In-depth interview: Accenture Interactive opens up on SEA ambitions

Accenture Interactive made waves in Southeast Asia's adland yesterday with the acquisition of Kuala Lumpur-based Entropia. This came shortly after it doubled down its presence in Asia Pacific with the launch of Droga5 in Tokyo. Thomas Mouritzen (pictured left), Accenture Interactive's lead for Southeast Asia, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that its first acquisition in the region with Entropia is an investment to strengthen its ability to bring a human-first approach to new experiences in the digital world.

"The next five years and beyond will be about strengthening and expanding Accenture Interactive’s presence in Southeast Asia and building a future of shared success with our clients that goes beyond economic growth," he added.

While he is unable to breakdown exact revenue figures, Mouritzen said the company enjoys a strong client retention rate in Southeast Asia. It also sees demand for customer experiences, eCommerce, digital experiences and martech across various industries. These include financial services, health and public sector, consumer goods and services, telecommunications and technology companies.

"We are starting to see some of the best examples in Southeast Asia, where companies are beginning to push past conventional customer experience philosophy and rallying the entire business around a new, more holistic customer-centric strategy called the business of experiences," he said.

Citing Grab, Shopee and Lazada as examples, Mouritzen said they have not only revolutionised transportation but also offered ease and access for partners and customers. He is of the view that many companies in the region are building brand experiences comparable to some of the best brands globally. Rapid urbanisation and higher living standards in Southeast Asia have also unleashed some of the biggest commercial opportunities for local and global brands and marketers alike.

"Global brands recognise the unique position that Asia is in, so it’s a matter of time that we will see more experience businesses in Southeast Asia taking centre stage on global platforms," he said.

Nonetheless, while Southeast Asia is gaining momentum and becoming a growth engine for local and global companies, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for companies to win in the region. One of the biggest challenges facing companies is the growing demand for digital skills and creative talent shortage, Mouritzen said. In particular, how to recruit the right talent, train and continue to upskill and prepare employees and teams for disruption across industries, platforms, and new technologies.

Helping Southeast Asia's clients deliver better experiences

Some of the clients Accenture Interactive works with in Southeast Asia is Changi Airport Group, Central Group, and Campari Group. For Changi Airport Group, Accenture Interactive was tasked to establish and operate a digital factory to reinvent the airport's passenger experience and transform operations. For Central Group, the company rewired the tech capabilities of its loyalty platform to bring about a holistic customer experience.

As for Campari Group, Accenture Interactive is currently working with the brand to set up and scale its digital commerce and marketing platforms across multiple markets using marketplaces. A commerce solution and digital storefront was created on Lazada and Shopee for Campari Group's brands in Singapore and with the goal of rolling the model across marketplaces in the Asia Pacific region.

At the same time, Mouritzen said it is also working with the public sector in Southeast Asia to deliver better citizen experiences, bringing services to the community that are personalised, easy-to-use and relevant for them. This is done by using blockchain and customer experience to simplify and improve the experience for tax refunds. Accenture Interactive designed a strategy for a digital financial aid service and according to Mouritzen, this resulted in a more efficient validation and processing of large volumes of grants for the community most in need. With the acquisition of Entropia, Accenture Interactive can now add Tenaga Nasional, Telekom Malaysia, BMW, and Nespresso to its roster of clients.

Accenture Interactive's president, growth markets, Flaviano Faleiro (pictured right), told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the move to buy Entropia is a great example of its "strategic tuck-in" approach, which sees Accenture Interactive targeting acquisitions in very specific and high-growth areas of its business before building organically on top of the acquisitions. This was also the same for its past acquisitions of Droga5, The Monkeys, Rothco, and Karmarama, among others.

Sharing Accenture Interactive's passion to drive innovative solutions and a common culture, Faleiro said its acquisitions need to be "a natural fit for the company" as with Entropia and Droga5, and need to be strongly aligned with and complementary to the services offered by Accenture Interactive. This is as such crucial to its goal of engineering transformative customer experiences.

As a whole, Accenture in Southeast Asia has more than 10,000 employees from over 50 nationalities and more than 150 clients in 17 industries. Its operations in Singapore boasts a digital innovation hub as well as the Innovation Centre of Situational Awareness, promoting design thinking and innovations in the Internet of Things.

In 2019, Accenture Interactive hired Caspar Schlickum as MD, marketing, sales and customer operations. He was previously CEO of Wunderman Asia Pacific and co-founder of Xaxis. In April this year, Schlickum was named MD, Accenture Interactive, Southeast Asia and growth markets. A few months after Schlickum joined, former Wunderman Singapore CEO Shannon Dix reunited with him as director, Accenture Interactive Operations, ASEAN.

The business of experience

The acquisition of Entropia comes during a time where consumer experiences are evolving, especially during the pandemic. According to Accenture Interactive's Mouritzen, how consumers buy, work and interact with one another have been upended by the pandemic and these new behaviours are here to stay in the long run. "The retail experience, for example, is no longer about taking home shopping bags. Brands must consider not just what customers are likely to buy, but what is likely to spark joy," he explained.

He added that an experience renaissance is afoot and the future of brand building is not just about creating great ideas - it is about creating great experiences. This is in line with Accenture Interactive's goal of building a business of experience that goes beyond customer experience to cover employee experience, products and services, purpose and values, as well as business and delivery models.

"Entering this new experience renaissance, we believe brands are built through an amalgamation of experiences and touchpoints across increasingly digital channels. As we emerge from the pandemic, we are helping our clients lead with human insights and experience, not with just technology, process or cost savings. Those elements are relevant but secondary to the experience itself," he added. 

At the same time, there is also a short-term trend during the pandemic where brands prioritised convenient options over brand experience and loyalty. Mouritzen explained that the rapid speed at which these options were created has made consumers become less reliable brand advocates. "As consumers become more connected and start to compare across brand experiences, they begin to eliminate the brands that do not meet their expectations or do not have a purpose in their lives," he said.

Hence, marketers and CEOs in Southeast Asia must think about the value they want to provide to their customers for the long term. This requires an evolution of a brand's customer engagement strategies. Citing Accenture's "The Business of Experience" report, Mouritzen explained that nearly 80% of CEOS say they need to fundamentally change how they interact with customers.

Integrate data with the right tech, in alignment with the human agenda; reinvent the front and back-office functions and take on a business of experience approach.

At the same time, Accenture Interactive's Faleiro said the company is seeing the unified focus on experience in Southeast Asia becoming its own category as organisations look towards delivering a consistent, unified experience across the entire customer journey. This trend is also similar across other growth markets including Africa, the Middle East and Latin America which Faleiro oversees. "There is a lot of acceleration and competition out there. Organisations want solutions to help them thrive amidst disruption, capture new opportunities and grow sustainably, he added.

Related articles:
Accenture's first massive SEA acquisition with Entropia: How it transpired
Accenture Interactive's Droga5 opens new office in Tokyo
Jaguar Land Rover drives off with Accenture as global marketing partner
#MarketingEventsAwards spills: Accenture's marketing director on going beyond CX
Accenture unveils new brand campaign, triples annual media spend to US$90m
Accenture strengthens leadership team in Southeast Asia
Accenture study: 3 investments companies now must make digitally