Accenture: brands are only just waking up to importance and ‘complexity’ of personalised content

Mike Sutcliff: Accenture's exhibition space at Mobile World Congress demonstrated content tech
Mike Sutcliff: Accenture’s exhibition space at Mobile World Congress demonstrated content tech

Mike Sutcliff, the group chief executive of Accenture Digital, the consulting giant’s digital arm, said he is seeing “insatiable” demand from brands that want a wide range of digital services to manage the whole customer experience.

“We really do believe there is an opportunity to create better experiences for clients,” Sutcliff said, explaining why Accenture thinks brands should treat marketing as just one part of an end-to-end experience, which includes design, content and commerce.

“We have insatiable client demand, not because they are asking us, ‘Can we design a better campaign?’ They’re saying, ‘Can you create better engagement, better interactions, better experiences with my customers?’

“And, by the way, the campaign is just one of the tools in the tool set to do that.”

Accenture Digital has positioned its subsidiary Accenture Interactive as the experience agency of record and bought more than a dozen agencies, including UK creative shop Karmarama and German content production business Mackevision, in the last 18 months.

“The reason you see us making [merger and acquisition] moves is that the more we move into that challenge [of managing the end-to-end customer experience], the more skills and capabilities we see that we need to build – so more muscle that we need to build inside the firm,” Sutcliff said.

“A lot of it comes from the agency world but we’re just going to use it differently… Our strategy is not to replicate the business models from the existing agency networks.” 

‘Content is the most misunderstood topic at many of our clients’

For example, Accenture is helping clients to bring more of their marketing services such as content creation in-house to improve the customer experience – and Accenture should benefit by advising the clients on an on-going basis.

“Our clients are the ones that need to create those experiences,” rather than external agencies, he said.

Sutcliff, who spoke to Campaign at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, went on: “Content is the most misunderstood topic at many of our clients.

“When we go to them and say, ‘Do you understand when you move from the traditional world of media into the digital world, the explosion of content that occurs?’, they go, ‘Yes, we get that.’

“And then we say, ‘OK, what do you do internally to produce it, manage it and distribute it to the point of need in real time?’ And they all say, ‘We don’t have an answer for that.’

“They’re just starting to understand the complexity of what I call personalised content.

“It doesn’t mean third parties can’t participate in the process,” Sutcliff added, referring to the role of external agencies.

“But it has to be architected [by brands] in a way that they can very rapidly get content to the person that needs it in a personalised interaction. And that’s hard to do if the entire thing is out-sourced.”

Traditional agencies face ‘a couple of choices’ about their future

Accenture used its exhibition space at MWC to demonstrate a range of content technology.

This included an augmented-reality store display, which allowed an Ikea shopper to browse and buy a wide range of items in a small retail space, and a virtual reality headset, which let a customer watch a fashion shoot and “look” to buy items that the models were wearing.

Sutcliff, who is based in the US and has headed Accenture Digital since 2013, believes traditional agencies “have a couple of choices” about their own future.

“There will always be room for a fairly narrow band of agencies that are just world-class at a particular thing,” he said.

“Media-buying might be an example. If you want to be the best media-buying agency in the world, there’s a place for that. If you want to be the most creative shop, there’s a place for that. I think there will be many agencies that find their place.

“The alternative is to try to play the game we’re playing, which is a broader game and requires some different skills.

“And if they want to play that game, they’re going to have to build muscles they don’t have today – the same way we’ve been building muscles we didn’t have.

“They’ll have to acquire and learn new skills at a very rapid rate.”

Sutcliff said traditional agencies will also “have to change who they are talking to” inside client organisations – beyond the chief marketing officer and chief executive.

“We’re talking to the people who are actually running the businesses and interacting with customers and that’s a different group of people,” he explained.

These potential buyers work in areas such as commerce and technology and have different needs and expectations from the chief marketing officer, so agencies are going to have to learn how to interact with them “in a completely different way”.

‘Digital and tech chiefs should be in lockstep with the CMO’

In a separate interview, Jamie Posnanski, global content practice lead at Accenture Interactive, who helped to acquire Mackevision in January, said consumers are driving demand for better digital content including AR and VR.

It has become so important to brands that there can sometimes be different departments within the same organisation – in marketing, IT and product design – that are all commissioning digital assets, according to Posnanski.

“Each of them have been creating different types of content and if they’re not being collaborative and working together, there’s a risk of something disjointed for customers,” he said, explaining how the chief digital officer and chief technology officer “need to be in lockstep with the chief marketing officer.

Posnanski added the chief experience officer is becoming a new role for brands because it can combine these different needs.

Critics, particularly in the traditional agency world, have questioned whether Accenture can “buy” culture and warned creativity could be under threat.

But Sutcliff said agency people who have joined Accenture have enjoyed the challenge of taking on bigger opportunities and found it “fun” and “intellectually interesting”.

“Generally the feedback we get is, ‘The problems are cooler problems or bigger problems,’” Sutcliff said. “They feel like they are learning a ton of new tools.

“I’ve asked, ‘Do you feel like you’ve lost the edge in terms of being a good marketer or designing better campaigns?’

“They say: ‘Actually quite the opposite, we think we’re becoming better at it because we’re taking a broader view.’”

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