responsible for managing that element of the campaign. Do you work with media agencies, or do you effectively become one?

It depends. We’ve got a reasonably significant footprint in health insurance and insurance through our KBM Health Services Group. For those client audiences, we function as that media planning and buying entity. These tend to not be the massive media efforts that MediaCom or GroupM would be doing. But for those cases, we’d partner with other media outlets within WPP and if the client needs us to, outside.

Do you work closely with the other GroupM agencies?

More and more all the time. There’ve been a significant number of discussions, and now we’re moving to implementation.

How will your experience at Acxiom translate into what you’re doing at KBM Group?

This whole area of content management, one-to-one reach, and making relevant communications that appeals to you and lands in your inbox – that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few years at Acxiom and what I’m going to do at KBM.

Ultimately, the consumer we’re reaching on behalf of our clients are barraged with a variety of communications and channels. The ones that rise to the surface are the ones that are most relevant. The science is merging all the content a client may have with the engine that takes that content and puts it into unique formats to deliver through a variety of channels, whether it’s a digital banner, web personalization or a piece of email creative.

Is there a tremendous difference, in terms of the tools you need, to deliver dynamic content in email vs. in a banner ad?

The tools are significantly different in terms of email dynamic content. We more and more rely on the Adobe Suite of tools for that, but in some cases we’re using platforms a client has contracted for. But the platform tools give you the capability of driving dynamic content. In terms of the web, it’s kind of the same thing. Imagine you’ve got a square banner or a vertical banner. The content that can be fit into that banner, once it launches, can be highly variable.

So it’s a different set of tools, though the principle is the same.

Can it scale in display?

It’s extremely difficult if you’re moving mountains of media. It can get tough and expensive. But there’s no question that the lift can always be higher. But is the lift high enough to warrant the incremental costs of doing it?

Are those costs coming down?

It’s a matter of time before costs are affordable.

Who can do dynamic content in media at scale?

It’s too early to give the complete guidance on Adobe. I’m too new to that relationship. But we’ll certainly be relying on their suite of tools to get us there.

Is the deal with Adobe KBM Group-wide, Wunderman-wide, or WPP-wide?

It’s Wunderman wide and we’re under that umbrella and we work regularly with Adobe and will continue to look for ways we can capitalize on their strong suite of products.

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