AdExchanger: Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff recently suggested that email is over. What do you think?
BILL NUSSEY: Benioff says a lot of provocative things that don’t directly relate to his actual plans. I’m probably not the single best person to ask because we moved beyond pure email many years ago.
Nevertheless, I wrote a book on email (The Quiet Revolution In Email Marketing, 2004) back when email was our primary focus, so I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on it. Email is essential. It’s like power and water; it’s your house and your [office] building. It’s the kind of thing you don’t think a lot about, but for goodness sake, if you try to live without it, you’re going to realize in about one hour that you can’t.
Silverpop does quite a few things across channels, but the email element of our reputation continues to be one of the most memorable aspects of our brand because email is a root platform that every marketer needs. Similarly, display advertising is always going to be with us in one form or another because it works – as does TV.
There’s this virtuous cycle that keeps email highly relevant, and people have gotten to be experts at managing their inboxes.
There was a little bit of the “email is going to go away” four years ago - and then Groupon and the coupon business took off, entirely predicated on email. Along the way, Facebook “updates” and LinkedIn “alerts” were done over email, so these game-changing new approaches - the coupons of Groupon and social networks - all continue to use that same platform. Email is simply woven too deeply in the infrastructure to disappear anytime soon.
Why position as a marketing automation company?
We became excited about multichannel and relevance. About six years ago, we acquired a marketing automation company (Vtrenz, 2007) partially because we were excited about B2B marketing automation. The ideas behind marketing automation that have transformed B2B marketing will equally transform B2C marketing, which is a market opportunity 25 times larger.
Technically, it’s quite a bit harder to do marketing automation B2C, which is why it took us a couple of years to get the product into the market, but that’s what gets us excited. It all comes down to one very simple idea - whether you’re selling smartphones or cars or or clothes, products are increasingly pretty darn good. What’s happening is that the consumers’ and the business buyers’ decisions no longer revolve around product features.
Remember when Detroit realized that cup holders were the number one thing that influenced car-buying decisions? Think about the juxtaposition of building a minivan versus cup holders. Now, customer experience drives decisions both B2C and B2B. It’s not just the price anymore; it’s the entire experience around it. What happens if I call support? What if I’m not happy? What does the brand stand for?
Customer experience doesn’t occur in the email channel or the Web. It occurs across all those channels, including the support desk. What’s different about this is when you want to drive customer experience, you’ve got to kill the idea of an audience.
And the real art is bringing automation to that - taking customer profiles in real-time, responding in email, filling out a survey, calling support and talking to a sales person, getting information specific to you and timed around you. That’s customer experience. As more and more marketers adopt customer experience as their credo, blast marketing and audience definition are just going to fall by the wayside. I don’t know if it’s two years from now or five, but it’s inevitable in my mind.
What do you think about brand awareness or direct response campaigns as they relate to something like display advertising? Is this all going to become marketing automation?
To me it seems inevitable. The programmatic media buying is a little outside of what we do today, but it resonates with me not just because of automation but also efficiencies. Most importantly, it drives the customer experience and that, in my mind, trumps everything else.
If I’m going to be interrupted by advertising - which I’m used to and it’s cool - then I’d much rather be interrupted by advertising that’s relevant and interesting to me. The quicker you learn about me and the more specifically you can respond so I engage in relevant information, the happier I’m going to be. Not only am I going to buy more, which is what traditional marketers want, but I’m going to be happier about your brand. I don’t think anybody can fight that trend for the long term.
I think we’re at least five years out before it’s widely seen as the only way to go. By the way, traditional audience [buying] and blast email marketing still work. They will never go away, but those pieces of pie will get smaller and smaller. You’ve already seen the shift taking place in display advertising and other forms of online advertising.
The intelligence required to put the right ad in front of the right person, one person at a time, is just extraordinary. It’s inevitable that a degree of targeting will follow. You’re talking about automating the buying process and the selection process.
Benioff, despite what he said about email, more recently said he’s going to acquire (Salesforce.com earnings call, 2/2013) in the email space. IBM's going to do it, SAP's going to have to do it, Microsoft’s going to do it - also the tier below those guys. It’s going to be a huge race.
Do you have any paid media features that are part of Silverpop’s toolkit?
We don’t have any paid media features. We work with our clients strategically in some instances, but it is not an integral part of our product today. It’s something we’re looking at, and our customers are asking us about it, but they’re pressing us much more aggressively on parts of our product that are completely unique, which is the relationship automation stuff.
Is most of Silverpop’s revenue in email right now, and do you expect it to go over to marketing automation? Any percentages you can share at the very least?
We have one product and we sell it to 100% of our customers. Part of the challenge we have as a brand is when people hear that we do multiple things, their next assumption is that we must have multiple products. By putting automation, email marketing and social capabilities into a single platform, you create a marketing solution that’s better than any single solution.
How does pricing work? Is it on a per-seat basis, or volume?
It’s all of the above, and depending on your preference, you can lean your pricing more towards volume orientation, particularly if you’re coming from email, since that’s the way you like to buy. If you start using the more advanced features, you’ll be paying more than if you were just blasting.
Any plans to go public?
Where is your S1?
I didn’t say when.
I ran a public company at my last job and I’m not in a hurry to do it again. We’re meaningfully larger than some of the other companies that are filing recently, but our investors know it’s much easier to continue being strategic and aggressive and to make very appropriate investments when you’re private. We will go public at the latest possible time we can, but I think that’s definitely our plan.