A long-established part of the performance marketing scene in the US, Merkle has been undergoing an aggressive expansion strategy on this side of the Atlantic with a string of acquisitions and new office openings within the last few years.

The performance marketing agency’s first major European move came with the buyout of Periscopix in 2015, while the year following saw mergers with London-based marketing solutions agency dbg and CRM specialist Comet, while the acquisition of data insights company Aquila Insight followed in 2017. As a result and in a comparatively short space of time, Merkle has grown its EMEA operations alone to 1,300 employees in 12 offices across five countries.

In the midst of its expansion strategy, PerformanceIN spoke to Michael Komasinksi, president of Merkle EMEA, for a lowdown on the company’s further growth plans, and what’s in store for data-driven marketing over the coming 12 months.

Merkle’s been very busy with its expansion following a number of acquisitions over the last few years. Could you tell us about some of your key plans this year?

Michael Komasinski: We’ll be looking to build on our recent rapid growth over the year ahead and this will include acquisitions, which will continue to be important for Merkle. These will either add new capabilities to our business or help us grow in priority geographies, including Germany, Nordics and France. 

We’re also focused on maintaining our organic growth rates in our core business and ensuring we realise the growth and cost synergies associated with our acquisitions in 2017.

Optimising ROI remains the top goal for performance marketers in 2018. What tips would you suggest to help meet this objective?

MK: Clients should focus on making their paid media programmes more addressable, their experiences more personalised, and should develop an understanding of individual customer value that informs each interaction in the relationship over time.

This means adopting more sophisticated approaches to data and analytics to gain a deeper understanding of audiences and unlock the ability to deliver real-time personalised experiences.   

With consumers more tech-savvy, and their expectations of brands greater than ever, marketers will increasingly need to deliver genuinely useful marketing messages and meaningful experiences to drive ROI.

How will the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force in May benefit marketers in providing quality and secured data?

MK: GDPR is a good thing for the industry. One of the benefits is that there will be less low-quality third party data available.

There are currently too many small players in the supply chain. As a result, advertisers are buying third-party data of dubious quality, and are unable to gain transparency into the margins being made on this.

GDPR is also an opportunity for those marketers that are committed to using data to deliver more personalised messaging. It requires the industry to collectively raise its game because successfully gaining consent from consumers for using their data – as required by GDPR – will involve advertisers showing the right messages at the right frequency to the right individuals.

Artificial Intelligence [AI] and machine learning is also set to play a key role in performance marketing. How can companies best utilise this technology?

MK: AI and machine learning are enabling technologies rather than strategies in themselves. 

Using these technologies as part of a wider strategy can boost ROI, whether that’s through automating interactions – via chat bots, for instance – or shaping marketing activity through more valuable customer insights by using predictive analytics.

Lastly, what are your top predictions in data-driven marketing that marketers should keep a look out for in 2018?

MK: Marketers need to be thinking about their customer data platform (CDP) and how they will manage customer identity, which is an increasingly fragmented concept. 

Their data environments will continue to get more complex and they need to have a plan for how they link together the data layer, the insights layer, the orchestration and decision layer, as well as all the activation channels.

As GDPR comes into effect, brands will also increasingly look to invest in digital experiences that make customers want to opt-in to a relationship, as first-party data becomes the most valuable asset in the marketing supply chain.

Marketers will need to respond to this, making sophisticated use of data to allow brands to build genuine connections with consumers through personalised experiences aimed at targeted individuals.