After Acquisition: What’s Next for Carlson and Groupe Aeroplan?

While <a href=" target="_blank">Carlson Marketing's acquisition by Groupe Aeroplan</a> last week made a few industry waves, clients and competition should not expect any sweeping changes--at least for the near future. The loyalty management firm plans to keep operations running with few changes for the time being, though it is on the lookout for opportunities for better synergy within the organization.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Maintaining the Status Quo</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> “This is not a merger of two businesses. These businesses will carry on running independently,” said Rupert Duchesne, president and CEO of Groupe Aeroplan, Inc. He noted that Aeroplan’s current businesses in Canada, the U.K. and Middle East, as well as a newly launched program in Italy, and Carlson’s current businesses will “carry on running just as they are.”<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Groupe Aeroplan’s business-as-usual approach carries over to Carlson’s existing management team, whose members will retain their current positions, as the firm believes that the current Carlson team is strong. According to Duchesne, Aeroplan negotiated rights with Carlson to continue the usage of the Carlson Marketing name and logos for an extended period.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Rather than instill sweeping changes, Groupe Aeroplan will look to determine best practices in “pockets,” or areas of expertise, around the globe and work to bring those talents and skills together for effective client collaboration, according to Duchesne. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> “It would be very unwise for us to make any changes, if at all, quickly,” said Duchesne. “What we need to do is carefully look at ‘pockets of excellence’ and apply them to our collective clients gradually. We hope that for the first period clients notice no difference whatsoever. That would be the best outcome because that’s the intended outcome. It’s the reality of what we’re trying to achieve.” <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Duchesne gave the example of potentially extending Aeroplan’s online music store, which provides Canadian and British reward recipients with the ability to exchange their accrued points for downloadable music, to Carlson clients. “It’s something that is a unique product offering, and it’s something that I think Carlson Marketing doesn’t have in its rewards portfolio. That would be a perfect opportunity for a cross-sell capability, and its just one tiny example.”<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>The Industry Responds</b> <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> In terms of industry reception, the overall outlook seems positive, especially since it was almost common industry knowledge that Carlson had been available for purchase for the last several years, according to an industry source. In fact, many incentive businesses have recently been looking to better leverage themselves more effectively in a poor economy. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> “I think it’s very good. I think what it does is it forces everybody to think about their position in what we do and how we participate in this industry,” said Rick Blabolil, CPIM, president of Marketing Innovators and immediate past president of the Incentive Marketing Association. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> He continued, “From a supplier perspective, I think that it has a positive opportunity to get people to rethink who they are, what they want to be and how they represent their distinctive or unique qualities…From a buyer’s perspective, you have this spectrum from the larger companies all the way down to the middle market and smaller companies and they’re gonna measure the factors that are important to them—price, quality, flexibility. I think it’s good for both sides.”<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Blabolil agreed with Groupe Aeroplan’s “pocket” strategy, and believes that the new firm is wise in devoting significant time to finding its shared “sweet spots” to determine how it wants to position itself in the market going forward. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> “It’s very difficult to be all things to all people. But I think you should try to pick those opportunities where you can be of primary importance,” he said. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Additionally, such a large-scale consolidation opens new opportunities for those incentive organizations that serve the middle-market companies. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> “Clearly Carlson Marketing is now almost totally under the consumer loyalty business, which is fine by us,” said one industry source. “It creates even more of a void for those of us who focus on the Fortune 1000 instead of the Fortune 100.”<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Groupe Aeroplan’s acquisition of Carlson Marketing is expected to be completed sometime during the first week of December. According to Duchesne, the two firms do not anticipate any issues in terms of implementation to arise.