Accenture Interactive Operations (AIO) believes the industry is at a “tremendous inflection point” as clients are arriving at its doorstep to seek proper robust marketing for their growth strategies, says its global president.
“Some of the conversations that we are having with c-suite marketing clients, quite frankly, I don't think we have had for many years, that is why we are definitely at an inflection point,” Nikki Mendonca tells The Drum at Accenture's headquarters in Singapore.
She says these conversations are happening because gone are the days where marketers could get away with some opaque metrics in the boardroom because now they have to prove that all of the money spent on behalf of their clients and the activity from their teams is actually paying dividends.
In addition, she notes marketers need to ensure there is an actual return of investment which is justified and properly articulated from a commercial perspective in the boardroom because they answer to the chief financial officers and chief product officers.
“I think that marketers are feeling the heat because they have got the message that it is all now about delivering connected customer experience, but they're quite challenged in terms of how they go from where they are now, to where they need to be because that delta is quite big. So we are helping clients almost whiteboard a new way of operating,” explains Mendonca.
“We very much talk about the fact that we have developed a new model at AIO, one that is data-driven, content powered, tech-enabled and platform agnostic.
She continues: “We build and literally architect new marketing and content operating models for clients by obliterating some of the legacy structures that they currently have and building new human and machine operating models so that they are actually getting the payback from some of the tech and data investments that they have made.”
Mendonca says a lot of clients are also coming to AIO where they say: "We understand that it's data-driven, tech-enabled and content powered, but we have bought some expensive marketing and ad technology, but we are not quite sure how to drive it."
That forms the starting point for AIO to help them, whether it’s on the Adobe platform or any other platforms. It also wants to help clients sweat their technology assets as much as possible, to deliver more of a dynamic hyper-personalized connected customer experience.
Some clients, on the other hand, have huge challenges trying to centralize their data, as they know that they have a pool of data within their system, but it is fragmented across the organisation.
That means AIO works to centralize that data so that one can better read the data and better get insights from the data that drives the activation strategies as it firmly believes that clients have to maximise their first-party data.
“We will say, 'we'll start here,' and then we can actually expand their first-party data sets with third-party data,” explains Mendonca.
“After that, we start to direct better segmentation, better content creation and customization and also drive better delivery, inclusive of CRM, programmatic, etc. We found that we've got quite a good engine to take to clients and it's really beginning to pay dividends.”
She adds: “The personalisation of the marketing performance engines that we are building, its definitely paying dividends.”
Having removed some of the legacy structures that companies have, it means upskilling is now a big challenge for AIO’s c-suite clients as they seek to train their existing talent with new skills to deliver dynamic hyper-personalized connected customer experience.
AIO solves this by implanting its own talent at a local level to sit with actual clients, allowing it to conduct on the job training and show them how to do analytics powered activation and drive the technology, among other things, so that they get their ROI.
Mendonca says the upskilling, which is part of its managed service offering and training agenda has been very rewarding and motivating for its clients because they want all of their teams to learn.
“I do think in terms of the skill sets that are required, it is hard and soft because you have to have now the hard skills of being data and tech literate. You cannot get away with not having a decent competency level there,” she explains.
“You also have to understand the power of content marketing, creating the right content for the right cohort group, to actually accelerate the cohort down the customer and through the customer journey, it is kind of art that's still a hard skill that lots of people don't have.”
“I would say content marketing is becoming very important. Within that, it is delivery. Some clients want to have programmatic skills on the payroll, some clients don't. I sometimes feel that outsourcing programmatic is much better for you, but some of these hard skills that I've mentioned, tech data, content marketing, actually quite critical.”
She adds: “One also needs to have a good sense and an understanding of multi-touchpoint attribution because you really have to know what is working where and how so that you can create a continuous performance loop.”
In terms of softer skills, Mendonca feels bravery is one of them because she says clients have to be brave to make some bold choices and decisions because the pivot from a legacy model is not easy as it is actually quite dramatic and significant.
That means clients have to be challenging, very honest and blunt about what is not working, why it is not working and stopping doing it. According to Mendonca, clients need to be bold to say: "We're not doing that anymore because it is not working. So we're going to redeploy money, energy, et cetera, over here and we're going to stop doing this."
“I also think that motivating and inspiring the teams to make the pivot is also important because if you don't do that with the teams that are on the payroll globally, then you're not going to get the pivot,” she adds.
“Now that we are actually interfacing with our c-suite clients, it's very interesting to see the sort of characters because those, not only do they have to have the hard and sort of basic soft skills that I have just mentioned, but they really have to have the power to inspire their whole teams, in line with the vision that they have actually created and the possibility of getting there.”
“Otherwise, they are not going to be able to make the pivot. So I do think that leadership in this space is just becoming more interesting.”
Looking ahead, Mendonca says as the marketing transformation questions that clients are posing to AIO are inextricably linked to business transformation, Accenture is better placed than traditional agencies to provide marketing for growth.
Pointing to her time at Omnicom, where she spent 15 years, she says clients were asking her to solve big business challenges that the agency did not necessarily have the assets, capabilities and talent to handle.
“Everything we talk about is about marketing for growth. That is what we are here to do. You don't really market for any other reason. It could be long-term growth, it can be short term, but you are absolutely marketing for growth,” explains Mendonca.
“Marketing for growth agenda starts to segue into sales and service because marketing, sales and service are almost like the Holy Trinity of being able to deliver growth for a company, especially as companies become more customer directed versus product-led, more than ever before.”
“The whole narrative is beginning to shift and is shifting in Accenture's favour because it is basically predicated on being data-driven, having the ability to enable the technology. Even in terms of technology, the marketing machinery is now circa 50% of the marketing operating models that are the winning models, that are built for a client, which had never been the case.”
In addition, she notes that as the speed of marketing has increased ten folds, companies need a different kind of operational skillset and know-how of artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities.
“Now with quantum computing beginning to show its face, you're talking about a heft of talent that almost requires a huge amount of investment and a huge amount of senior talent to sort of be able to throw at it,” she adds.
“I do think that consultancies like Accenture are just a better place to do that at the moment versus some other competitors within the marketing ecosystem. But let's see how things develop.”
Mendonca previously highlighted to The Drum about the importance of strengthening the AIO business in APAC under a strong centralised leadership following acquisitions in the region.