The wild marketing technology alliance of Infosys and WPP

Samson David

I had an interesting call earlier this week with Samson David, the global head of business platforms for Infosys. Our chat came about because Infosys, in partnership with WPP and its Fabric subsidiary, is now promoting its own marketing technology platform for major brands, BrandEdge.

There are so many fascinating layers to this story, it’s hard to know where to begin.

First, the facts. BrandEdge is a software solution developed by Infosys that aims to unify the fragmented landscape of digital marketing within global enterprises — their leading case study is GlaxoSmithKline.

It is a marketing software platform, but it’s offered with closely knit technical integration and marketing services. That combination is incredibly unique when you think about that. I’ve written about the frenemy triangle between agencies, tech consultancies, and software vendors — but this may be the first time that all three points of the triangle are under one banner at this scale. (In comparison, say, IBM has been doing a great job of combining products and tech consultancy services, but the agency piece of the triangle is completely open-ended.)

The genesis of BrandEdge, according to Samson, started about 2 years ago, in a conversation Infosys was having with a CMO of a large, Fortune 500 company with 150 brands in 200+ countries, with multiple agencies, multiple campaigns, budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and “zillions” of digital assets. Now that digital has risen from “interesting side project” to “core business mission,” there were two executive questions:

  1. How do you manage all these campaigns together — even across different brands and different agencies — in an efficient manner to provide seamless and consistent consumer experiences?
  2. Once you have these campaigns running, how do you listen in to the broad spectrum of social feedback around to brands to make sense of it all and actively “build engagement” (and, by the way, what does “build engagement” mean)?

Infosys knew they had the technical smarts to build large-scale enterprise software — their reputation as a leading multi-billion IT services company was built on those capabilities — but they decided to partner with WPP to incorporate deep, rich marketing experience into the solution.

At its core, BrandEdge is a collection of interrelated software components:

  • digital asset management (DAM)
  • content management system
  • collaboration portal (reviews, approvals, workflow, knowledge management)
  • marketing operations dashboard

The dashboard component sounded particularly intriguing, as it allows the CMO to look at various indexes around the efficiency of putting campaigns together — how quickly did they come together, how much did they cost, how much were assets reused — to benchmark one agency against another, one campaign against another. (Are agencies ready to be measured against each other by efficiency to this degree? I foresee some, err, passionate debates around efficiency vs. effectiveness.)

When I asked Samson how off-the-shelf this solution was — in contrast to Infosys’s legacy of more custom-built applications — he indicated that BrandEdge is quite productized. There’s certainly lots of configuration options, and it sounds like certain pieces can be custom integrated with other systems as needed. But the proof is in the delivery time. And at least one of their major customers was up and onboarded within 4 months, including training. That’s certainly competitive with most enterprise marketing suites. The question will be how repeatable that success is in other organizations with different ecosystems.

There are certainly other interesting questions to ponder:

Alliances can have varying degrees of longevity and cohesiveness, but enterprise software platforms are expected by their customers to be stable for the long haul. How might the relationship between Infosys and WPP evolve, and what will be the implications for BrandEdge? One can certainly see WPP working with other technology providers, and even having more marketing technology ventures within their own portfolio. (And I can imagine certain agencies within WPP’s portfolio chaffing at the “efficiency” structure that BrandEdge seeks to impose.)

Vice versa, Infosys’s technology seems inherently agency agnostic — and agency tenure in most organizations is decidedly shorter than the lifetime of adopted enterprise software. How strongly will Infosys push the engagement of WPP marketing services? If a customer becomes unhappy with the overall solution, who gets thrown under bus?

Don’t get me wrong — I think the collaboration between Infosys and WPP is incredibly promising, and will likely result in a lot of innovations to the business of marketing and marketing technology that will benefit many. But as we’ve seen with the collaboration of IT and marketing, without perfect alignment, even good collaborations can diverge. It’s not just about technology, or even economics — there are big questions of culture and identity at the center of this. Can all three points of the marketing technology frenemy triangle live under one banner?

If Infosys and WPP are successful with this, it may just be because they succeed at changing the geometry of that triangle into something qualitatively different.

Speaking of IT and marketing, I asked Samson this next question:

Who’s buying marketing technology at this scale?

Placing Marketing Technology Bets

Where is the money for enterprise-class solutions like this coming from — marketing or IT?

According to Samson, “It depends.” (My favorite answer to simple questions about complex phenomena.) With some of the customers Infosys is working with, marketing is driving the spend; in others it’s IT. In some cases, it’s both, splitting the costs between more technical aspects of the solution and the marketing services intertwined with it.

But those aren’t the only options. Samson emphasized two other groups that are also driving marketing technology in some of the organizations they’re talking with.

One is a global digital services unit. Now, I would argue that global digital services is marketing, and that having it live independently of the core marketing department is an artifact of the early days of digital. But one could debate whether marketing will eventually subsume those digital revolutionaries or the other way around: maybe the digital team will ultimately subsume marketing in some of these companies. After all, digital services can incorporate a lot more than traditional digital marketing. But ultimately, they’re about delivering amazing customer experiences in an increasingly all-digital world.

The other group at the table is a global business services (GBS) unit. The concept of global business services is a reorganization in which all back-office functions — finance and accounting, HR, facilities management, and IT — are consolidated into a single unit. (Here’s a nice article on global business services in Computerworld.) To the degree that IT is contained within GBS, it makes sense that they’re a participant in the marketing technology vision. But is it possible that moving forward some aspects of marketing might be pulled into an evolving GBS structure?

In the digital enterprise, I believe that he who controls the platform, controls the world. So he who controls the purchase of the platform is kind of at the top of the heap.

On that note, Samson added something to keep in mind: “The sourcing organization also wants to get involved.” In the past, sourcing never got involved with marketing spend. But now, they want to put a process around sourcing marketing spend “properly.” It’s not as streamlined as other goods and services that the organization buys.

So while CMOs may be thinking about the power of wielding the efficiency hammer on their agencies, the sourcing unit may be looking at them with a similar gleam in their eye.

Me ye live in interesting times, right?

Comments

  1. Very interesting thought about the combination of IT and Marketing businesses coming together.
    One challenge that will still remain is the current availability of trained resources in Digital Marketing space. It’s not available now.
    Take the example of a national brand of UPS / Inverters. Their SEM budget is around Rs 1 lakh per month and the agency working on their SEM sends an excel report of the CTR, CPC, etc. The Marketing guys at the brand have not even asked access to Google Adwords account. So much said about the trained digital marketing resources availability.
    On the other hand, there are those boutique training institutes run by one person offering very focused training on social media, SEO, SEM, Facebook marketing, etc. There is hardly anybody in India currently offering Digital Marketing courses / certification. Nor are there any traditional educational institutions who have taken up Digital Marketing as a subject to be taught. We have tried to make a beginning through Digital Business School, and the response has been good till now. It can be better.
    Starbucks has made a good beginning by appointing Chief Digital Officer. How many enterprises will take this route we have to see?
    All I can say is until the availability of quality trained resources in Digital Marketing is taken care of, in both agencies as well as in enterprises, you will not see traction in the uptake or the results delivered through these kind of arrangements.
    Pramodh BN
    Co Founder and Chief Instructor
    Digital Business School

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