This post is co-authored byShar VanBoskirk, VP and principal analyst at Forrester
On Monday, holding company Dentsu Aegis announced that it acquired a majority stake in Merkle, which is known for its CRM, data, and digital marketing capabilities. Logistically, this acquisition allows Merkle to increase its international presence, while beefing up Dentsu’s US coverage and allowing it to diversify outside of Japan. This acquisition is also important because Merkle was one of the last large independent agencies, which leaves slim pickings for marketers hoping to work with an agency not subject to holding-company rule (read: less autonomy, less entrepreneurial).
Dentsu Aegis is not unique in its acquisition of a data/CRM agency. All of the other holding companies have them too (WPP has Wunderman, Publicis has Rosetta [now Razorfish Global], IPG has The Hacker Agency, Omnicom has Rapp and Targetbase). This is because “customer relationship management” has broadened beyond direct mail and email marketing to include loyalty initiatives, ownership experiences, data strategy/modeling and technology integration — critical data and insights solutions for holding companies to provide to their clients.
With reported 2015 revenue at $436 million, Merkle will be Dentsu’s fourth-largest agency, behind Dentsu (the agency), Carat, and Isobar. With this move, we think that Dentsu’s should make CRM and data-driven marketing the centerpiece of its agency strategy — not just an additional services offering.
When we set out to evaluate the new breed of firm that we call "customer engagement agencies," we sent our initial screener to an incredibly long list of firms -- over sixty, in fact! -- ranging from MSPs to digital agencies to management consultancies. We felt that we needed to cast a wide net if we wanted to understand the range of approaches vendors take to customer engagement: how they use data and analytics, the channels they enable with customer intelligence, and how they service their most strategically engaged clients. As the responses rolled in, a hypothesis began to take shape in my mind: The emerging customer engagement agency model hails from two mature markets -- digital/direct agencies and database MSPs -- and, depending on provenance, these evolving agencies take one of two primary approaches to customer engagement.
Turns out, I was on the right track, though the reality is not quite so black and white.
In our final evaluation of 13 vendors in The Forrester Wave: Customer Engagement Agencies, Q4 2012, we did find different strengths and weaknesses depending on legacy business model, but ultimately EVERY firm still has a long road ahead of evolving its people and processes to support CEA clients. We also found, though, that each CEA we evaluated is working hard to connect the dots between strategy, analytics and execution in order to optimize customer experience and profitability. And that can only be a good thing for the marketers and CI leaders who are visionary enough to hire them.
We've spent a lot of time in the past year looking at how the customer intelligence services landscape is changing. For one thing, it's a heck of a lot more chaotic: everyone from management consultants to systems integrators to KPO vendors is putting a stake in the ground of CI services. We've also seen a dramatic shift in the way some digital & direct agencies and database MSPs are thinking about their most strategic client relationships. This change has been so noticeable that, a few months ago, we actually published research that defines a new business model: The Customer Engagement Agency (CEA).
It's no surprise that clients and vendors alike are excited about this model. These agencies help elevate customer intelligence within the client organization. They bring attention and focus to the importance of customer knowledge, and they work hard at infusing that knowledge throughout every customer touchpoint. They measure customer value, not just marketing campaigns. And they help clients use CI to answer questions about everything from product development to logistics and resource management.
But, this is an emerging market — the players are evolving from very different backgrounds; they offer substantially different "value-added" capabilities; and many of them have proprietary methods and models that make it hard to compare apples to apples.
That's why we've just kicked off a Customer Engagement Agency WaveTM that will publish in the fall. If you're intrigued with the idea of working with a CEA, I encourage you to: