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Note: This story is part of an series covering agencies’ audience management platforms. Previously, Adweek reported on Omnicom’s Omni, Horizon Media’s blu. Havas’ Converged and Publicis’ Epsilon PeopleCloud.
Madewell, according to its CMO Derek Yarbrough, was one of the first omnichannel brands. Upon its launch 12 years ago, it stood up ecommerce and brick and mortar stores in tandem, with two equally important goals in mind: customer acquisition and retention.
Nascent DTC companies were at the time, “single-mindedly focused on acquisition,” said the Yarbrough. By contrast, Madewell wanted to nurture long-term customer relationships that often began in its stores. A successful customer evolution could mean converting in-person customers to website shoppers, and vice versa. It required a complex multitouch strategy, and, Yarbrough admitted, Madewell’s technology stack wasn’t as advanced back then as it should have been.
When the brand partnered with the independent Fort Worth, Texas-based agency PMG almost eight years ago, the agency’s technology stack quickly became Madewell’s boon. Madewell had relied on its sister company, J.Crew’s, legacy system, but PMG’s technological process pushed Yarbrough and his team to “clean up our own act,” he said.
“Part of our journey for Madewell was also to be the guinea pig that let J.Crew also advance its technology efforts,” he added. Such efforts paid off for both Madewell and PMG, considering the agency’s ability to nab other high-profile retail clients.
PMG grew its reputation as a tech-infused agency last year when it won Nike‘s U.S. media account. It was a significant chunk of business worth between $300 and $400 million, a source with knowledge of the Nike review told Adweek last July. PMG enjoyed success prior to the win, having received Adweek’s 2021 Breakthrough Media Agency of the Year award, but capturing Nike solidified the indie’s place as a major holding company contender.
PMG had shown off its proprietary technology platform, called Alli, to Nike during the review. Almost every holding company that vied for the Nike business—GroupM, Omnicom Media Group, Dentsu Media, IPG Mediabrands and Stagwell Media Network—has something like Alli. But, Nike’s decision implied that the indie’s platform had, at minimum, enough power to challenge holding company-level technology investments.
Achieving scalability and automation
Today, Madewell’s media ecosystem evolves largely around Alli. Like all agencies’ advanced audience management platforms, Alli gleans insights from the audience data it ingests, which PMG leverages to inform campaign strategy. Planners develop segments within the platform and deploy those audiences to be activated on Alli-integrated DSPs or media platforms. This campaign-planning technology is now table stakes among major industry players, but many others are without Alli’s user-friendly campaign management features.
Now that Alli is connected to, by Yarbrough’s estimates, Madewell’s hundreds of data sources. It manages digital touchpoints, but also reveals flaws in Madewell’s system, when they arise. If a customer responds to a Madewell ad, Alli recognizes them. The brand can use that data to issue the customer a loyalty action, email or on-site messaging. It pinpoints any website or inventory issues in real time, alerting the brand and PMG media team on their preferred communication channel–say, Slack. The system saves the brand money it might instead waste driving customers to broken links or sold-out products.
“We had an incident where there was a site issue, and the Alli platform actually notified us before our own platform had notified us,” said Yarborough. Five years ago, a similar issue might’ve gone unnoticed, costing the company thousands or even millions of dollars. “Now we’re getting these more automated alerts and notifications [in] real time, so things can get addressed or reallocated. And that to me is what it all boils back to, is scalability and automation.” he said.
Because Alli integrates with productivity tools like Slack, Google Suite or Microsoft Office, an account team can use a Google Sheet to make ad copy changes that go into effect across all active campaigns in real time. Alli also fuses with Tableau, Power BI or any third-party tool the client uses.
Using media insights to guide creative decisions
Alli also impacts creative decision-making. Its AI analyzes creative assets, identifying engagement patterns linked to certain design decisions. It knows if a particular creative backdrop performs better or worse than others, or if customers interact more with advertisements featuring models or those featuring products by themselves. For large brands that must create hundreds of ads organizing the creative–let alone optimizing it–is an upward battle. “We can have an always-on approach to A/B testing, including creative testing,” Yarborough told Adweek.
PMG’s has an ongoing investment in its tech stack. It employs over 100 data analysts, product experts, technologists and software engineers to manage the effort. “We don’t even see ourselves as an agency. We are a marketing company who solves business challenges,” said Chris Alvares, PMG’s head of technology. While holding company platforms do not yet extend to every account, every PMG client uses Alli to some extent. “We do not run media without Alli,” Alvares said. In fact, the agency will not work with a client that refuses to adopt the technology, it confirmed to Adweek.