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Accelerating Your Online Marketing Results
Mar 18, 2008 – An Interview with Acceleration CEO and Founder, Stephan Pretorius
We recently spoke with the CEO and founder of Acceleration, Stephan Pretorius, who explained in an interview with EnterpriseInnovator that his company is a “provider of online marketing online technology services and solutions.” As noted on the company’s website, its specialty is providing online marketing pain relief.
Pretorius noted Acceleration works “purely in the area of online marketing” with “no offline or traditional media,” and he added that “we try to cover all the components that the market or publisher would need to execute for online marketing. Our focus is not on web development, but on these technologies that drive campaign performance, and measurement and so on.” Pretorius added that “we don’t develop that technology,” but instead “partner with key market leaders – Omniture, DoubleClick and Epsilon – and resell that technology, and provide services and consulting on top of those tools.”
Proper, Careful and Sophisticated Technology Implementation
When asked, why build a business around that kind of core competency, Pretorius explained the “reason for us” is that “online marketing is incredibly dependent on proper, careful and sophisticated implementation of a technology” and there is a “massive gap in the marketplace between the promise of the technology and actually executing on the ground.” And while “our channel partners all have service divisions, they are fundamentally technology businesses,” and there is thus a “massive need in the marketplace for the skill to implement these technologies and execute them – that requirement for expertise, real enterprise level insight, to implement this stuff properly is increasing by the day.” Indeed, one might even say it’s accelerating.
Hence, Acceleration’s purpose – to serve this need, which is a market opportunity that Pretorius describes as “huge – and it’s really expanding.” He noted Acceleration’s “client base is largely mid-market to enterprise-level clients,” and that “as you get into the larger clients, bigger budgets, and more e-commerce revenues, the complexity of what you are dealing with becomes bigger and bigger and bigger.” Accordingly, “the value of what we offer increases exponentially.”
Pretorius explained that clients come to Acceleration “for a number of different reasons – such as the need to outsource to us when they have no skill in-house, or if they have the skill in-house but need training to improve and to tweak things; or they have the need for complete outsourcing, and don’t have the technical people in-house but know they have the need to implement this particular piece of technology,” or even sometimes, “all of the above.” Hence Acceleration will help clients meet all of its online marketing needs, “with the technology, the skills and knowledge. And the skill to execute on a continuous basis.”
A Service-led Approach in a Product-led Marketplace
Interestingly, Acceleration often comes up against its channel partners as potential competitors, but while these partners can offer their expertise in their own area of specialty, Acceleration can offer its expertise in all of these areas. “Each one of our practice areas comes up with specialists in that one area.” This helps when it pitches against companies like Atlas, against whom Acceleration “very often has to pitch against.” Pretorius noted that Acceleration “comes up against channel partners as competitors repeatedly on the resale level,” but much less often on the service level.
That’s because its partners at the service level are primarily product companies, and not service companies per se. “Very few companies provide the services for either one of our channel partners or their three practice areas. It’s still very much a product-led marketplace rather than a service-led marketplace.”
Acceleration stands right at this crossroads where services and technology products intersection, and at this “crossroads, what we find is that clients do not need a shrink-wrapped box of Siebel software, they need it properly implemented, analyzed in their business, and rolled up so they can use it. For the market technology business, it’s very similar to what some of the large integration businesses, for instance, like what Siebel solution implementers do for a client.” One might liken what Acceleration does to that of the Systems Integration (SI) business, but Pretorius explained “the reason why I don’t forefront it more (SI) is that it is just one of the requirements – very often, just a vertical implementation such as an email solution. But our sweet spot is a differentiated offering – we implement a number of solutions that work together and speak together in a highly, highly complex environment – very often there are huge inefficiencies in their legacy business,” putting Acceleration in a “unique position to solve that for clients.”
The Acceleration Marketing Automation Platform: A Middleware Solution
Pretorius added that Acceleration has developed its own middleware layer, called the “Acceleration Marketing Automation Platform (AMAP)” and it “allows us to do certain integrations, executions, some of the marketing automation of reporting – we’ve done that, not to be a product company but to close the gaps between our various partners technologies and solutions.”
