Monday, February 24, 2014

Oracle Buys BlueKai and Puts Marketing Databases In the Spotlight

Oracle announced this morning  that it is buying BlueKai, a leading Data Management Platform (DMP) technology vendor and operator of one of the largest data marketplaces. Since I just wrote last Friday about how DMPs integrate with marketing automation to unify customer treatments in Web advertising and direct channels, I’m tempted to just point you to that post for an explanation of how this works and why it matters. I’m also tempted to remind you that I predicted this convergence as an industry trend back in December.  But instead I’ll expand a bit on the fundamental significance of this deal – which is that it promises a serious step toward solving the fundamental problem that increasingly hobbles advanced marketing technology: lack of a solid underlying customer database.

If you look at Oracle’s diagram of their newly expanded Marketing Cloud, you’ll see BlueKai sitting beneath Responsys and Eloqua, providing a “universal customer profile” that allows them to act as “marketing orchestration” systems which, in turn, support programs across all channels – social, search, email, display, mobile, web, commerce, direct sales, and channel sales.

“Marketing orchestration” is a considerable jump beyond the traditional role of “marketing automation”, but I’ll save that analysis for another day. What matters right now is that Oracle places BlueKai exactly where I’ve been placing the Customer Data Platform: as a multi-source database that feeds unified customer data to marketing applications.

This is the first time we’ve seen a major enterprise software vendor draw that picture quite so clearly. More typically, they just do some hand waving around the customer database without explaining how it magically appears. Deep in their hearts, what they really hope is that the database for their core application – CRM, email, Web site management, whatever – will be that central, shared database.  They hope this even though their application doesn’t really provide the database management tools needed to make it happen, and their database itself is often tailored too narrowly to the specific application to support the full range of other uses.

BlueKai, on the other hand, is all about the data. Like other DMPs, it is still mostly organized around cookies and advertising audiences, but it does offer the ability to import other types of data and can certainly track identified individuals if the user wants. The fact that it can combine anonymous and identified profiles is extremely important if marketers are to build a single unified customer data repository and use it to support all contact channels, including Web advertising. The fact that it’s a distinct, named product gives that central customer database the prominence that it deserves.

In short – and I don’t use this term loosely – the BlueKai acquisition could truly be a “game changer” that forces other enterprise software vendors to also give marketers the CDP-style database building tools they’ve needed so desperately. As of this morning, Oracle’s competitors have a new gap in their product lines. It will be interesting to see how they fill it.

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