Oracle Buys Responsys in Direct Attack on Salesforce

Tech Integration Remains Elusive for Many Aiming to Be One-Stop Marketing Tech Shops

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The marketing clouds are gathering. On Friday, tech giant Oracle expanded its marketing-services offerings with the acquisition of Responsys, a fifteen-year-old email marketing firm-turned one-stop digital marketing shop. For $1.5 billion, Oracle adds the firm's email, social, mobile, display and web CRM technology to its Oracle Marketing Cloud.

The deal plants Oracle more firmly in place among a host of other companies that in recent years have snapped up marketing-tech firms to piece together suites of tools aimed at marketing chiefs. Salesforce, and, to some degree, Adobe and IBM are among the bigger players that have transitioned their businesses to include marketing-services divisions. Adobe, which morphed from a design-software provider to a marketing-services provider over the past few years, also calls its set of marketing tools a "marketing cloud."

Still, Forrester Research analyst Rob Brosnan sees Salesforce as Oracle's direct competitor. "This is a deal that's about Salesforce and Salesforce only," he said. While Adobe has its sights set mainly on serving marketers, he added, "Salesforce and Oracle are about serving your whole company from sales to service and marketing."

Responsys clients include LinkedIn, Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines. The companies use Responsys tools to communicate across digital channels like email, mobile and display advertising, to reach their customers. Responsys management and staff will join the Oracle Marketing Cloud division once the transaction closes.

In part, the goal for Oracle and the growing set of companies bundling marketing services is to cement their technologies into a variety of clients' internal processes, making it more difficult to move to a competitor. Shifting to a new provider takes lots of time, resources and money and certainly could cause hiccups. "It's been very difficult to move," said Mr. Brosnan. However, he said, "In marketing it's not so clear that it's going to be such a great barrier to entry because marketers historically move very quickly."

The big challenge to building a holistic marketing platform through deal-making is successfully integrating all the offerings. Most recent marketing tech acquisitions have not fully gelled yet, said Mr. Brosnan.

Dale Renner, CEO of RedPoint Global, an independent CRM data management and marketing software firm, agreed. "I don't know if there are a whole bunch of examples you can point to as examples of successful integration. ... The messaging gets integrated, but the technology doesn't and the reason it doesn't is because what you end up with oftentimes is a lot of different architected systems."

Both said additional acquisitions will follow as big players look to round out service offerings, and new players get in the game.

"It's not the end for Oracle," said Mr. Brosnan. "Think about ad tech. There's nothing they can really go to agencies with," he said, suggesting that Oracle, Salesforce or other marketing services providers could eventually seek to acquire a demand-side platform or another type of ad-targeting technology.

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