IBM’s newly-badged digital agency Interactive Experiences - ranked the third biggest globally by Gartner - is poised to shake up the digital advertising landscape having unleashed an aggressive growth drive.
The agency, known as IBM Interactive until recently, is pouring $100m into expanding its data, digital and design consulting practice - a move boss Matt Candy believes it must make if it’s to keep in step with clients’ increasingly sophisticated digital and data demands.
“Interactive Experiences is the formal fusion of strategy, data and design, which we believe is a differentiator in the market. We have done it because we see it as what clients want and need.
“This notion of business strategy and how you are going to engage with your customers and the type of experiences you want to create, to the use of data, and how you infuse insights into those experiences.
“Then most importantly the design of those front-end experiences – being almost one of the de facto elements of delivering value.
“So we are fusing those things together – that’s where we feel the market is going,” he said.
Candy admits this is likely to widen its previous competitor set, adding that it is coming up increasingly against the likes of SapientNitro and Razorfish in pitches more than it ever has before, and “in some cases winning against them”.
Agencies have until now been champions of building “beautiful” experiences for clients, which has increasingly involved trying to build in that digital, data-driven capability. “But that’s no longer good enough – it needs to be fused into the back-end systems – that’s what clients want and need, and that’s putting pressure on them, “ he added.
He cited examples of heavy-duty digital experiences that IBM Interactive created for clients including Wimbledon, which it has retained as a partner for 25 years. Last year it created an iPad experience designed to offer the 800 million viewers who follow the tournament but can’t attend, with a virtual experience of the stadium, matches, and players.
“With something like that you’re doing something that goes from no volume to huge volume in a very short space of time. On the iPad we delivered real-time, virtual walk-through, so you could hold it up and walk the corridors of Wimbledon, and take the route players take out to court.
“We had videos with 80,000 high definition images in there and analysed about eight years’ worth of grand slam tennis data, 41 million playing points – to build massively individual pictures of players like Roger Federer and Andy Murray. That included every game they have ever played against other players – how that game has progressed when they have served three backhands against that specific player for example – then surface that back in real time during the game in this second screen experience – to allow fans to immerse themselves even further.”
A project like that must be “absolutely bullet proof”, according to Candy, and that is where IBM can truly excel – at building digital experiences at scale for brands.
It is not just the data that can be pulled in to create experiences, such as the Wimbeldon one, but also the data that can be gleaned from how people then choose to interact with them and makes opportunities for brands even more compelling, according to Candy.
For Jaguar Landrover, it created a virtual car showroom so that dealers could show visitors a wider range of cars that weren’t physically in the showroom.
“This meant people could configure their car online or on mobile, and then when they walk into the dealership there is a big sheet in front of them and their car drives in – rendered in real time 3D. You can then interact with the car like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. You can pop the hood and take a look at the engine, and play with the sat nav – it brings to life experience and integrates physical and digital.
“But what you can then do with the data from that is where that begins to get really interesting – the interaction data. You can see where they are spending their time, and what they are interacting with, to get a more individual picture of that is uniquely interesting to that person.
“Then you can meld that data together with the data you already have to deliver a more tailored content experience when they next go to the website or you send marketing communications,” he added.
However, he recognises that company must work hard to promote the creative side of its business to ensure it can compete with agencies in the creative landscape.
“Our challenge will be to shift clients’ perception of us.
It also has grand plans for drawing on the capabilities of its artificial intelligence engine Watson, which has had its own division since January, into Interactive Experiences' output. The New York Interactive Experience lab which has just launched as part of its $100m investment plans, will be situated on the same site as the Watson division.
Candy described the launch of the Watson division as "one of the three most significant things we have done in our 103-year history".
He added: "We in the consulting business and as part of Interactive Experiences will be picking up a focus on then helping clients around the transformation that would come from implementing Watson-type capabilities.
"From a data point of view the insight and analytics that will come around it – being able to feed that platform and technology with the different data sources and creating some of the experiences and experience-design pieces around how they surface that Watson capability within the organisation."
Earlier this year IBM CEO Ginny Rometty challenged developers to create apps for the Watson platform, promising for the best to receive significant investment from IBM to help them build a sustainable commercial framework around their inventions.