What Does Salesforce’s ExactTarget Acquisition Mean for Marketers?

In August, I wrote about the impending merger of Omnicom (parent company of Innovyx) with French holding company Publicis. In an unexpected turn of events, this month I’ll be writing about another merger, between ExactTarget and salesforce.com.

The acquisition of ExactTarget by salesforce.com is relevant not just to customers and partners of the two companies, but to everyone working in digital marketing. ExactTarget is a leading email service provider that’s been growing rapidly for years and is setting the direction that many will follow. What happens to it and what it does after this acquisition will affect the entire industry.

Sometimes, the acquired company is swallowed whole and effectively disappears without trace, with their products and services successfully (or unsuccessfully) integrated. This is often the case when the acquirer is much larger than the acquired and has a particularly strong culture. A key sign of this is a significant loss of senior leadership and talent. For example, it appears this may be what’s happening with Eloqua and Oracle.

Other times, though, the acquired company can significantly impact and alter the direction and culture of the acquirer. Omniture could be seen as an example of this. Adobe’s product direction has changed and the company’s center of gravity seems to have shifted towards Utah since the acquisition. It’s been four years, the Omniture brand has long gone, yet people still talk of Omniture rather than Adobe.

Occasionally, a company is acquired but manages to maintain its culture. Often this is when it continues to operate as a separate entity. This can work for situations such as holding companies but it doesn’t enable the two organizations to truly leverage one another’s strengths. But what will happen with ExactTarget and what will the implications be?

It was with great interest that I attended Connections 2013, ExactTarget’s annual user conference. As always, it was a supremely well run event – kudos to the organizers – but what stood out for me was the news that ExactTarget is becoming the heart of salesforce.com’s marketing cloud. This is clearly happening not just in name, but in two key concrete ways.

The first is that Scott Dorsey, ExactTarget’s CEO, is leading the marketing cloud organization within salesforce.com. I think this is important because it increases the likelihood that ExactTarget will maintain its culture while growing in line with the larger salesforce.com organization. ExactTarget has a very strong company culture that has been instrumental in its success so far. Having that culture subsumed by salesforce.com could be very damaging. However, not integrating with the larger salesforce.com organization would result in the loss of many of the benefits of the acquisition.

The second is that Radian6, BuddyMedia and social.com are being moved under the marketing cloud and integrated into ExactTarget’s next generation platform IMH. It became clear a year or so ago that IMH is far more than a pretty dashboard for an aging platform, but a ground-up implementation of a service oriented architecture (SOA) solution designed to enable rapid development of new features and integration of disparate tools. It appears salesforce.com likes this architecture and will be utilizing it as the heart of its marketing cloud offering. That ExactTarget has made such strides in integrating these platforms in just sixty days is testament to the power and flexibility of the underlying platform architecture.

That’s all well and good for ExactTarget, salesforce.com and their partners, but what about everyone else? This integration, the combining of Radian6, BuddyMedia and social.com into the ExactTarget platform and the new features/capabilities announced at Connections shows how seriously salesforce.com takes data-driven digital marketing.

There are some holes. The data modeling, ETL (extract-transform-load) and campaign planning tools aren’t quite there yet. Running a single customer view CRM database within ExactTarget is still challenging but the rate at which things are progressing indicates that they intend to be a very serious player.

A number of companies are working to create integrated digital marketing platforms. Some approach it from a campaign management perspective, some from analytics, some from database. ExactTarget comes from an email and messaging perspective and for the past three years has had aspirations to be far more. With their acquisition by salesforce.com, it seems those aspirations may rapidly become reality.

What’s your take?

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