Another milestone for marketing automation as Oracle buys Eloqua

The temptation for clichés when writing this blog is hard to avoid – I’m sure I’ve written at least a couple of posts over the past few years with titles like ‘Marketing automation achieves critical mass’ etc.

So I’m going to avoid them where possible, but the news that Eloqua has been bought by Oracle for $871 million (£535 million) is VERY significant. Ironically this story pipped our magazine cover story for January to the post – this focused on the growing level of interest in the marketing space being shown by the global tech giants, and how the marketing automation vendors were ripe for acquisition, and will hit desks in the New Year. The feature spoke in detail about IBM, Salesforce and Adobe, all of whom have indicated they are honing in on the marketing sector, but not Oracle.

The deal is big news for a number of reasons. Eloqua is widely regarded as the Rolls Royce solution in the marketing automation sector, arguably created the category and has been the long-term market leader (although in recent months has faced increasingly stiff competition from Marketo).

The acquisition could be seen as part of a second wave of consolidation in marketing automation, the first being in 2010, when IBM bought Unica and Teradata bought Aprimo. 2012, meanwhile, has already seen the acquisition of Pardot by Exact Target.

Interestingly, the Eloqua deal is not Oracle’s first foray into the marketing automation sector – it acquired Market2Lead back in 2010. This previous deal was understood to be focused on the acquiree’s technology rather than its customers, and was expected at the time to mark the start of Oracle’s emergence as a major player in the marketing automation sector.

The fact that it has come back two years later to buy the category leader suggests that either this approach hasn’t worked, or that the challenge and opportunity may have been bigger than Oracle initially anticipated. Eloqua’s culture, technology and brand potentially make it a major player in marketing automation space. If at first you don’t succeed… Details of quite how the new parent will integrate this leading edge technology player into its infrastructure and offering will doubtless emerge over the next few months.

Without question, acquisitions and consolidation in the marketing automation space will continue – the key question now is, who’s next? Eloqua’s arch rival Marketo is the obvious name that springs to mind, and the San Mateo California based company is rumoured to have  been courted by a number of big name brands in recent months. Even though it doesn’t count itself as marketing automation, inbound marketing leader Hubspot is another obvious candidate, in a similar space. Otherwise there’s Neolane and fast-growing Act-On. Please let me know if I’ve missed anyone else significant.

It looks set to be a fascinating period for those of us watching the development of this category. Investment by new parent companies will help functionality development, and ownership by these globally renowned brands may bring more validation to a category that is gaining ground more slowly than it might like. Ultimately assuming Oracle seek to maintain Eloqua’s market leading positioning, this deal should be good for marketing and marketers. But watch this space – there is certainly more to come.

Read B2B Marketing's January cover story on the future of markeing technology