Last week I attended the Silverpop Amplify user conference in Atlanta. The event featured notable keynotes from Arianna Huffington, Peter Shankman, and a number of Silverpop leaders. But for me, the event also featured a few surprises that I dare say left me initially skeptical and then quite shocked. Now, I have been covering Silverpop for over a decade – and I remember when the notable acquisition of the much liked Vtrenz marketing automation platform happened in 2007. I think we were all a little skeptical about how things would play out, although bullish on the possibilities. I’ve always been a fan of the Silverpop platform (5,000 customers can’t be wrong). But I think over the years they have at times taken a reserved approach to marketing, which can lead to misguided perceptions among competitors and analysts. It turns out the quiet ones in the room are sometimes the ones you need to keep an eye on. Last week I was quite surprised to see the progress Silverpop has made over the last five years, not just from a platform perspective but from validation with customers, who were actually far more advanced than I had expected. There’s more to this behavioral marketing concept than meets the eye.
In this post I will share some perspectives on my key takeaways from the event, but I would like to start by revisiting some changes in the market that Silverpop saw very early on. They deserve some recognition for staying true to their vision and investing heavily in the platform in lieu of marketing. To a certain degree, Silverpop took some hits over the last five years, and they admittedly struggled to incorporate the Vtrenz platform with their core email marketing solution. Back in 2007 (and really up to 2010), marketing automation tools addressed the complex sales cycle for business-to-business organizations. That meant that early adopters of marketing automation were largely software, high tech, financial services, and manufacturing. For a while we saw marketing automation and email solution providers running in parallel at different target audiences – B2B and B2C, respectively. At that time, a robust email marketing tool was really the only platform that could address deliverability and preference management for high volume business-to-consumer communications. So when Vtrenz was acquired, the entire sales model and value proposition was somewhat foreign to Silverpop. But Bill and team had a vision for enabling “behavioral marketing,” and that’s where things start to get interesting.
For all the good that has come from marketing automation, it’s also a very misleading term. It’s not so much about automating marketing, but about optimizing the path to revenue. While marketing automation is certainly well beyond the early adopter stage, many marketers confuse the concept because it sounds an awful lot like email marketing on auto-pilot. But the real value behind marketing automation is putting context behind communications. It’s about engaging a target audience in contextually relevant ways at the right time, in the right medium. Customers have tremendous control in the 24/7 age of information. Marketers are at the mercy of the customer, and customers expect personalized and relevant communications across whatever channel they choose. The problem is, the fragmentation of marketing channels – social, mobile, email, web, in-store, SEO, video, display ads, etc. – has led to fragmented adoption of marketing technologies. According to Gleanster, the average mid-size company supports marketing with an average of four marketing technologies. CMOs everywhere are scratching their heads trying to deliver the best customer experience possible through a hodgepodge of technology investments.
But in 2014 we are increasingly realizing that the optimal customer experience requires the same set of tools regardless of the business model, B2B or B2C. As early as 2008, Silverpop customers began to request capabilities from both platforms (Vtrenz for B2B environments and Silverpop for B2C environments). Silverpop was actually one of the first ESPs to invest in the inevitable collision between marketing automation and email marketing. They were also early advocates for a term they called “behavioral marketing.” In the optimal customer experience every interaction with a customer must be personalized across channels, messaging, and customer preferences. Behavioral marketing therefore stresses the use of data (demographic, psychographic, behavioral, etc.) to inform personalized and automated customer engagement at scale. This calls for two essential capabilities that Silverpop has clearly spent time and effort developing: one, a platform that can capture implicit and explicit data on customers – irrespective of channel; and two, the ability to create business rules that can automate customer interaction based on customer data.
Despite some of the messaging Silverpop published around the traction of behavioral marketing, the term never really took off – possibly because they were among the vendors that couldn’t shout loud enough in this competitive market.
But where I think Silverpop deserves kudos is the fact that they didn’t play the marketing game, they invested money in the platform and the capabilities. And what I saw at Amplify 2014 was that they came out swinging. Of course, the terminology used is irrelevant; the proof in the pudding is in the customer adoption – and success. According to Silverpop, 1,500 of the 5,000 brands using the product use behavioral features. I can say that I kicked the tires on that during my conversations with customers, and I believe that metric. Customers that attended Amplify were generally sophisticated marketers with knowledge of how they “should” be using the platform or comfort around what it would take to get there. But many are in the initial stages of more sophisticated behavioral marketing campaigns. That said, Silverpop has a platform that will take them to the next level.
At the same time, many customers where quite honest about the complexity of moving down the behavioral marketing path. It’s not a walk in the park, and learning the bells and whistles of the platform can be daunting, especially for marketers who have not used marketing automation tools in the past. Additionally, behavioral marketing requires a deep understanding of the customer journey. I thought the Silverpop interface showed a dramatic shift in simplicity from just 2-3 years ago, so Silverpop was aware of the usability issue. Bottom line, training and adoption is always a challenge for digital marketing platforms. The trick is to make it easy enough for marketers to embrace one or a few capabilities, see a measurable benefit, and strive for more in the next campaign.
Some notable takeaways from the event:
To read more about the event takeaways, download the full Market Insight.