Just before the holidays, tech giant Oracle announced it had bought marketing automation software vendor Eloqua for the cool sum of $871 million. Naturally, this purchase caused quite a buzz in marketing and IT communities.
For the IT crowd, the move shouldn’t come as a big surprise; Oracle’s made a concerted effort to move from on-premise technology to the cloud with big purchases of RightNow Technologies, Taleo, and others. Many agree the move will have a positive impact for Oracle as a business.
But more than a few marketers are puzzled. What does it mean for Eloqua users, especially those invested in Salesforce? Could this signify a major shift in the market for communications technology? What’s at stake here?
Eloqua customers to benefit? The jury’s still out
Questions still abound about how exactly the acquisition will impact current customers. ANNUITAS CEO and Principal Carlos Hidalgo says he’s talked to his clients and they aren’t overly worried:
“If Oracle lets the Eloqua team do what they do best, we shouldn’t expect many disruptions,” he explains. “Oracle is an established brand making a sizable investment. You expect they’d do their due diligence in order to understand how to make it successful.”
The company indeed plans to retain its relationships with third-party applications, according to Eloqua documentation. Hidalgo says that Eloqua must continue doing what it’s always done —listening to customers’ needs and building a road map based on them — to succeed with Oracle.
Still, some marketers believe there are too many questions to make a call. Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions, Inc. and author of eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, says she’s reserving judgment.
“The move disrupts a lot of strategic thinking. Will Eloqua evolve with Salesforce, or will they plan on integrating more Oracle-focused applications? What about Eloqua’s talent? Will they stick around? What will happen to the company’s service level? Many of these are wait-and-see questions,” she says.
The Content Marketing Institute’s own Strategist in Residence, Robert Rose, expects that Eloqua partners may begin to look at other options if Oracle software already covers their area of expertise.
“Overall, this is really good news for Eloqua employees (especially those with stock), and worrisome news for Eloqua customers and partners,” he explains. “Oracle’s history here isn’t great, and its licensing tactics aren’t always as friendly as some Eloqua customers are probably used to.”
What most marketers can agree on is that Eloqua’s future success hedges on how Oracle plays its hand. Whatever happens with Eloqua, expect the acquisition to have major implications on the market itself.
IT brands, Salesforce, and the market
Oracle isn’t the first business of its kind to make a strong push into marketing technology. Two years ago, IBM bought Unica and Teradata bought Aprimo. “These are IT companies investing in marketing technology,” Ardath Albee explains. “They’ll have a big impact on the direction of the industry.”
According to Albee, marketing automation software gets the most penetration into high-tech companies. Brands like Oracle and IBM have the reach to expand the technology’s appeal into new industries. They also bring potential to gain traction with B2C brands in a space that has typically been dominated by B2B companies.
Even companies firmly rooted in marketing technology may have a decision to make. Salesforce, for example, has already invested in its own marketing cloud with recent acquisitions like Radian6. Should the company stay firm with partner integrations or arm itself by purchasing a marketing automation solution?
Then again, Oracle’s move doesn’t necessarily force Salesforce’s hand. The software’s plug-and-play aesthetic has its own advantages. Time will tell if it’s worth it for the company to buy a player like HubSpot or Marketo.
However Salesfore reacts, Robert Rose expects other large brands to jump into the fray. “I think this is going to start to really hasten the consolidation of the marketing automation, web content management, email marketing, and social marketing space. I’d watch for a lot more acquisitions in this space in the early part of 2013.”
If more brands do consolidate, what implications would this have for communications technology?
Is this kind of tech convergence practical?
As we refine enterprise technologies, the market sees more convergence of vendors and platforms. IT directors and marketing managers will probably tell you this is a good thing — a single interface to manage a comprehensive suite of social media monitoring, marketing automation, editorial work flow, big data, CMS, and CRM tools that function in sync.
But there’s another side to that coin. It raises questions like:
- Does service quality drop with so many platforms under one roof?
- What about development? Does product evolution slow down because the software is spread too thin?
- Dominated by a handful of major brands, will the market have any incentive for rapid innovation?
- What if a vendor fails? What impact does that have on massive enterprise software implementations?
The argument for separate systems created by specialized vendors is a strong one. Finding ways to make them work together easily (e.g., Salesforce) is crucial. Are brands like Oracle and IBM changing this model? If so, is it for the better?
And is now the right time to cast a critical eye on our own processes? Robert Rose thinks so.
“Are you taking a ‘suite’ approach, or are you continuing to put ‘best-of-breed’ solutions together in an integrated way?” he asks. “A key component of the content marketing strategy going forward is which one helps us to be more nimble, to effect change faster.”
Even if technology convergence blazes forward, Carlos Hidalgo reminds us that marketers should have higher priorities: “Technology is an enabler — not the thing to get you to the next level of modern marketing,” he explains. “The tech is only as good as the process and the strategy. If you don’t focus on the demand process, you can only do so much.”
Make your predictions
Do you see the Eloqua acquisition as positive for your business? What about the market as a whole? We’re sure many of you have opinions. Tell us what you think in the comments.
Looking for more advice on choosing technology vendors for your content marketing efforts? Read CMI’s eGuide: How to Choose Content Marketing Technology.