When Oracle shelled out $1.5 billion for cross-channel marketer Responsys last month, it seemed a clear response to Salesforce.com’s own $2.5 billion ExactTarget acquisition in June, but I called up a couple analysts to make sure they agreed with my take. One of those analysts told me we were seeing signs of the “the battleground of the next ten years” for marketing.
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Almost as if to prove his point, the analyst, Rob Brosnan, then jumped to lead strategy at one of the largest remaining independents.
StrongView Systems isn’t a billion-dollar company like ExactTarget or Responsys–it’s more comparable to Neolane, a marketer that sold to Adobe for $600 million, Brosnan says–but the company’s looking to go the IPO route in upcoming months and tapped Brosnan to help guide it to that stage. As senior vice president of strategy, Brosnan will help direct products internally while engaging clients and investors to up StrongView’s profile before going to market.
That’s been StrongView’s goal for a while under the new management of CEO Bill Wagner, as the company changed its name from the less-sexy, more-specific StrongMail last year. And it’s a bet Brosnan’s taking that must also be weighed against timing, opportunity, and other factors. But in a phone call with Brosnan about why he chose StrongView and where he sees the market going, Brosnan said that working at a medium-sized company he’ll have more input at an inflection point for the entire market in 2014: while email marketing will continue to grow, the major players will need to diversify away from depending on it for revenue and look to analytics from new areas for growth.
Brosnan isn’t alone in that viewpoint. In a conversation with reporters on Wednesday, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff said that analytics were the largest area of growth for his company that didn’t have its own vertical yet. From Benioff’s point of view, Salesforce had bought up the best cross-channel marketer available, leaving Oracle and others to seize the next-biggest Responsys, in later months–that was the battle for 2013. But analytics, Benioff argued, would be where we will see substantial funding and investment in automated marketing in 2014.
Where that growth could come from, Brosnan argues, is in the telemetry and data coming from wearable devices, if and when a mainstream hit should finally arrive. “That’d play well for anybody in the market who can capitalize on real-time engagement,” Brosnan says. “It will change any industry out there, but especially insurance, healthcare, auto and financial services.” The difficulty will be to sell insights off the data coming from devices, according to Brosnan, in a way that is actionable for marketers and salespeople.
That’s where Brosnan’s bet on StrongView comes in, he says: the former analyst argues that his new company’s years working more quietly in infrastructure before a shift in focus gives it a technological underpinning unmatched at the larger competition. And Brosnan’s outlook on the market hasn’t changed when it comes to Adobe’s dominance as the strongest end-to-end player in the market. ”To their credit, they are the preferred provider for almost every major marketing department, it almost looks like IBM but for marketing.”
Going to a medium-sized company like StrongView means we may not hear from Brosnan much in the future if the company’s vision doesn’t pan out–but working at an independent offers more change than at shops that have been acquired and “died on the vine,” he argues.
So it’s worth paying attention to whether StrongView can take a higher profile as cross-channel marketing moves away from the 90% dependence on email that it currently maintains. If anything, the company will only be a higher-profile acquisition target moving forward.
Add the company to a crowded marketing IPO watch list for 2014 and into 2015, but don’t be shocked if it gets a major offer from a large player looking to compete with Adobe, Salesforce.com and Oracle moving forward. Brosnan himself notes that he’d be echoing a predecessor in that event: another Forrester enterprise marketing expert, Surresh Vital, left a year ago for Neolane, six months before Adobe snatched it up.