A week before an estimated 120,000 take to the streets of San Francisco for cloud-computing stalwart Salesforce.com’s annual Dreamforce conference, a key question is how the company will position the Salesforce.com ExactTarget Marketing Cloud – which CEO Marc Benioff has billed as his next billion-dollar business.
The show is an opportunity for Salesforce.com to demonstrate it can deliver on its value proposition to digital marketers. Its myriad marketing acquisitions in the past few years – Buddy Media and ExactTarget among them – have positioned it to replicate in the marketing sphere the momentum it has seen in sales and customer service applications. (Client demand is a factor, too. Salesforce.com shared with AdExchanger that marketer registration at Dreamforce is up 40% this year, making the marketer “role” the No. 2 attendee type.)
But questions remain about the strategic plan for theExactTarget Marketing Cloud. Chief among them: How far will it go to compete with rivals who are also chasing hard after the data-driven marketing opportunity – companies like Adobe, Oracle and IBM?
“You have the first-party data in the database itself, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle,” said Ken Allen, managing director at private equity and investment banking firm Blackstone Advisory Partners. “You need the third-party data and other first-party sources of data, whether that’s commerce or mobile – things other than just the email address.”
He continued, “I think the more data the better. It’s a powerful idea to own the database and then own or partner with a data-management platform or other third-party data sources like Acxiom or Experian to integrate all of the sources of data for a customer and be able to target them through any channel.”
David Skinner, SVP of business development at marketing technology company [x+1], expressed similar sentiments. “Salesforce.com and the broader marketing ecosystem could benefit from the company paying attention to the channels that big marketers really care about – paid media and owned media,” he said.
“Salesforce.com’s Marketing Cloud, as it stands today, really just offers email and some specific Facebook ad products. It misses 99% of impressions served every day: display, video, mobile, marketers’ own websites. … If they are serious about serving the needs of the CMO, as they have described to me, they need to step up and build/buy/partner to control the items that are material to a CMO's budget.”
Citing Neustar’s recent acquisition of DMP Aggregate Knowledge as a sign of future consolidation, Stéphane Darracq, CEO of French data marketing technology and services company Makazi, said it would make sense for Salesforce.com, post-ExactTarget purchase, to ramp up on data aggregation to round out its cross-channel buy.
“Whether they build it or buy it is the question, but [it also depends on] their definition of data management," he said. "Is it a DMP for media buying or a data hub that’s the center of everything, that can aggregate all of” their customers’ data?
Marketer-centric solutions need to have workflow and process built into the system to enable marketers to do their job better, regardless of the channel they’re in or audience they’re after, said Gerry Brown, senior analyst at Ovum. It’s not out of bounds to see how a platform company with access to plenty of first-party data could benefit from the online behavioral targeting extensions of a BlueKai, for instance.
“When you think of social listening and branding, [Radian6 and Buddy Media] are names that tend to come to mind,” Brown said. “I think their story around social is pretty strong, but fairly immature working out the ExactTarget positioning, integration and all that stuff. It’s not all there yet.”
He added: “I see a number of components that are interesting technologies, but … what will this be in 2017? Do they have a big vision for the CIO/CMO combination, which IBM has and many others have produced? I’ll be looking for [at Dreamforce] what is their go-to market-implementation program for the way they deliver the future marketing stake?”
Despite the obvious technical considerations, winning the battle of the enterprise “cross-channel marketing stack” will require a shift in cultural mindset. As Skinner points out, “It’s a long reach from Salesforce.com’s backyard – Silicon Valley’s enterprise tech environs – to the ad-tech hub of New York City. We’ll have to see how quickly they move.”