Saturday, May 24, 2014

Latest Marketing Technology Acquisitions Bypass Marketing Automation Vendors

On May 6, AOL and Google announced their respective acquisitions of attribution vendors Convertro  and Adometry. Since then, Acxiom purchased online/offline identity matching vendor LiveRamp and SAP bought behavioral targeting vendor SeeWhy, tag management vendor Tealium announced connectors to several email platforms, and the Phillies lost nine of 14 baseball games.

That last item is just included to see if you’re paying attention. But the others share at least two important connections: one for what they are, and another for what they’re not.

The positive connection is that all of these are about integrating customer data. Convertro and Adometry both import individual-level contacts across online and offline channels and use these with other data to estimate to incremental impact of each marketing message. (See my 2013 post on Adometry for details.)  Although the attribution vendors' primary focus is helping to measure and improve the results of digital advertising, the data they assemble incorporates all types of interactions and can ultimately support other types of analysis and execution. LiveRamp, a partner of both Convertro and Adometry, connects individual identities across different media such as email and Web sites. SeeWhy supports retargeting across ad networks, email messages, and during Web site visits, again relying on its ability to assemble a unified profile. Tealium, whose tags often capture data for those other solutions, is leveraging its position at the headwaters of the data stream by building its own persistent profiles and treatment rules.

These announcements all illustrate the increasingly central role that data is playing in marketing technology. But we’re not talking about just any type of customer data here: in each case, we’re talking about data related to display advertising, and about connecting that to data from a company’s direct customer interactions. The continued integration of those two worlds – which have been almost totally separate – is a tremendously important trend that will be driving marketing technology over the next several years.

It’s also worth noting that Convertro, Adometry, and SeeWhy all perform sophisticated statistical analysis while doing data assembly as an auxiliary function.  The obvious implication is that advanced analytics will become increasingly important, which is certainly correct. Less obviously, the data assembly could be performed in other systems without Convertro, Adometry or SeeWhy losing their primary value. Indeed, given the redundancy of having each system build its own central customer database and of each vendor investing in those essential-but-peripheral capabilities, both users and vendors would benefit from having separate systems that specialize in building the customer database and share the result with these other products. Yes, we’re talking here about Customer Data Platforms.

This brings us to what all these systems are not. The particular not-ness that I have in mind is not being a marketing automation system. After years of big marketing automation acquisitions, these transactions show industry giants investing in a different type of marketing technology. In this context, it’s relevant that SAP recently decided to resell Adobe’s marketing cloud rather invest in its own solution. I’m not ready to say that the great marketing automation boom is over or that marketing automation is approaching commodity status. But I do think that industry attention is shifting more to central analytics and decisioning in one direction and to advanced execution systems in the other. As stand-alone products in each of those areas become more sophisticated, marketing automation systems, which straddle both, may take a less central role in marketers' technology planning.

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