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Gearing up for acquisition spree, Brainlabs buys SEO agency Distilled

Brainlabs chief Daniel Gilbert

Digital marketing firm Brainlabs is laying the groundwork to build a global integrated agency.

Last Friday (31 January), it closed on a deal to acquire SEO agency Distilled. Brainlabs chief executive officer Daniel Gilbert said the company is eyeing another 10-15 acquisitions over the next two or three years.

The goal is to integrate Distilled and any companies that may follow to create teams of multi-skilled marketers built around a client’s needs, not to build a typical holding company structure where work is split among agencies.

“Our engine is to have data, creative, tech and channel testing all within specific client teams and to interact with each other,” Gilbert told The Drum.

Brainlabs is on the hunt for more capabilities during a challenging time for digital marketing. The phaseout of third-party cookies and regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA, have forced marketers to rethink how they use consumer data.

Gilbert said regulation is forcing marketers to use higher quality data, and that third-party cookies were already a “substandard way of measuring” given the complex purchase path.

“We‘ve seen far too much obfuscation around tech platforms as this infinitely complex myriad of possibilities,” said Gilbert.

The industry’s shift toward better data practices seems to be a boon for walled gardens such as Google, a company whose search platform and ubiquitous log-ins supply it with troves of first-party data.

Gilbert said SEO is just one channel of its overall mix, but it’s important to be able to manage the growing walled gardens, especially Google.

“It’s our job now to be able to navigate those walled gardens to operate as effective marketers across them…,” said Gilbert. “This completes our offering, to a certain extent, within one specific walled garden.”

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Will Critchlow, chief executive of Distilled, will stay on with Brainlabs as SEO partner. He will lead strategy for SEO as a new product line and manage SearchLove, Distilled's search-themed conference.

Founded in 2012, Brainlabs staffs around 250 employees. It now has offices in London, New York, Austin and Seattle, and it is focused on growing its US business.

Distilled will spin off its A/B testing product, SearchPilot, as an independently run company. Of Distilled's 40 employees, 12 will stay on at SearchPilot. The rest will move to Brainlabs.

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