The Keys to the Cloud

If you didn’t leave the convention center in downtown Indianapolis during the Salesforce ExactTarget Connections conference, you wouldn’t have known how sunny and beautiful it was in the home of the Pacers and Colts. Because inside, all you heard about was clouds. Marketing clouds, that is.

Last year, the ExactTarget Connections conference was a top destination for customers and partners of the email company formerly known as ExactTarget. But ever since Salesforce.com acquired the Indianapolis-based email marketing technology company in mid-2013 for $2.5 billion, the landscape has started to shift. This year, the change that came to ExactTarget Connections mirrors the way it has increasingly come to all email marketing companies.

Email marketing companies, otherwise known as ESPs, are being told by the market: “Get Cloudy or Go Home.”

On Tuesday, the official first day of the conference, something was missing. Something big.

Email. If that word was mentioned once during the presentations, it was only in passing. That wasn’t by chance.

How can you have a marketing cloud without email? You can’t. It’s becoming obvious that email is the connective tissue in the marketing cloud ecosystem. Without an email service, a collection of digital marketing assets has no right being called a cloud. However, the word “email” is being dropped. Last year an email company cofounded by Rubicon Project chief executive (CEO) Frank Addante – StrongMail – rebranded as StrongView.

The marketing cloud, despite its name, is all about the view: the single customer view. The modern chief marketing officer (CMO) wants a 360-degree view of customer interactions.

Salesforce ExactTarget is not the only company that is riding this wave. Increasingly, all of the major email companies are being acquired by enterprise software vendors looking for the next big thing in computing. Many companies have already implemented database and enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology. Amazon has democratized access to scalable computing through Amazon Web Services and their “Elastic Cloud,” which offers EC2. Companies like Oracle and IBM are creating clouds of their own to expand their offerings to what Forrester and McKinsey see as the current and future technology decision maker, the CMO.

The resources being spent to compete in the cloud race are significant. Unofficially, the amount spent on acquiring email companies to complete marketing cloud offerings topped $8 billion in 2012 and 2013. Oracle bought two email companies – Eloqua and Responsys – for a combined price that exceeded $2 billion. IBM bought Silverpop for $175 million, and of course Salesforce bought ExactTarget for $2.5 billion. Adding to the trend, earlier this year Acxiom, a first-generation marketing cloud company (before they were called that) paid $320 million for a company called LiveRamp. LiveRamp doesn’t even send email but instead allows companies to bridge the gap between owned and paid media.

Pay close attention to this sector. As technology investment increasingly focuses on the CMO and the CRM data under their management, the role of email-centric CRM companies will be only grow in influence and importance.

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