Are Modern Marketers Menaced By Mergers?

What do a Mercedes E320 convertible and the future of marketing have in common? Plenty, starting with blind spots.

When I celebrated my 40th birthday, I treated myself to a new Mercedes E320 convertible. Unfortunately, some of the shine wore off the apple within weeks. While I was driving down the I-5 Freeway in San Diego, I discovered that the roof design created blind spots, making lane changes a perilous endeavor.

Now that I have returned from the Eloqua Experience 2013 conference in San Francisco, I’m noticing more blind spots: in the marketing cloud sector. If you are a marketing leader in the process of finalizing your 2014 demand creation and content management budgets, it’s important to plan for some possible road hazards.

As 2,000 avid customers convened at this modern marketer mind meld, I realized what an enviable market position Oracle/Eloqua occupies today (full disclosure: Oracle/Eloqua provided me with a full conference pass). They have inherited a loyal customer base in a hot software sector. Unlike some cash-starved competitors, they have virtually unlimited resources to invest in loyalty programs, marketing, acquisitions, and product development. Yet there are still some blind spots in the marketing cloud promise:

1. Oracle/Eloqua’s product development and acquisitions team are moving much faster than their customers. Oracle/Eloqua has undertaken a marketing cloud land grab strategy. Within the same week, they announced a new version of AdFocus and more than 20 new AppCloud partners. Last week, they also bought Compendium, a platform which creates content to accelerate buying cycles.

While it may be relatively easy for Oracle’s seasoned M&A team to make acquisitions, it is not as easy for customers to keep pace. A good number of Oracle/Eloqua’s mid-market customers, such as InContact, Twitter, MindJet, and Cvent, employ very lean marketing teams.

In today’s over-caffeinated world, will merger mania and barrage of product announcements cause marketers to press the pause button on deployments? Or will Oracle/Eloqua’s dedicated team of 100 customer success professionals and cloud-based architecture keep them out of harm’s way?

2. Marketing’s ability to prove the value of automation is still in its early stages. While BtoB Magazine’s study revealed that content creation and distribution budgets are growing by an average of 9% over 2012, and this area is ostensibly a ripe growth opportunity, marketing leaders still face implementation barriers. Kevin Akeryod, Senior VP of Oracle/Eloqua, concedes that ten years after marketing automation’s introduction, “extracting value is still poor—it’s the number one problem plaguing the (marketing automation) industry.”

This is a natural progression as you map marketing cloud tools across the technology adoption lifecycle (as coined by VC, marketing guru, and author Geoffrey Moore). While some industries, such as contact centers and technology firms, are Oracle/Eloqua’s biggest advocates, a large number of market sectors are still looking for basic lead management and nurturing capabilities.

Lattice Engines CMO Brian Kardon led a dynamic conference discussion on “Predicting Your Next Customer,” which further illustrated this point. He asked how many session participants have deployed lead scoring–which I consider a core Eloqua product benefit. Only half of the 100-person audience raised their hand.

3. The marketing cloud buzz overshadows ethical and governance discussions. Some marketing leaders have been handed the keys to the customer kingdom, and need to treat them with care. They have the ability to craft unique buyer messages, yet run the risk of invading a customer’s privacy. They can influence the frequency of customer communication, but may not yet be coordinating how often other departments are interacting with customers (such as customer service and legal).

With today’s heightened sensitivity around privacy, marketers must give these issues priority attention. Akeroyd’s position regarding this topic resonated with me. “We need to constantly educate, and be driven by our company values. Privacy and governance issues are as important in the customer success discussion as adoption and utilization.”

Marketing leaders should challenge their technology providers and partners by asking these questions: What is the real value of deploying the marketing cloud, and how will we report our progress? How do we address the cultural and ethical issues that these new technologies introduce? Which companies really understand the rules of the road to successful implementation? Those areas must be part of the marketing cloud roadmap exercise. Otherwise, you’re better off spending your time taking your car out for a spin on a sunny afternoon.

You can read my review of the 2012 Eloqua Experience here.

Related posts:

Four Essentials For Modern B2B Marketers

Cash, Lies and ROI, Redux: 3 Signs Your Marketing Budget Is A Flight Risk

Nine Common Obstacles That Derail Growth

Why Today’s Marketing Planning Models Fail To Deliver In The C-Suite

Copyright 2013, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

This post originally appeared in FastCompany.

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