Agencies, Marketing-Tech Companies on Quest for Personalized Content

Conversation During CES Led to Salesforce's First Co-Investment With an Agency Group

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Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com, speaks during the 2015 Fortune Global Forum in November 2015.
Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com, speaks during the 2015 Fortune Global Forum in November 2015. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

In January of 2015, MDC Partners and Salesforce execs including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff decided to take a break from the usual dog-and-pony show at CES to discuss a mutual opportunity -- getting agencies to create more personalized content using marketing technology.

But they were missing the software that would make it possible, much less easy, for creative agencies to use Salesforce's technology to do it. So together they looked at over a dozen firms, and a year later landed on a joint, seven-figure, minority investment in Pierry. It would be the first time that Salesforce would co-invest with an agency group.

Still, it wouldn't be the only new partnership between a marketing technology firm and an agency group as brands express interest in technology that will help them create more effective campaigns targeting individuals.

"At CES in January, our executive team sat down with Benioff and other Salesforce execs to discuss ways in which we could work together to bring better targeting, data and content to digital media," said Michael Bassik, president of digital global operations for agency holding company MDC Partners. "We were hearing from our clients that personalization [of content] was the most important trend and benefit of digital marketing. What we kept looking for was an agency who really could bridge the tech and creativity gap."

Pierry did just that. Its software, working on top of Salesforce software, would help agencies interpret data to create, manage and distribute more personalized content such as emails or mobile ads.

Large consulting firms -- not agencies -- are doing the best job of leveraging marketing technology because they've been using technology solutions for shipping and sales logistics, versus personalization of marketing experiences and content, said Mr. Bassik. "What Salesforce identified, and what was obvious to everyone, was that creative agencies were the best at producing content, but hadn't focused on implementing technology solutions."

The insight rang true for one particular MDC agency. The shop's client had asked a marketing tech company to build a global content management system that would replace separate CMS platforms across its products and regions. Then the client hired a separate consultancy to do the system integration, and once it was implemented asked the creative agency to learn how to operate the new system. In this scenario, Pierry could do the system integration and also help the agency use the new system.

"When you control content, you get better insights into what's working," Mr. Bassik said.

On the flip side, consultancies like Deloitte, Accenture and IBM that specialize in system integration have also dipped their toes in agency services, largely through acquisition.

IBM, which is perhaps the most recent tech giant to enter the space, last week announced the acquisition of digital creative shop Resource/Ammirati. "The CMO and CIO increasingly have to partner to tackle shared objectives," said Kelly Mooney, CEO of Resource/Ammirati at the time. "We needed more powerful data and analytics services to drive transformative experiences. We think that with our capabilities, combined with and powered by Watson, we'll do some breakthrough experiences."

"I don't think CMOs or CIOs make decisions independently," said Mark Read, CEO of WPP's CRM and digital agency Wunderman. "Wunderman has to be an expert at helping clients select technology. We're seeing more of these types of deals."

Wunderman last week announced a formal partnership with independent firm Marketo. The marketing automation company, which can track a customer's actions from the time they get an e-mail promotion to the online point of sale, for example, is meant to help Wunderman build richer profiles of what clients' customers are doing, so it can send more customized and targeted messages, said Mr. Read. Wunderman's role is to facilitate a direct relationship between the client and Marketo, while plugging in its own customer contact data.

This partnership was driven by demand from Wunderman clients, who want more "personalized individualized communications," said Mr. Read. Two out of the shop's top ten clients are currently working with Marketo. For one of those clients, Wunderman will use Marketo to replace "excel spreadsheets and disparate systems," and more effectively use data across the company, he said. For the other client, which currently uses the platform only on piecemeal basis, the shop is deploying Marketo globally. "It means they get greater efficiency, better creative and more visibility across campaigns," he said.

For Wunderman, the formal partnership is also part of a broader effort to work with fewer marketing technology companies in bigger ways in an effort to learn more about the technology, he said. Another company with which the firm is working closely, through a larger WPP relationship, is Adobe.

"If we know it better, we can do it at scale, and work on joint client opportunities both with their clients and our clients while integrating our data tightly into their system to make the programs work more effectively," said Mr. Read.

Marketing automation company Sysomos is also revamping its own suite of products to win business from agencies and brands hungry for simplified technology.

The company bought social analytics firm Expion late last year and more recently launched Set, an offering that combines many of its products, including those that identify brand conversations and influencers, monitor and analyze those conversations and optimize content based on new intelligence. Previously, clients looking to do all of those things needed to run queries through four separate products that didn't talk to each other.

The goal is to lower that "time-to-action" it takes to use insights and do the work, plus "integration across a full set, both to win business from the agency and brand," explained Mark Young, CMO of Sysomos.