Advertising agencies could be forgiven for thinking that Accenture Interactive is out to steal their lunch. In fact, when the operation was described as “the world’s biggest digital agency” at this year’s Cannes Lions gathering, they may have worried that it would come back to swipe their dinner, too.
The truth, as with all such situations, is a little more nuanced. Yes, Accenture Interactive has more than 12,000 very sharp people embedded at the major Accenture offices around the world. But, as its digital marketing European lead Christine Removille explains, it behaves differently from practically every other agency you know.
“It was Advertising Age, in its annual agency report, which described us as the largest and fastest-growing digital agency network in the world,” she clarifies. http://go.shr.lc/1UtBUv9.
She says the agency sprang about a decade ago out of an Accenture entity called New Business, whose purpose was to invest in growth areas. “We realized that analytics and science were becoming increasingly important to marketers. This led to a new unit named Accenture Marketing Science.”
The unit was underpinned by a clutch of acquisitions, including – to cite just a few – Edge, a marketing ROI company; Media Audit, which helps advertisers select media buying and planning agencies; and much later Neo Metrics Analytics, a Madrid-based expert in data analysis and customer insights. In other words, a whole raft of cutting-edge disciplines.
Christine makes it sound like a fun ride, building a new operation inside a strategy and consulting titan. “During the Accenture Marketing Sciences period they thought we were cowboys,” she smiles.
Christine herself came from an agency background, with stints as an account director at Leo Burnett (in the States and Germany) and Carat International in France (where she handled global media strategy for Danone, among others), before joining Accenture. She adds: “I realised that the future was not in agencies if you wanted to do marketing. At the time I felt there were too many silos, with a strong culture of competition among subsidiaries, limited global approach and a lack of robust processes for rapid deployments on a global scale.”
When “digital” became both a battleground and a buzzword, Accenture Marketing Sciences changed its name to the hotter-sounding Accenture Interactive. “At that point we strengthened our acquisition strategy around digital,” Christine says. In other words, Accenture bought a lot of digital agencies: among them Chaotic Moon, a creative technology studio in the United States, and Fjord, a leading design and innovation firm, which now sit together in Accenture’s “design and innovation unit”.
THE CONSUMER JOURNEY
“To be clear, Accenture Interactive’s objective is not to become the world’s best creative agency,” Christine emphasises. “Our intent is to position ourselves at the core of the digital transformation with a full suite of services, including the design space, so that we understand the consumer journey. Fjord is helping us build the new generation of consumer journeys for our clients.”
Fine – but what does that mean, exactly?
“Let’s say you go to a bank on a Monday morning. It’s shut. You go to their website. It’s a mess. You phone their call centre…and so on. The whole process is unsatisfying. So we take a look at it with Fjord, for example, working with insights from the end consumer, and see how we can change the consumer journey so that the experience is positive and the consumer’s relationship with the brand is strengthened. We design it with Fjord, we sell it to the CEO – and then we make it happen.”
This could have an impact on everything from websites and mobile interactions to the call centre itself. Maybe this film explains it better.
One example is the work Accenture Interactive has done with Spanish hotel group Mélia since 2014. In June this year Mélia was named “Best Digital Transformation Enterprise” at the Digital European Mindset Awards. The transformation embraced trip research, booking, the vacation itself, and “the post-trip experience”. Components include “customer identification, product recommendation and personalisation, conversion and loyalty”.
This is the kind of area where Accenture excels. In the advertising field, it overlaps with conventional agencies in that it can manage campaigns across multiple digital platforms and numerous markets, adapting the creative work to each one. But this is a single element – a drop in its ocean of technology-driven services.
“Our strategy is to sell end-to-end service: for example for Fiat, we manage their digital marketing operations globally. We’re creating digital campaigns, implementing their data management platform and running their campaign management tools.”
Creatives need not rush to Accenture Interactive with their CVs, then? “We require three stills: understanding marketing, understanding analytics and understanding technology. In our team we have statisticians, we have big data people, we have technologists, we have CRM expertise – and we can pull all that together in one integrated way.”
Nor is Accenture trying to poach agency clients – in fact it tends to work with clients of its parent company. “With Fiat, for example, we’d been doing all their back office, so we knew the CEO, we knew the CFO. That’s how we’ve expanded.”
But wouldn’t the Interactive agency like to move beyond Accenture’s client list? Christine suggests that there’s no need. “We’re already working for 70 of the Fortune Global 100 Companies,” she says, with an admirable lack of smugness.
PAYMENT BY RESULTS
Accenture Interactive has the coveted place at the boardroom table that many advertising agencies aspire to. In part, that’s because it only sends its clients a bill when it has proven results to show them.
“On Fiat we get paid according to the sales leads we send to car dealers. On Mélia we get paid according to the number of hotel rooms that get booked online,” says Christine.
She adds that Accenture is structured financially to do “value-based deals”. In other words, you don’t get paid from day one. You get paid in a year’s time, when you’ve moved the needle on sales. “That’s the way Accenture has operated for years – in other areas such as supply chain or procurement for instance – so we’ve followed suit. And in terms of marketing, we have the tools to measure business impact. Clients like that, because in an uncertain environment it’s very hard to sell a four-year multimillion dollar project without a very clear commitment to results.”
Despite Christine’s understanding of how technology can benefit clients, she asserts that human beings are “coming back to the centre” of the digital experience. That’s because data enables companies to implement the services customers actually want.
“You may buy my product, but that’s not the most important thing – the most important thing is, were you happy with the experience? I think the people who will be successful in digital tomorrow are not necessarily the techies,” she muses. “They will be the people who understand the human beings at the centre of the ecosystem.”
How Accenture Interactive fits into the ecosystem is now a little clearer. So should Publicis Groupe, WPP and company see it as a threat?
“They already see us as a threat. They come to us saying: ‘I just saw that you guys do search engine optimisation for Fiat, is that right?’ They see that we’ve started taking on some of their responsibilities. But once again, I won’t do just SEO for Fiat. What we do is end-to-end digital marketing delivery.”
In a way, conventional agencies are catching up to a world Christine envisioned long ago. “Eighteen years ago, I knew that technology would be core to the future success of marketing, although not quite how at the time.”
Now she has a much better idea. And agencies are keeping a watchful eye on their lunch.
By philippe Paget, editorial director, AdForum