WPP BUY INTENSIFIES FOCUS ON CONSUMER: KANTAR ACQUIRES CENTER PARTNERS IN MOVE TO HELP MARKETER EFFORTS AFTER THE SALE

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The kantar group last week announced its acquisition of Center Partners, a 2-year-old call center company, to complete the circle of customer relationship management services offered by WPP Group to a variety of clients.

London-based Kantar is the information and consulting division of WPP, and Center Partners will be merged with the Winona Group, a Kantar company in Phoenix, though Center will retain its name and its Fort Collins, Colo., base of operations.

Center Partners CEO Richard Keith will report to Winona CEO Simon Chadwick. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but Mr. Chadwick did say that the final amount payable to Center Partners in this cash transaction will depend on the future performance of the company.

BOOSTING CUSTOMER RELATIONS

Winona Group's data mining and research expertise is expected to dovetail well with Center Partners' post-sale customer-care services to offer full customer relationship management support to clients.

"The convergence of marketing research, data mining and customer care is one of the greatest opportunities of this coming decade in marketing," Mr. Chadwick said. "With this acquisition of Center Partners, we'll be looking at talking to all the WPP companies to enhance what they do."

Mr. Chadwick cited a mantra heard frequently in marketing circles that customer retention is at the center of growth for marketers and the only way to get there is to have two-way communication with customers.

"The key to successful growth is to retain customers as well to acquire them," he said, adding, "It's really about extending the lifetime value of the customer, and to do that, you've got to build the relationship."

'DIALOGUE' IS CRUCIAL

Product differentiation is no longer enough, Mr. Chadwick said, and if it even exists, it's a short-term advantage to marketers.

"The ability to have a dialogue is as important as putting a message out," he contended.

The Winona Group's clients include Burger King Corp., Pillsbury Co. and Shell Oil Co.; Center Partners has clients in the high-technology, financial services and telecommunications industries, including Hewlett-Packard Co.

Winona Group gains insight into customers through database mining. That process is then enriched through quantitative research either by phone, Internet or in-person questionnaires.

"The third piece is the dialogue piece that enhances the relationship," Mr. Chadwick said.

That third piece is Center Partners' business. "It adds a back end that continues to advance a firm's equity," said Mr. Keith at Center Partners. "What happens post-sale affects whether the customer buys that product in the future. Our role is to ensure customers for life."

The Winona Group also provides back-end analysis by tracking and measuring

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