Bolstering Digital: GfK North America CEO Krajicek Discusses Acquisiton Of Knowledge Networks

GfKIn December, global market research firm GfK announced the acquisition of digital research firm Knowledge Networks. And late last week, the company announced the acquisition’s closing. Read the release.

David Krajicek, CEO of GfK Custom Research North America, discussed the acqusition and its implications. What would you say were the triggers for GfK’s acquisition of Knowledge Networks?

DK: There were a couple of things. The first was, as in any acquisition, we had some base hurdles that we always look to clear, and one is a real fit into the strategic direction for the company. In Knowledge Networks (KN), we find that nice fit because it continues to drive us into the digital space: in the online assets that they have, the panel assets that are there, the Dimestore element, as well as some additional synergistic relationships in a few key areas around healthcare, the consumer packaged goods area, the government and academic areas. At its foundation, the real focus on quality that we try and deliver to our clients dovetails nicely or complements with KN, along with the push into digital.

What’s GfK’s view on digital and its opportunity?

Increasingly, what we’re seeing is the digitization of commerce. General market activity is used to make decisions about purchase and seek out opinion or influence about brands and situations. We continue to see digital channels as important – and not just touch points, but intermediaries that really start to influence consumer behavior and the consumer cycle.

It’s absolutely important that we continue to not just engage with consumers but also understand their attitudes in a digital environment. Additionally, we need to understand how those digital channels begin to impact behaviors and have metrics or solutions in place that begin to address that. When I think about digital, I think about it in terms of how it impacts the brand and consumer dialogue. The interaction is an important evaluator such that it can provide strategic direction to brands.  In understanding that, we get a better idea of how media is consumed, how it’s used to make decisions and how purchases are actually made.

Digital is a broad word, but it can be made very tangible in our business when we focus on those areas.

Do you feel there’s a systems integration angle to the way GfK approaches its business and clients?

One of the things that we’ve got to be mindful of is that we identify new data streams that come from digital and how we can become data‑rich, but not insight‑poor. One of the things that we need to be able to do more effectively as an industry is be able to integrate information streams and integrate understandings together so as to deliver better value, understanding and insights to brands.

The proliferation of channels has two fundamental impacts. One is there’s many choices, and what happens is we need to understand how choices are navigated to interact with brands by consumers. The second is that the reality is that those different channels will interact and aid consumers in different ways, and what we need to do is understand how they link together.

It’s not just about this attitude, but I’ve taken this activity as a brand. It’s had this impact on attitude, and that attitude has had this impact on behavior. Think about it from a systems approach, a consumer cycle that is connected and the different elements that interact together to deliver an understanding of the market. Market dynamics is key.

One of the places that we’re moving to is it’s not about just acquiring or developing a new kind of siloed understanding of behavior in a digital channel, but how those various channels interact together to give you a better picture of the behaviors in the market.

Considering the recommendations you’re making to the marketer, where does the agency fit in this world?

What we’re seeing is connectivity between messages and experiences that consumers have, and digital channels just accelerate those experiences with brands. Part of it is that as we make recommendations. As we drive forward with a systems approach, the agency plays a just as important role, in that what is critical is not just the content that is being created or positioned, but it’s also appreciating how there are changes by channel and content is delivered. It is about appreciating the fact that much of what is developed is going to be partly experiential so that they must become involved.

It’s no longer the case where we are doing collateral, and other folks are doing brand. No. What you’ve got to be thinking about is how the whole experience and the various touch points work together into a holistic understanding or experience that informs brand buying behaviors, or brand relationship.

In some respects, it’s that systems thinking should be permeating into both agency relationships as well as the agencies themselves. They continue to play an important role, and it begins to morph as you get better and richer information about how the whole market forces come together.

You acquired Knowledge Networks for digital and for its clients. Overall, what are the target markets for GfK?

We have a number of sectors that we target ‑ healthcare, consumer are two of those. We have a public affairs, government and academics group as well. Those kinds of Knowledge Network relationships help to bolster those sectors. We also do a bit of work in financial services, technology, and automotive.

The key for us at GfK is bringing a very distinct and specific perspective. That is, we have consultants that are steeped in each of those categories. We organize our teams into nimble and responsive client groups that allow for those sector specialists to pull in people that work on certain types of issues. If you as a marketer have a brand issue or an equity issue in automotive, I, as an automotive specialist, understand your business and your competitive set. I can also pull in a brand and communications person to be part of the team on this particular issue who have lived it.

We focus on those core groups or sectors, but what we do is deliver industry expertise that’s steeped in specific knowledge in certain, key areas ‑‑ brand and communications, customer loyalty and experience and in innovation.

Do you consider GfK a global company?

We are definitely a global company, and we are reaffirming that we span the globe [with this acquisition]. We are clearly in each of the major regions – APAC, Latin America, Europe (eastern, northern, and central), and in North America. We will continue to focus on a global footprint largely because many of our large and long‑term clients expect it. Our emphasis is not in any one particular region, but ensuring that we’ve got a strong network throughout the globe.

What happens to the Knowledge Networks team with this acquisition?

We are integrating. The acquisition is very synergistic. As I mentioned earlier, it provides us with new assets that we haven’t had. It provides us with a complementary client roster. Again, to deliver on the notion of improved client value, it means that we’re going to need to integrate those teams quickly and efficiently. We’re focused on getting the Knowledge Network teams integrated into our North American organization absolutely.

In terms of success metrics for this acquisition, a year from now, anything pop to mind?

Our ability to deliver the quality of the knowledge panel: the focus on Hispanic segments and on healthcare. When I look back at the integration that’s going on right now and look to the end of the year and into 2013, what success is going to look like for us is that we’ve delivered specific value to our clients. What I expect to see is those kinds of integrated tools where we leverage our new Dimestore tools with our existing digital tools to deliver integrated solutions and new perspectives to our clients.

By John Ebbert

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