Raleigh marketing firm Keen Strategy adds to its software tools with acquisition

dranii@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

Keen Strategy, a 3-year-old brand and marketing consulting firm that counts more than a half-dozen Fortune 500 companies as clients, has added to its technology tools with a small but strategic acquisition.

Raleigh-based Keen’s recent purchase of Marketing Investment Decision Analytics for an undisclosed sum bolsters its ability to “help companies make smarter, faster, more impactful decisions” about marketing and their brands, said Greg Dolan, one of Keen’s three co-founders and managing partners.

Richmond, Va.-based MIDA is a small startup – founder John Busbice, who is joining Keen as a partner, is the company’s sole employee – but it already has proved its worth.

Keen previously teamed up with MIDA on a project for Campbell Soup Co., recommending how Campbell could get more bang for its marketing bucks.

An impressed Anthony DiSilvestro, senior vice president of finance at Campbell, said in an interview that Keen has “a pretty innovative approach which I think distinguishes them from the more traditional quantitative or market research approaches.”

Keen has six full-time employees, supplemented by a dozen full-time and part-time contractors, and has been keeping a low profile locally. Despite its small size it has landed A-list clients such as AT&T, ConAgra and United Healthcare and anticipates revenue will double this year.

Keen uses a technology-based approach. In addition to MIDA’s software, it developed two other software tools in-house and licensed a third. The company is a hybrid between a consulting firm and a software firm – it does projects for clients but also licenses its software to those clients.

MIDA’s software, Busbice said, analyzes a client’s past marketing spending and factors in management’s expectations of future returns on investment, incorporating factors such as the current competitive landscape, to predict the outcome of different spending scenarios.

“In marketing, a lot of people talk about the art and the science,” said Alan Hart, a co-founder. “MIDA enables you to blend the two so you don’t have to talk about either/or.”

Last year Keen, working in conjunction with MIDA, recommended that Campbell could actually reduce its U.S. marketing budget for soups by more than $30 million, a double-digit reduction, and yet still boost sales.

“We had a lot of Wall Street analysts say, ‘What? Are you crazy?’” DiSilvestro said.

But the proof is in the soup sales. U.S. sales of ready-to-serve soup rose 9 percent in the fiscal year that ended in July.

“As it turns out, we had the best year on soup in over a decade,” DiSilvestro said. “We attribute part of that to this project.” Other factors, including improving the soup’s quality, also played a role.

Before Dolan co-founded Keen in 2010, he was global director of corporate strategy for Campbell Soup. Although that may have helped Keen get in the door at Campbell, “it wouldn’t get you the job,” DiSilvestro said.

Campbell also has hired Keen to work on other projects.

Keen is convinced that corporations’ growing infatuation with Big Data works to its advantage.

“More data is not necessarily better if I can’t make a decision,” Hart said.

“It actually can complicate a decision,” Dolan said. “What we talk about is the right data to make the right decision.”

Ranii: 919-829-4877

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service