Acceleration on Catching Digital Marketing’s Third Wave

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adsdaq_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE – Acceleration offers customized solutions for almost every aspect of the digital advertising world. Essentially, it aims to help its clients get the most from their online marketing technology investments. ADOTAS sat down with Acceleration’s CEO, Jacques van Niekerk, to find out more about how the company has stayed strong for almost a decade and how its approach to empowering customers and meeting their needs has changed over time.

ADOTAS: Acceleration seems to be involved in almost every aspect of the interactive ad business (from email marketing to analytics to ad operations to paid search). Can you briefly describe exactly what Acceleration does for whom?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: In a world of niche providers, Acceleration offers digital marketing consultation, outsourced services and technology: end-to-end, custom solutions designed to meet complex industry needs.
Most interactive marketers have to grapple with managing and integrating varying marketing technologies and multiple agencies. Typically, a marketer may have a Web analytics tool, a search agency, email service provider, ad serving data from their media agency, affiliates, and on top of this – other non-digital channels to consider. We’ve also found that they’d prefer to stick with specialist agencies and best of breed technologies, rather than compromise with mediocre enterprise level solutions.
This is where we come in, as we don’t provide communications and media strategy — nor do we offer creative services, Web design and development work. Hence it’s easier for us to work with marketers and agencies on how best to leverage the technology tools and provide the services that drive and mould it all together. We function as a central services hub stitching it all together. From technology and data integration to outsourced ad ops, email campaign deployment and bid management to custom training and consultation.

ADOTAS: Can you briefly describe Acceleration’s philosophy?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: Acceleration is able to guide our customers through the complexities of digital marketing techniques and tools to get people, process and technology working in harmony. We are obsessed by the quality of our people and their service delivery based on each customer’s unique needs. It’s an obvious philosophy, but one neglected by a nascent industry fixated with the latest technology tools, applications or emerging channels. For us it’s not just about the latest and hottest ideas, but being able to execute well on the digital marketing basics. This is the bedrock from which to optimize and expand digital marketing initiatives.

ADOTAS: Acceleration has been in the international digital market for about nine years – a long time in this business. How has your approach to the industry changed as more and more countries are harnessing the technology of the Internet?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: One thing that is universal at the moment is a significant lack of not just skilled, but experienced people, to drive forward the power of digital marketing technologies and techniques. So we have evolved in sync, shifting to a focus where we try to empower and enable our customers and technology partners to unlock the full potential of this industry. We listen and consult more, than talk, sell and take orders.

ADOTAS: You’ve described Acceleration as the “meat and potatoes” not the “champagne and caviar” sector of the industry. How has that helped/hurt you through various boom-and-bust economic cycles?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: We’ve always focused on creating value for our customers and technology partners alike. It saw us through the previous boom-and-bust cycle and we are hopeful that the trend continues. What I would add is that in a recessionary market people tend to focus more on the quality and cost of service delivery and their total cost of technology ownership. These things play into our advantage.

ADOTAS: Acceleration grew during the last down time – do you expect to grow during this current down time?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: The market was very tough on anything to do with the Internet after 2000, so most of today’s digital companies are built on really solid foundations. Their balance sheets are stronger and customer relationships more entrenched. The current economic downturn will cause companies to spend more on their most efficient channels. We therefore think that digital marketing will grow their relative share of overall marketing spend.

ADOTAS: You’ve spoken about the digital marketing revolution, the first wave being the dotcom boom in the late 90’s, the second wave being the widespread consolidation in the industry, and the third wave of technological innovation, which we’re in now. How would you characterize the third wave and how can digital advertisers capitalize on it?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: Innovation in thing such as rich media, ad exchanges, and social media, all the new advanced reporting and measurement metrics is like a treasure chest for anyone in this industry. I know there are many smart people and companies trying to figure out how to consolidate and integrate many of these innovations in new and meaningful ways for marketers. Ultimately once the technology innovations of the past few years becomes more consolidated and commoditized as a consequence, it will all boil down to execution.

ADOTAS: Why isn’t the available data on ROI accurate and how should companies be measuring performance?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: It’s often a case of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. Different channels, teams and technologies are counting, or attributing, in different ways. This often leads to duplicate conversion data that rarely matches up to e-commerce or financial engine numbers. Measuring performance more accurately starts by designing a clear and transparent media measurement framework upfront, that takes the aforementioned dynamics into consideration.

ADOTAS: How does Acceleration think agencies should approach ad servers?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: We see our smarter agency clients really deep-diving into the full potential of ad serving technology and investing enough into training their internal teams or outsourcing parts that they see as non-core to them. The more experienced and progressive among them are using conditional filtering systems (like DoubleClick’s floodlight tags) to de-duplicate conversions and are embracing engagement to conversion metrics. These tools are very powerful, yet so under-leveraged by most.

ADOTAS: What about ad networks? There’s a lot of controversy in the industry right now regarding their effectiveness – do you think there’s a place for them in the industry, and if so, in what form?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: While many things about ad networks and ad exchanges are unclear, one thing is abundantly clear: our views on the value of them both and whether they are likely to succeed are entirely dependent on the line of business they are used for.

An ad network is a well established and proven one-to-many marketplace. While ad exchanges, on the other hand, deliver a one-to-one marketplace that optimally matches publishers’ available inventory and advertisers’ digital campaign objectives, maximizing the return on every impression. It’s all about creating an efficient, easy marketplace for all participants.

In my view, ad exchanges provide enormous opportunities, but only for those who are prepared to evolve their business models and work to add value in an exchange world. Whilst at the same time the exchanges are still rather fragmented and liquidity levels still need to be proven. Those who choose to ignore them though do so at their peril.

ADOTAS: Can you list some of your clients?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: Acceleration has enjoyed a decade of sustained growth and now has more than 300 clients worldwide. Marketer customers include companies such as AIG, Zazzle, Alamo, Christie’s and Fidelity. Publisher customers include BBC America, Kaboose, Kijiji, 24.com and Johnston Press. Agency customers include 22Squared, Media Experts, VML, Engauge Digital and Hoffman Lewis.

ADOTAS: For having such an established client-base and presence in the industry for so long, (and in an industry that churns out press releases at the drop of a hat), Acceleration keeps a remarkable low public profile. Has this been a strategic decision, and if so, why?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: We’re purposefully not ‘press release’ led, as it’s our belief that thought-leadership activities and our customer’s successes are a far better proof point. Yes, we’ve kept a relatively low profile as we would rather share our expertise by commenting on industry trends, developments or challenges – than send out stories that have no real value. We’d rather help build substance in our industry than add to the clutter.

ADOTAS: You’ve said that RSS is last year’s news and that mobile is this year’s news in the ad industry. What do you think your clients will be clamoring for next year?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: A number of things are starting to come together that are exciting. For me, behavioral marketing had all the hype with marginal success to date, but with advances in Web analytics and the emergence of ad exchanges we’ll have the intelligence, hopefully the volumes and reach required or meaningful re-marketing. The mobile Web, if more open standards are adopted, is the next frontier if only we can sort out tracking and reporting…

ADOTAS: Where do you see Acceleration going this year?

JACQUES VAN NIEKERK: Really just more of what we’re already doing: a larger footprint and a larger team of highly experienced online marketing technologists solving increasingly complex problems and adding more value to our clients’ businesses and partner initiatives. We love this industry and our independent position within it.

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