With Microsoft spending a whopping $26.2 billion to purchase LinkedIn, the company is positioning itself with the likes of Salesforce to offer businesses a connected community and technology stack. However, thought leaders in the space are hesitant to call the purchase a win or a loss — It ultimately depends on how Microsoft intends to incorporate LinkedIn into its current offerings.
We asked five industry experts how Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn will positively and/or negatively impact B2B marketers in the coming future. Read on to see how experts in the space are evaluating one of the biggest martech acquisitions in history.
The potential impact, positive or negative, really depends on the direction that Microsoft takes with LinkedIn and its execution of that vision. Since Microsoft has very little experience building thriving online communities outside of its investment in Facebook and the Xbox Live community, which are consumer communities, my concern is that LinkedIn is going to transform from a professional networking site to something more like Facebook. Some might say it’s already starting to look and act like Facebook. If it becomes a B2B social community fueled by ads and random acts of content, the educational value of the content and the quality of the connections you make on LinkedIn will continue to suffer and ultimately drive members away. If, on the other hand, LinkedIn stays true to its original purpose of being a professional network and a place where keeping your contact information up to date is purposeful, then the value of that data and the network will be invaluable to B2B marketers and to businesses.
Just imagine the power of having every business and working professional on LinkedIn. Imagine the power to use LinkedIn for knowledge and research, staffing and staff development, as well as the ability to use it for the exchange of business resources and content. Accomplish that, and you’d have an invaluable database for B2B marketers. But go further, with the right interface and API’s, and you could create a whole new paradigm for CRM and communication. You could have an e-commerce exchange that would give Ariba some real competition. You could have a platform for exchanging contracts through it. You could manage shipments and inventory between suppliers through it. You could link business applications to it and through it. Done right, Microsoft could make LinkedIn the world’s network for business.
The potential upside for B2B marketers from the acquisition is significant. Integrating LinkedIn with Skype and other Microsoft-owned technologies could be a great enhancement to the platform that marketers will utilize. Of course, there is always the chance that this acquisition will cause LinkedIn to become too commercial for B2B, and instead of increasing the value of it as a media company and content resource, it will degrade it. Only time will tell, but I believe the positives outweigh the negatives for this acquisition.
In the short term, LinkedIn will apparently remain a separate company so the impact on marketers will be minimal. It’s reasonable to expect a slowdown in new offerings as the company adjusts to new ownership. But the overlap between LinkedIn and Microsoft’s other businesses is relatively low, so I don’t expect much disruption from consolidation, as acquisitions sometimes cause. Longer term, it’s possible there will be some clever ways that Microsoft can use LinkedIn data, although what those are is not yet clear. So maybe some good things will happen, and maybe not much at all will change. Either way, there’s not much downside for marketers.
The potential of a vertically-connected ecosystem in the digital channel is what makes Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn so powerful. Although Microsoft already has positions in all three stages of this channel, its primary strength was in client software (Windows, Xbox, Internet Explorer) and the company’s secondary strength was in marketing software (Dynamics CRM, Office, Cortana). Microsoft’s Internet services were a distant third, as Bing struggled against Google Search. They had no dominant exchange social media property.
Microsoft could probably use greater strength in the marketing software stage of the channel, as well — which is why the company was rumored to be interested in acquiring Salesforce last year and Marketo this year. I think something like that will happen eventually. (As an aside, I think Satya Nadella’s Microsoft might be a better cultural fit for HubSpot than when the firm was in the Ballmer years.)
For all these reasons, LinkedIn becomes a strategic crown jewel for Microsoft — and makes this the largest martech acquisition in history.
Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn is a great fit. Why? Because emails are at the heart of the online experience — 85 % of people online communicate through email. Microsoft owns the lion’s share of business communications via Outlook in the e-mail channel. Microsoft’s ability to dominate the business communications channel is clear. With the acquisition of LinkedIn, Microsoft now owns business communications in the social channel. Bravo Microsoft! LinkedIn also benefits heavily with the umbrella of Microsoft in the enterprise space. It’s a match made in heaven.
Anyone who has chatted with me in recent months knows that I’ve added the impending domination of humans by intelligent machines to my usual list of obsessions. This most definitely applies to marketing, where I found many artificial intelligence-based solutions once I began looking for them.
My thesis was that AI-based systems already exist for most tasks that marketers perform, but are not yet connected into a single robo-marketer that (or is it who?) could do the job from start to finish. To test this, I listed the tasks that go into building a marketing program and matched these against my list of AI-based products.
Quite to my surprise, the machines haven’t risen so far after all. Of the three broad tasks I defined — planning, content creation, and execution — only content creation is served by what I consider to be strong AI solutions. (The term “strong AI” is used by AI experts to mean systems match or exceed human intelligence. I’m using it in that rough sense, although with the more specific meaning of “systems that perform tasks that otherwise require human marketers.”)
Some AI options are available for execution, but most are conventional predictive modeling products that I don’t count as strong AI because they still require humans to deploy their results. Marketing planning, which includes the all-important task of campaign design, is almost wholly untouched by AI.
