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NEXTGEN delivers digital alternative through creative agency acquisition

NEXTGEN delivers digital alternative through creative agency acquisition

Marketing takes centre stage as need for partner differentiation heightens.

John Walters (NEXTGEN) and Martin Mason (Bang)

John Walters (NEXTGEN) and Martin Mason (Bang)

Credit: Nextgen

NEXTGEN has acquired Sydney-based digital creative agency Bang Australia, as the distributor expands its marketing capabilities across the wider channel in Australia and New Zealand (A/NZ).

Based in Surry Hills, the agency - launched in 2001 - specialises in building digital marketing strategies within the technology sector, backed up by a core team of designers, developers, writers and producers.

Since striking a partnership in mid-2014, the acquisition represents a natural progression of the NEXTGEN Create brand, set-up to offer marketing services to the channel.

Specifically, terms of the acquisition will see the company - and a team of 16 staff - come under the NEXTGEN Group banner, while continuing to operate as a standalone agency with the Bang name.

“Bang is open for business for the IT channel,” NEXTGEN Group CEO John Walters told ARN. “It’s been a long-time coming. We dipped our toe in the water and realised that the market was warm to us having a real presence around marketing and strategic services.

"NEXTGEN has always been about helping its channel partners and vendors stay relevant and remain ahead in a fast changing IT environment. Bang is a serious and well-respected strategic marketing player, and this partnership is the next stage in that journey, adding scope and depth to our current digital marketing service, NEXTGEN Create."

With the distribution arm of the organisation set to pay a monthly fee to procure Bang’s resources and expertise, Walters said the separate nature of both businesses allows NEXTGEN to expand into other areas of the channel, outside of its traditional remit.

“There must be a differentiation in the market between our marketing and distribution businesses,” Walters explained. “There’s a lot of vendors and partners that currently deal with Bang but don’t deal with our distribution business, so it’s important to have that distinction.

“We believe it is important to have a marketing agency that is both independent and branded independently. Bang is an agency that is deeply rooted within IT, as opposed to an agency that simply dabbles in the market.”

Currently, 70 per cent of Bang’s business comes through the technology sector, with the agency counting Brennan IT, X Central, Dimension Data, Datacom, Data#3 and Fujitsu as customers.

In addition, the agency has delivered marketing and branding services to the wider IT channel ecosystem, as well as for Fortune 500 customers such as Cisco, Microsoft and IBM.

“We have been working with NEXTGEN for more than three years as we saw there was an opportunity to further develop our vision of delivering digital lifecycle marketing programs to partners," Bang managing director Martin Mason told ARN. "Becoming an integrated part of the group enables us to provide a more sophisticated set of solutions that embrace marketing through to sales.”

Despite a heavy technology focus however, the business also operates within the financial services space, as well as key customers ranging from city councils to not-for-profits, and everything in-between.

“We take marketing back to basics,” Mason added. "There is no value in carrying out a demand-generation campaign to drive customers to your website if you can’t clearly articulate the benefits of your organisation.

“We hear a lot of businesses say they are a Gold Partner of vendor X with over 20 years of experience, but the customer doesn’t care.”

Tapping into a problematic area for partners, Mason runs an agency that focuses on helping businesses create brands within the market, as opposed to scattered campaigns that deliver little long-term value.

“We have a lifecycle program which allows us to develop the core value proposition of a partner,” Mason explained. “That could be designing the website and developing content, and we provide this via a subscription-based service.

“Vendors are trying to shift the way partners work from products to subscription-based services, so we believe we should provide marketing services in the same way.”

The acquisition comes at a time when channel partners are looking to bolster digital marketing skills and online presence, triggered by the growth of cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) as a portion of partner revenue streams.

Furthermore, Mason said the decision also fits within the broader trend of consultancies such as Accenture and PriceWaterhouseCoopers integrating creative marketing and branding services into their broader portfolio of offerings to customers.

“Our core belief is that successful marketing, including for IT products and services, comes down to creating an emotional connection with the customer and targeting them with the right messaging at the right time,” Mason added.

Scott Caulfield (Bang)
Scott Caulfield (Bang)

“In some cases highly technical products and services that are being delivered but at the end of the day those making the decision to purchase them are still people. So this is what we always try to emphasise, and what has allowed us to really deliver growth for our clients.”

A shift in approach

In working with New Zealand partners also, Bang aims to provide marketing services to partners on both sides of the Tasman, while also offering similar capabilities to vendors.

The agency's portfolio of services include brand strategy and planning, brand identity and development, creative digital campaigns, web design and development, mobile-responsive UX, alongside digital content strategy and creation.

“If you look back at how distributors carried out marketing previously, it was very tactical,” explained Scott Caulfield, the newly appointed COO of Bang. “Through the 1990s and 2000s this approach had some success but marketing has matured and now requires a different approach.

“Technology now plays an important role in how businesses take their brands to market, position themselves within the industry and communicate with their partners and customers.

“Therefore we believed that it wasn’t possible to capitalise on this opportunity by simply recruiting a few junior product managers and following the traditional methods.”

According to Caulfield, the intent was a create a business that acted like a digital agency, as opposed to a traditional distributor attempting channel marketing.

“It’s always been hard to measure market development funds (MDF) in terms of ROI,” Caulfield added. “And as digital takes over, the ability to extract data from all sorts of areas from the business has placed even more pressure on MDF.”

For Caulfield is highlighting a common occurrence within the channel, known as the “use it or lose it” time of the month for partners.

Instead, Bang aims to remove the need for ad-hoc and frantic marketing spend from the channel, instead creating strategies around articulating customer value in a digital context.

“We believe we have a role to play in this change,” Caulfield said. “There’s a lot of value in building marketing programs and campaigns for both vendors and partners, which will help avoid the old mentality.”

For an industry well versed in displaying technical strength, marketing has forever been consigned to the “too hard” box for partners, partners that are either incapable of extracting value, or uneducated as to the benefits.

Yet Caulfield acknowledged that as new technologies and ways to influence the customer flood the market, partners are starting to realise that word of mouth is no longer a viable sales strategy.

“Social media has changed the game because you no longer need to know people anymore to get a reference,” Caulfield said. “You can use social channels to get peer references from people you don’t know. So if you’re not playing in that space, it makes it even harder.”

Furthermore, Caulfield said the next-generation of decision makers are beginning to assume management roles, meaning the channel must engage in new ways to capture the minds of tech savvy buyers.

“The traditional approach of calling a mate and looking for a job is deteriorating fast, referrals are just not there anymore,” Caulfield added. “There’s a huge realisation that partners need to do something but the challenge is always around, where do I start?

“It can be an intimidating which is why we have a structured roadmap in place to help partners understand where they are today, and where they need to go tomorrow.”

The acquisition follows news that NEXTGEN has been appointed as a distributor for Micro Focus in Australia, the buyer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Software.

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