There are a lot of ad technology sleeping giants out there. Facebook. Amazon. Ebay. Twitter. Most of these usually pop up in breathless op-ed pieces about future dominating vendors. All have unique data sets, and all have their owned and operated inventory – but all are effectively media companies, now battling to capture agency/marketer budget. It’s interesting that the enterprise players, who are now encroaching onto ad technology’s traditional territory, are rarely ever spoken about. The Adobe’s and IBM’s are obvious examples. But Salesforce could well be the dark horse to emerge from the enterprise side.
It’s all about the platform play
There are very few independent pure play advertising technology platforms out there. Most are conflicted – due to competitive media businesses. Agencies and marketers want access to multiple audience and inventory sources. The fact that Google won’t be integrated with Facebook or Twitter any time soon is an indication that independent ad technology players are going to grow a bigger slice of this media buying business. And given the increasing cynicism of some marketers around black box solutions there could be a shift to transparent platforms. Salesforce wasn’t even in this game until it bought BuddyMedia close to $700 million last year. Now it has a Facebook platform for its CRM clients.
BuddyMedia’s agreement with WPP also gave it an “in” with the biggest marketing and media buying organisation globally. Rebranded as social.com and built into the Salesforce CRM, it has also recently integrated with Twitter to allow customers to buy across the social media channel. This is an important development, as it now positions Salesforce as a viable platform for marketers and agencies to execute social buys. You never really thought as Salesforce as anything but an incredibly powerful CRM, but now the SAAS solution is moving from the enterprise marketing layer into traditional ad technology country (whilst at the same time, the ad tech incumbents are trying to move up the value chain). When cornered at the recent SalesForce conference, Mike Lazerow also admitted that FBX functionality was coming.
Salesforce, The New Acquirer of Choice
This segues neatly into the another key reason for Salesforce’s new found status as ad tech giant, namely that it is in the market to buy companies. The traditional buyers in our space have been Google, Yahoo and AOL. All three look like they are not going to spend hundreds of million on this new crop of ad tech companies. Google has more than likely done its buying in the space. In fairness it has enough engineering might to cover any blind spots it might have (although the pace at which it develops is of course slower than a start up). AOL is a media company, now interested mainly in bolstering its content business through the acquisition of scaled media web sites. And since Mayer took over at Yahoo, we have seen nothing but small mobile app based acqui-hires – and that trend is likely to continue until the company unloads its Asian assets and its share prices collapses. So who is left? Adobe? The company hasn’t done a multi-hundred million dollar deal since acquiring Omniture and Efficient Frontier. But the company gets mentioned prominently in high-level M&A discussion.
Now that Salesforce is looking to move into real-time trading with a FBX integration imminent, you wonder what Salesforce will do? Will it build its own bidder and necessary infrastructure to make it work? Or will it kick the tyres of some of the solutions on the market, and buy to integrate into the platform? There are a lots of DSPs looking to IPO. Not all of them will go to market. If Salesforce does look to acquire, will Adobe or IBM follow suit? Or perhaps there is something to look into with Adroll? Salesforce themselves use Adroll for its retargeting, perhaps they’ll go the full nine yards and take it off the table for presumably a more sensible price than some of the other, larger DSPs? And why would Salesforce stop at FBX, when it could buy biddable media across Display and Search. A Kenshoo could be just as attractive to Salesforce, as it continues to build out that enterprise advertising / marketing stack.
Plugging Into The Coveted Marketer’s CRM
Salesforce is the CRM of choice for tens of thousands of paying companies (87,000 and growing), with the majority of blue chip marketers using it. This means that Salesforce is the gateway to the coveted CRM of many marketing clients. Now that Salesforce is looking to build on that key data store, they are in a powerful position to unleash the targeting potential of the CRM. Granted they will have to figure out how to segment and target users across devices without using PII, but the opportunity is too significant to ignore. March Beinhoff has been aggressive to move into to other areas to diversify the revenue streams for Salesforce. He saw an opportunity in social, and now that BuddyMedia is integrated into the platform there is now a big opportunity in data-driven media buying across multiple platforms. And Salesforce is sitting in the sweet spot to make that happen.
The March of the Enterprise SaaS Players
You can’t do a piece around Salesforce and not mention players like SAP, IBM and Oracle (or even the likes of Accenture and McKInsey). Accenture, in particular, has been very active in our space. Its recent deal with BMW suggests that the consultancy giant is looking to move its core competencies of implementing infrastructure projects into wider functions functions like marketing and media services. Both in its view are intertwined. So is this an opportunity or threat to the existing players in the space? It depends how you look on it. Consolidation is inevitable – and this could be a threat to current vendors in the space (namely agencies), as we’ve pointed out in a previous post. But if Salesforce opened up its platforms to non-competing vendors it could open up a whole new raft of opportunities for traditional ad tech vendors.
Building on top of the Salesforce platform with direct access to its clients’ CRM could enable deeper integrations, better insights and ultimately better targeting. Ad tech and marketing tech are converging. Forget the ad tech landscapes that have come to define our industry. The canvass is now a lot larger – with more room for growth. This will be key area of discussion at ATS London ’13 (25% of early bird tickets are already sold). This is the future of our industry and we’d better be prepared for the march of the enterprise marketing giants.