French-based consulting giant Capgemini is quietly but aggressively ramping up the brand innovation, design and transformation capabilities of its Invent business across Asia-Pacific, building a new APAC network around Frog, its brand experience design consultancy.
The scaling comes as Capgemini announced last month it is augmenting its Invent consultancy by integrating two key businesses, Cambridge Consultants and Frog, both acquired through its $4.1 billion acquisition of Altran completed in April 2020.
Frog, whose design roots date back to Germany in 1969 but broke out in the 1980s after catching Steve Jobs attention at Apple and leading the design of the original Macs, evolved in past decades into a brand design consultancy that bridges both the physical and digital.
Yet since the Capgemini acquisition, Frog has been scaled to an entirely new level from about 500 people in a handful of offices largely in the US and Europe to about 2200 across Invent’s 35+ offices globally. It did so by absorbing Invent’s entire branded experience (CX) team along with global design studio Idean, US innovation firm Fahrenheit 212, French agency June 21 and customer engagement marketing firm Liquid Hub.
Frog’s consulting services globally now include CX, industrial, spatial and ops design, ecommerce and venture building, alongside a sustainability and purpose advisory. But like Accenture Interactive, Frog also has a marketing activation business and brand strategy, design, performance, content and communications practices that stray into agency territory. Although Frog, like Capgemini Invent, tends to fly below the radar through very noisy brand experience design environments where digital agencies battle with UX-centric specialty shops and big consultants, its sudden growth will make it less able to do so in future.
Scaling up Asia-Pacific
In Asia-Pacific, Frog only had a Shanghai studio for many years. But as the entire Invent business has ramped up under its regional head Kim Douglas (growing from 105 APAC employees when Douglas came to Capgemini from Publicis Sapient in November 2019 to 215 today) Frog is now becoming a full regional network with additional studios in Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne. (India had been a global Invent delivery centre for years but now also includes a fully-fledged local Frog studio in Bangalore. India has about 50 employees covering CX transformation working with both APAC and other geographies).
The task of building out the network in Asia falls to brand and experience VP and Frog Asia MD Sebastian Troen, another Publicis Sapient alumnus, who since joining Capgemini Invent in February has scaled the brand and experience practice from zero to about 130 staff across APAC with plans to grow that to more than 200 by the last quarter of this year. Current Asian clients include Transamerica, China Development Financial, Ministry of Manpower, Microsoft, Unilever, HSBC, Dairy Farm Group and L’Oreal.
Hiring for Frog is not exactly a straightforward network build either, since its core culture is based on skilled veteran practitioners. For instance, Frog’s spatial design business, says Troen, derives from “real design architects who come from the craft wanting to design really cool [but unique and tangible] experiences connected to digital,” so it’s a matter of augmenting their skill sets with others while retaining the culture.
“The culture of Frog is really a pirate culture,” say Douglas, who is also Frog’s APAC CEO. “They want to change the world. And now the pirates have been taken over by the merchant navy consultants. So our job is not to stop that. It’s actually to let the smaller thing infect the big thing.”
Although we have to wait until September for the full unveiling of Frog’s global network and new positioning, its Asia business is so far defined by two main areas. One is its industrial and spatial design practices, stemming from that deep history in design engineering and spatial architecture. The second is Frog’s growing brand experience and design-led transformation business. But unlike digital agencies who often step into UX, Frog comes to its customer experiences from a design-centric origin.
Operationally, it means that Frog’s brand experience work is less about theory and projections and heavy on product prototypes and practical service executions, especially for young companies in places like China who need immediate working concepts to enter a manufacturing-primed market. Troen says the business in Southeast Asia, meanwhile, tends to be more focused on digital transformation, bringing personalized brand experiences through ecommerce and social platforms. Yet as the physical and virtual worlds merge, Douglas and Troen see how the two will increasingly be brought together across the Asia business.
Execution is everything
Douglas sees design changing consulting much like the big tech platforms changed what was once a world of bespoke IT. He describes how IT staff used to design bespoke stacks for five years and you could never change them until the big platform companies moved frameworks to the middle, democratized and simplified them, turned years of work into weeks and therefore catapulted all businesses forward.
He argues design is the same thing for the “thinking business”. Consulting is hard work, Douglas says, with lots of people working every corner to come up with exhaustive exclusive thinking. Yet most industry verticals like banks, airlines and insurance companies have similar models at their core and can benefit from what successful existing designs have already produced and proven.
“With design, someone comes to the client and says ‘we’ve strung these things together in a smart way’ that [makes the client realise] everyone’s got it and says ‘ooh I’ll have that,” explains Douglas. “Most companies have the same strategy. And most people have great ideas. It's the ability to execute them that’s become the magic. The ability to execute really great stuff at scale is it. That’s what we’re obsessed about.”
Douglas has long been critical of some consultancies which clients pay to endlessly architect and never practically execute because they buy into an optimal but impractical roadmap instead of having honest conversations of what can be done and how soon.
Comparisons to Accenture
In this sense, he sees balanced consultancies like Capgemini and Accenture benefitting from their ‘hard’ large IT service practices with deep experience in both building and managing technology projects, alongside the ‘softer’ strategy side of consultancy that come together to develop new brand experiences.
While Accenture is effectively double the size of Capgemini, both are giants (570,000 and 280,000 employees, respectively) that dwarf ad holding companies in size. It means their much smaller brand experience practices in Accenture Interactive and Capgemini Invent already have a larger customer base bent on transformation that they can tap into.
Frog, which assists Capgemini Invent in this mission, draws comparisons to Fjord, the design unit that Accenture Interactive has already integrated. Both CI and AI are bringing specialist shops into their folds and continue to swallow more. One might even be tempted to draw parallels between Capgemini Invent’s recent acquisition of creative agency The Works in Australia on a smaller scale to Accenture Interactive’s takeover of The Monkeys.
But whereas Accenture Interactive is continuing to aggressively build out its creative communications portfolio in Asia-Pacific, by bringing Droga5 to the region and recently acquiring Entropia, Douglas has no desire to compete with creative agencies.
“We will continue to acquire on the executional side—design and customer experience,” Douglas says. “But marketing? No. We won’t be going into the media side, to be clear. It’s better served by agencies,” he adds, nor will Invent dabble in building marketing solutions at scale.
So while Capgemini Invent will not be an active competitor in creating the content that convinces customers to buy a product, it will be much more interested in what kind of experience that content helps to create for the customer, especially with the growth of direct-to-consumer buying.
Douglas envisions the future will be based on “intelligent industries serving connected customers” whereby a customer somewhere goes online and looks at content, which in turn creates data points that become an impetus to change up its supply chain order “because the propensity for this person to buy this thing has meant they’re going to order more fabric in Malaysia,” he says. Or else it lies in transforming a car company currently stamping metal sheets into a software company selling you a mobility platform on your phone to unlock multiple cars via lease through a subscription.
“It’s just that,” Douglas says. “But I feel like I’m selling you Blade Runner now” he jokes. “That’s why I joined Capgemini.”