Can Salesforce Or Oracle Win The Marketing Stack?

Can a traditional enterprise technology company really talk to a CMO?

This is a very pertinent question in the marketplace right now, as more and more we’re seeing the CMO transition to take over responsibility for creating and managing a technology stack that informs marketing.  It’s the “last frontier” for enterprise, one that’s being hotly pursued by companies such as Salesforce and Oracle. But the question that remains is whether that effort can be successful.

Enterprise technology solutions are nothing new. They’ve serviced all aspects of business for many years, with the exception of marketing.  Finance and operations have players like NetSuite.  CRM has Salesforce.  IT has Oracle. Marketing to date has not been an enterprise solution opportunity, but developments like social media, data activation, automated inventory management, programmatic buying and digital creative (even digital creative for outdoor) are driving marketing towards a cloud-based, enterprise environment.  Salesforce and Oracle recognize this and have acquired companies like Buddy Media, Radian 6 and Vitrue, in a move to become more “marketing-friendly.”



But just because you buy a marketing company doesn’t mean you can talk to a marketer.  This is true in many other categories where innovation rarely emerges from an incumbent.  For example, the innovation of the MP3 player and the smartphone came from a computer company called Apple, not a music company or a phone company. 

I work in marketing, at a technology company (in full disclosure).  I can tell you that marketers speak a different language than IT folks do, and much of what IT talks about is actually not that impressive to marketers.  IT tends to talk about techs and specs, speed and volume.  They know the names of companies that most marketers have never heard of.  Marketers talk about reach and frequency, optimized messaging and customer acquisition, the efficiency of messaging: getting your message to the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Salesforce probably has a better shot than Oracle, given that CRM is more closely related to the marketing stack.  Oracle may be a huge company, but its strategists have to radically redefine the language they speak to get marketers to listen and understand.  However Oracle’s advantage lies in the scope of its existing integrations.  Salesforce may be similar to what marketers talk about, but Oracle is virtually everywhere. 

What’s funny to me is, both companies have placed their current bets on social media as the entry point to marketing rather than data or message delivery.  Data is fast proving to be the core unit of marketing, and delivery of data or the messaging that it powers would be a logical place to get started. From simple platforms like ad serving and ad safety to significantly more complex ones for data management and activation, the marketing stack can be broken into two core areas: organization and execution.  There are tools that allow marketers to organize their marketing in terms of strategy, audience and basic parameters, to execution or delivery and optimization of that messaging.  The most obvious are those related to digital marketing, but other traditional formats for branding and direct response have systems in place to organize, manage and execute their efforts , all of which can be packaged together, evolved and integrated into a single marketing stack.  It gets very complicated very quickly if you lose sight of the core, which is data and messaging.  

To that end, I guess I can understand why Salesforce and Oracle have focused on social.  It’s early days in that space, where the focus is on seeding a message and reading the reaction across consumer-oriented social networks.  It’s a simple cause-and-effect component, one that represents an easier entry point to the development of a marketing stack, but I think it’s safe to assume we’re at the early stages of that development.  If you fast-forward six to twelve months, the marketing stack becomes more and more interesting, and CMOs are going to be leaning forward to listen and become engaged.  Will Salesforce and Oracle succeed on their own as they currently stand, or is there more to come from this space? 

I bet on the latter: lots more to come.  Don’t you agree?


4 comments about "Can Salesforce Or Oracle Win The Marketing Stack? ".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, November 8, 2012 at 7:01 a.m.

    Re: "For example, the innovation of the MP3 player and the smartphone came from a computer company called Apple, not a music company or a phone company." Interesting that you think that; few IT folks would agree, considering that Apple just produced much more polished versions of existing technologies. This example suggests that the winner will be the company which is better at *presentation*, which would be Salesforce, not Oracle.

  2. Matt Straz from Namely, November 8, 2012 at 9:05 a.m.

    Agree. A point solution does not constitute the kind of end-to-end tech stack that most marketers will need in the years ahead.

  3. Adam Kleinberg from Traction, November 10, 2012 at 1 a.m.


    I think there's lots more to come. Adobe is another major enterprise player moving into this space. I'd be willing to bet money that SAP will soon be making acquisitions as well. These are the new titans of digital marketing (read my

    I think an interesting (and uncomfortable question) is if CMOs will even have a choice. I recently met a consultant from Tata Consulting who told me "the first thing I tell my clients is to take digital out of marketing and give it to IT."

    Digital is becoming more and more automated. Programmatic buying now counts for how much of digital media? Half? Social media is becoming integrated into enterprise CRM tools.

    This is all moving into the realm of business process management and that is what the enterprise guys are really good at. And they have deep hooks into IT organizations. They will have a very compelling story to tell about systems integration and total cost of ownership. CFOs will certainly listen to those arguments and purse strings are held tight these days.

    The evolution of marketing is just beginning.



  4. Maria Winans from IBM, November 12, 2012 at 2:03 p.m.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article, Cory. You ask whether a traditional enterprise IT company can really talk to a CMO. In the case of IBM, the answer is an emphatic yes. We believe that CMOs and CIOs--working together--are the key executives who will drive the fundamental transformation of the marketing function. Consumer use of mobile and social technologies has changed the way they interact with companies (an obvious, but important point). This change has led to a major shift in the way companies interact with the customers. We're seeing a far more customer-centric approach to marketing (and to commerce more broadly) which leverages technology. Plainly said, the CMO needs technology--real-time analytics, cross-channel campaign management, digital marketing optimization, etc.--just as the CIO has to think about the front office. They're natural allies in the race to get closer to the customer.

    I agree that point solutions don't work. The only way to truly start from the perspective of your customers' needs is to think holistically. That's what we've done with our Smarter Commerce initiative. By the way, our recent "State of Marketing 2012 Survey," [] which we posted on Slideshare, is a good starting point for understanding the frame of mind of many marketers today.

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