The AMAP “allows us to a lot of data integration, data transformations and all that – a lot of triggered schedule campaigns recurring campaigns – report views, dashboards, it takes multiple data feeds from different clients and displays them on a single dashboard view, this makes it highly flexible.” Acceleration thus “focus[es] on making it a really powerful development platform,” and noted “some of the work we’ve done for Intercontinental Hotel Group, they use the platform for doing a complex marketing gateway – a bookings and availability system” built upon a 3GB database that “can run all kinds of business rules to deliver custom content,” using an “internal platform and not a client facing product.” Acceleration has also done a “nice integration” with Sazzle, the on demand personalized product company, helping them to “measure and see how people use their site.”
The Rise of Online Marketing
Pretorius explained how “for all our clients, online has become a very integrated and central part of what they are doing and business generally,” and this goes for both pure plays such as online publishers and e-mail companies as well as “clients who are traditional businesses now with strong online revenue streams.” He added, “One of the things we have to confront for clients is how to integrate traditional measurement models with online measurement models,” as clients are often doing both off- and online marketing.
But “the methodologies aren’t the same,” with online presenting “all kinds of ‘fuzzy’ ways of measuring that aren’t available off-line,” causing traditional CMOs to declare, “This crap, you’re using four different methodologies for online,” while in their offline marketing analysis, they’re used to measuring an “immediate conversion.” Added Pretorius, “They look at these things online, but they aren’t taking into account the online element.” On the publisher’s side it’s much the same, as “lot of publisher clients are regional newspapers, print clients – their reality is losing revenue on the traditional side every quarter, but they’re starting to make it up on the online side, but it’s not evening out for them. From the revenue perspective for publishers, there’s clearly an overlap,” but it’s “very complex.”
In Pretorius’ opinion, “it actually cuts both ways. While online, various tracking options often reveal the shortcomings of traditional, offline tracking and measurement, but at the same time many online practitioners – agencies, search companies – have very inexperienced account management who have never run large enterprise marketing campaigns, and do not understand basic concepts like net contribution and P&L analysis of the campaign.” Thus they may think, “I got you a 10 dollar CPA – ten dollars for every sale – but what about upsells? They don’t understand the P&L process, it’s very simplistic up to the hand-off point. I always get kind of annoyed: offline people don’t get it, they don’t want to learn – it’s old school!”
In the emerging world of online marketing, “you’ll actually learn a lot at the same time, but at the same time what is happening is traditional marketers are struggling to standardize on how to measure,” as “offline is inherently harder to track and less accurate in some ways – you have to do sampling,” and the “best they can do, it’s really a mix of both sides of the fence – if there is a fence. They are guilty of not really learning what the other side has to offer. Moreover, what we do more often within the environment of the online space, we help companies to make sense of these various, complex but actually quite incorrectly and misused methodologies. It’s amazing to me – when you have a medium that’s measurable and attributable, it’s still so inaccurate and so un-standardized and the abuses are myriad the way people claim conversions, causes of sales, without any qualification.” But the industry is evolving, and with each passing day it’s “getting smarter about conversion measurement generally.”
Pretorius explained that “what happens is not just one agency at fault,” as companies are often “using one agency for search, another of e-mail marketing, another for network buys, another for affiliates – none of this is integrated,” and “all are claiming the same conversions. This is what we love helping clients with,” as “we save people money hand over fist, it’s beautiful!”
Pretorius added, “We’ve grown it from the bottom up. We started with technology and added service layers, then a solutions layer on top of that, on a rock-solid foundation; many people can talk the talk, but you ask them to implement it, and it’s a frickin’ disaster. We’re a very un-dotcom business, and focus on results and outcomes: if you sell it, this is what needs to be done, show the value – it’s fairly straight forward for us.”
For more information on Acceleration, please visit its website at: http://www.acceleration.biz. This is the first of a two-part article profiling Acceleration.
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