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Alliance Data Buys a Winner with Conversant

Alliance Data is to acquire Conversant for $23bn to expand its digital marketing services capabilities. The acquisition will be paid for half in stock and half in cash (at tendering shareholders' discretion). Post closing, Conversant will operate as a part of Epsilon, a digital marketing services division of Alliance Data. The transaction is expected to close in Q4 2014. 

Alliance Data's Epsilon division has ~$1,5bn in revenues; Conversant has ~$600m. 

Alliance Data is acquiring Conversant to enhance its Epsilon business. Epsilon generates revenues primarily from labor based, offline: data acquisition, analysis, and marketing services. Conversant generates revenues primarily from automated processing, on line: data acquisition, analysis, and marketing services. Alliance Data believes that Conversant is in a faster growing segment of its market, with solutions that provide higher operating leverage. 

Each company brings technology capabilities which will be integrated after the merger. These capabilities include:

  • Conversant:
    • In-house data set combined with client acquired data 
    • CommonID, which identifies an individual consumer across multiple devices (e.g., desktop, mobile, tablet) and channel
    • Ability to dynamically send personal ads to the correct device ant the correct time
  • Alliance Data: Agility Harmony, a digital messaging platform with the artificial learning and analytics to inform a digital marketing campaign, combined with the ability to manage and execute a digital marketing campaign.

The acquisition will provide more purchase data (from additional channels including: display, mobile, and video) to put through Epsilon's marketing analytics platform, Agility Harmony. The increase in data throughput will develop greater insights by Epsilon into consumer behavior. Conversant also brings a greater number of clients to Epsilon, to whom Epsilon hopes to sell additional services. 

Conversant is an excellent acquisition for Alliance Data. The ability to engage consumers across multiple channels and devices, while also maintaining identity awareness, is not generally available today. Most of today's on-line marketing organizations are facing consumer push back and brand deterioration the more they continue to make identity errors and push the wrong offerings, to the wrong people, at the wrong time.

Alliance Data is also aware of its limitations. It intends, according to its CEO Ed Heffernan, to continue to pursue opportunities in niche markets rather than take on major payments vendors in major markets. Its specialty areas include:

  • Geographic: Canada and Brazil
  • Industry: travel, SMBs, and specialty retail

Successful integration of these two offering sets will create a unique database of transaction level data in some of the fastest growing, high margin markets in consumer buying. As long as Alliance Data can successfully integrate the two cultures, the businesses should succeed. It is a good sign of what the Conversant management thinks about the merger that the CEO of Convergent will tender his shares for all Alliance Data stock (not taking the cash option). 

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