Agencies? Consultancies? They Want to Do It All

The first part of a two-part article.

Is it a management consultancy? Is it an agency? A systems integrator? A data shop?

If we’re talking about a Merkle, an Accenture Interactive, or a Deloitte, the answer is all the above and more. The big beasts of the consultancy/agency jungle are looking to partner with brands from consideration of tech stack purchases right through to delivering the right message to the customer. I took the chance of speaking with a number of players in the space at the 2018 Adobe Summit.

Simplifying the Stack: Isobar

Isobar still describes itself as an agency, but it’s one with a global footprint, and a deep reserve of technological resources. Vikalp Tandon, SVP and global head of data and technology, has been with the company for about a year; he was previously head of strategy at Sapient Razorfish, an agency which, he said, had worked with Adobe “from the very beginning.” That gives him a deep understanding of Adobe’s Experience Cloud offerings, although the enterprises Isobar typically serves often come with a multi-faceted legacy of software: Adobe, Oracle, IBM — “It take a lot of conversation to simplify the stack,” he said.

The task, Tandon said, is often to “manage the eco-system challenges of multiple Adobe products, and third party products.” What’s more, this needs to be done in service of multiple marketing channels (up to and include mixed reality, where Isobar has developed a strong proffer). “We are global strategic partner with Adobe,” he explained. “We have multiple specializations in Adobe, some of them exclusive to us.” But what Tandon repeatedly emphasized was Isobar’s ability to fill in the gaps.

“Adobe is not end-to-end right now.  They don’t have a commerce system as such, they don’t have a CRM, and on top of that, they don’t have a CDP. The way we are approaching this topic is to try to standardize [for clients] as much as possible  If you have an Adobe stack, we can tell you how you should solve for the gaps. We bring Lytics as CDP; we bring Microsoft Dynamics or Salesforce as CRM; we bring SAP Hybris or Magento as commerce solutions, and complete the story.”

In particular, he explained, Adobe was never designed to be “transactional.” Tandon was drawing a contrast between a CMS, which cashes content ready for fast deployment, and retail, say, or insurance or healthcare, where transaction details can’t be cached in advance, but the consumer still expects a fast, seamless experience. “We enable Adobe products to deliver on those transactional needs,” he said. He cites work with Dulux Paints in Asia, where “a very immersive, engaging platform is combined with Hybris to manage the commerce aspect.”

Data, of course, is central to Isobar’s approach. “One objective,” Tandon said, “is to make sure that every touchpoint — whether it’s commerce, mobile push, or paid media — is very consistent.” Isobar is part of the Dentsu Aegis Network along with Merkle, and thus has access to Merkle’s DataSource, containing records on around 300 million customers, with as many as 7,000 attributes for any given consumer. “That asset powers media, marketing and commerce now for us. We are driving a lot of outcomes from the media side, for example, and connecting that to the transactional and brand marketing eco-system.”

Externally sourced data blends with client data, of course. “It always has to be a mix. The client’s first party data can have significant gaps. [Merkle] can bring data-points to describe the customer better. We overlay the first-party data” –transactions and loyalty, for example — “with demographics and psychographics.”

Should we pity the CMO? Not only does she need a marketing hub and data partners; she might need a separate Commerce layer too; and now she needs an Isobar to stitch it all together. Tandon demurred: he sees Isobar as the connecting thread. “That’s where we come in. We want to be that person to do it all for them. That’s better than five people that don’t talk to each other.” 

Where business and customer intersect: Deloitte Digital

By coincidence, Ryan Alderman, a principal at Deloitte Digital, comes from an even longer career with Sapient Razorfish than Tandon, and so share the deep grounding in Adobe applications. His emphasis, however, was less on filling gaps in the technology stack, and more on the need to “re-wire the organization,” as he put it.

Alderman compared digital transformation to the proverbial iceberg. You can see the shiny part above the surface of the water, but there’s a lot more going on down below. It’s not just about helping clients select technology: “They need to deploy it, manage it long-term, and manage the change around it.” For Alderman, true digital transformation requires a change in mind-set, from “inside-out” (where initiatives start with the business’s own capabilities and objectives) to “outside-in” (which starts with what customers want and need). “Marketing technology is a big part of this, but not the only part.” Alderman believes that Adobe gets this: “There’s shared DNA in how we think about the problem.”

In particular, he believes that — through both acquisitions and internal focus — Adobe has “doubled down on the CMO. It’s stronger than most competitors on the sorts of things the CMO cares about. For example — yes, data. “Data is a big part of what’s powering the Experience Cloud,” he said, “but data goes much deeper than what Adobe can control. There are a host of things which have to happen if there’s to be value in the data chain.” Data needs to be processed, clean, de-duplicated, and a semantic layer has to be added. “It’s a big part of what Deloitte does,” he said. As for clients, they don’t need to panic about getting to grips with all their data from day one: “Should it be a four year program? No. But you can bite off a little chunk at a time.”

I suggested that it was possible to place too much reliance on CRM data, and Alderman agreed. “There’s not a salesperson in the world who loves their CRM,” he said. Basic records might be maintained, but when it comes to inputting rich data — about conversations with prospects, for example — “there’s a massive drop-off.” But that’s the kind of data which is key to a successful personalization program.

Doesn’t personalization work better in B2C, where there’s more data and less reliance on CRM? Not necessarily. Big B2C data-sets aren’t always robust, and there’s “a lot of noise in the system.” Whereas, for B2B, “there are real, tangible use cases.” Data can help you manage the longer sales cycle, and even in B2B, “you’re still trying to influence a person.”

And the role of AI? “Overkill in the short-term, underkill in the long-term,” Alderman said. “It’s getting a lot of air-time, but people are still looking for the best use cases and applications.” Deloitte Digital, he said, “can help clients understand the use cases, at the intersection of the business and the customer.”

To be continued.

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