Artificial intelligence is an important topic in our general society and seems to attracting increased attention, even though Google Trends suggests otherwise. Marketers in particular are thinking about it as they adjust to rapidly changing technologies that increasingly rely on predictive analytics and other automation for effective management.
Given the hype that accompanies pretty much every new technical development, it’s helpful to see that AI-based marketing isn’t as far along as one might expect. But don't take that as a reason to relax: While it’s not time to panic, it’s definitely time to prepare. AI marketing systems already present some significant opportunities and their scope can only grow — perhaps exponentially as key techniques become more widely distributed. Now is the time to start building a realistic understanding of how these systems work, what they can and can’t do, and how they’ll fit into your future.
David Raab is Principal of Raab Associates, a consultancy that helps marketers select and deploy marketing automation systems. Typical projects include needs definition, vendor selection, and performance measurement. The firm also offers industry vendors assistance in understanding customer needs and establishing thought leadership through white papers, surveys and presentations.
For more specifics on the artificial intelligence solutions available for marketing tasks such as planning, content creation and execution, see a full version of this post on Raab's Customer Experience Matrix blog.
More powerful targeting and segmentation capabilities, robust dashboards and a wizard for building email campaigns are some of the key highlights in the latest version of the Oracle Eloqua Marketing Cloud.
“Having spent a little time with it, I would have to say they are hitting all segments of their customer base, from the power user to the casual user, with some strong capabilities,” Tom Svec, Solutions Architect at DemandGen International, told Demand Gen Report.
Revenues for B2B marketing automation systems will grow 60% to reach $1.2 billion in 2014, according to Raab Associates’ latest B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST) report. The 60% rate is higher than the 2013 rate of 50%.
“Revenues for B2B marketing automation vendors continue to grow as adoption increases and existing customers expand their systems,” said VEST author David M. Raab. “We also see continued extension into new industries, new features, and new vendor services.”
By David M. Raab, Principal, Raab Associates
There have been two recent acquisition announcements in the B2B marketing automation space: LoopFuse by Salesfusion and LeadRocket/Genius by CallidusCloud, which owns LeadFormix. Both of the acquired vendors had bright prospects at one time but fell by the wayside. Interestingly, both pursued a “freemium” strategy of offering their system for free to users with small databases.
Marketo has announced an agreement to acquire Insightera, a real-time web site and mobile app personalization platform, a move that fueled further speculation that the marketing automation vendor will be acquired. Industry observers noted that the acquisition of Insightera will add a variety of personalization and predictive analytic tools to Marketo’s arsenal.
Insightera provides personalization for web site and mobile users and the ability to identify anonymous web site visitors. In addition, Insightera provides machine learning capabilities across all web site content and uses predictive analytics to make content recommendations.
At Dreamforce, Salesforce debuted its revamped marketing hub — now dubbed Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud — as part of its Salesforce1 platform, a new set of technologies designed to deliver and integrate mobile versions of Salesforce-based applications.
The Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud is designed to integrate apps for email, mobile, social, web and marketing automation, into a single location. The marketing cloud also is designed to provide a consolidated view of every customer, help manage the customer journey and optimize content for every device.
Analysts who spoke with Demand Gen Report had mixed reactions to the new marketing cloud. Some pointed to a greater separation of B2B and B2C marketing tactics, while others saw it as bringing the two marketing disciplines closer together.
While the reports of the death of email have been greatly exaggerated, marketing emails are in danger of being buried in the graveyard known as the “spam” folder. There have been a number of developments in recent months that have made it harder for marketing emails to land in the inbox.
Some new email filters, such as Swizzle and Mailstrom, make it easy for users to perform a mass delete and unsubscribe to rid their inbox of marketing messages. While these add-ons appeal to power users who are obsessive about clearing their inboxes, mainstream email providers are also making it more difficult for email marketers to make it into the coveted inbox. Google’s Gmail recently added a “Tabs” feature that relegates some marketing messages to the “Promotions” inbox and Microsoft’s Outlook’s “sweep” function can also put a dent in the success of email marketing campaigns.
Will Salesforce.com’s acquisition of ExactTarget fuel interest in marketing automation, or does it mean that the marketing automation function is going to get gobbled up by CRMs, the way Oracle swallowed Eloqua? While it is still early in the game, most experts who spoke with Demand Gen Report said the ExactTarget deal was a positive move for the marketing automation space. However, independent vendors will have to address other marketing functions such as budgeting, content planning and financial applications to remain viable in the long term.
“It is a brilliant move for [Salesforce.com] that gives entry into B2C markets, addresses a critical functional weakness in their own system, and gives them Pardot marketing automation for free,” said David M. Raab, Principal, Raab Associates. “Marketing automation sits right between email and CRM, so once you control those two, then marketing automation pretty much comes along for the ride. But I don’t think SFDC will shut out competitors, so it’s not an immediate death sentence for independent marketing automation vendors.”