What Do These ESP Deals Mean to You?

So much for a slow summer! Anyone paying even a little attention to the email marketing space over the past couple of months has seen a blizzard of activity as ESPs big and small get snapped up. First there was ExactTarget’s acquisition by Salesforce.com, then Adobe’s takeover of Neolane, and most recently Deluxe Corporation’s purchase of VerticalResponse. (Side note: My favorite take on all this is CEO Janine Popick’s head-on approach to the number one question on everyone’s minds regarding Deluxe and VerticalResponse: “But Janine, they print checks!?”)

So what does this mean for email marketers?

There’ are multiple ways to look at this. For the good, take ExactTarget CEO Scott Dorsey’s take on his deal:

“By bringing together ExactTarget’s industry-leading marketing automation and campaign management capabilities with salesforce.com’s leading social marketing solutions—listening with Radian6, publishing with Buddy Media, and advertising with social.com—we will deliver the marketing platform of choice for CMOs . . . Together, we will enable companies to transform how they connect with their customers across sales, service and marketing.”

Let’s dig a little deeper. Marketers are increasingly being asked – or asking – to break down silos and re-organize to focus on customers rather than channels. These types of acquisitions help to drive that objective. They match where we all want to be as enterprises rather than just what we think is achievable within the organizational niche that we control. As I’ve heard a number of email marketers voice out loud over the past weeks, these acquisitions and the new menu of marketing capabilities they provide lend real credibility to your arguments when you’re advocating to the executive team for new ways of doing things. Salesforce commands the attention of the C suite.

The potential downsides to these deals are in the details and probably won’t appear immediately for most marketers. One thing I don’t think is a concern is any drop off in service or core capabilities/features for the acquired ESPs. The acquired companies have an interest in delivering value as soon as possible, and a prerequisite for that is to hold on to their base of satisfied customers. Likewise, the acquiring companies have a narrative they want to tell about being the one place where marketers will converge. That story gets pretty messy, fast, if the core offering they acquired takes a nosedive.

Nonetheless, I do wonder about competitive atrophy in the email space as these bigger conglomerates focus inwardly on making their enterprise solutions stickier and stickier across the org chart. It’s obvious, but the more your company has invested in the Adobe universe, for example, the more inertia there is to switching. With less external pressure, the bigger players may turn toward iterating within their environments rather than thinking outside the box.

Something to keep an eye on as we watch this all play out!

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