The marketing automation category acquisition trail had been quiet for, ooh, a good couple of months now, so I was relieved to see news come through just now of IBM’s acquisition of Silverpop.
It’s yet further confirmation of the escalating interest in the automation sector, and the steely-eyed determination of the global tech giants to own a piece of this increasingly important action.
By volume, Silverpop is mostly an email vendor, although it was one of the first big players in the emerging world of marketing automation back in the noughties when it acquired Vtrenz, which was one of the category pioneers along with Eloqua. As with all software acquisitions, the countdown to the disappearance of the Silverpop brand starts here… just as has already happened with Eloqua, which was acquired by Oracle 18 months ago.
Silverpop is not the first marketing automation vendor acquired by IBM – Unica was one of the categories first acquisitions, way back in 2010. However, Unica was renowned as a very high-end platform, not necessarily relevant for mass adoption, and the fact that IBM is making another dip into the market suggests that it sees further potential in the category. Or, put another way, it cannot afford to lose ground over competitors such as Salesforce, Adobe and the aforementioned Oracle.
IBM is not the only one of this elite group to take two bites of the marketing automation cherry: Oracle controversially bought Market2Lead back in 2010. Given that they went back on the acquisition trail only a couple of years later demonstrates the number of mergers in the software industry that fail.
IBM will be under pressure to make this integration work to ensure it remains relevant in the marketing space – cynics may suggest that it’s rather a knee-jerk acquisition, following the high-profile activities of its competitors. In terms of its overall marketing toolkit of acquired brands, IBM’s might be seen as weaker than its competitors, so further acquisitions are likely.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly: this development places further emphasis on the question about the future of Marketo, which is vying with Oracle(Eloqua) for category leadership. If Marketo’s goal was acquisition, it seems to have missed the key opportunities. Unless, of course, it is banking on Adobe adopting a similar strategy to IBM, and making a second acquisition following its purchase of Neolane, which occupied a broadly similar high-end space in the automation sector to Unica (IBM’s previous acquisition), potentially for the same reason. So, potentially a little piece of history repeating itself. Watch this space.