Salesforce Expands Ad-Buying Efforts to Google Search and YouTube

Furthers Salesforce's Aggressive Ad-Buying and Product Integration Efforts

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Marc Benioff, chief executive officer of
Marc Benioff, chief executive officer of Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

CRM giant Salesforce has struck a deal with Google to use the company's new Customer Match tool, signaling new competition for the media budgets typically handled by ad buyers and ad tech, as well as for inventory like YouTube.

Through Google Match, Salesforce and its clients can use first-party data -- e-mail, loyalty and purchase data that marketers have on their own consumers, for example -- to serve ads to specific customers on Google properties. Powering this on the Salesforce end is its tool Active Audiences, which marketers or agencies can use to sync first-party CRM data with social ad data to buy and optimize ads. Salesforce has rebranded as the Advertising Studio.

One of the "main uses" of the new capability is taking groups of customers that clients already know and finding those same customers on Google sites, said Scott McCorkle, CEO of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

"We can say, I'd like to [reach] this audience of loyalty customers in Google, and here's how I'd like to drive search advertising based on what's known about a list of customers," Mr. McCorkle said. "That could be through search, which is what we're most excited about, and YouTube. There's been a big hole with search."

The capability also means that Salesforce, a $6.5 billion firm that stores and manages customer loyalty and CRM data and campaigns for brands and agencies, can reach customers through coveted YouTube inventory. Google recently cut off third-party ad-tech companies from accessing YouTube inventory, meaning advertisers interested in YouTube viewers needed to work directly with Google.

"In the traditional advertising world, this is a huge amount of spend we haven't been part of in the past," Mr. McCorkle said, referring to digital ad-buying capabilities in general. The ad-targeting capability within the marketing cloud is Salesforce's fastest growing product line, ahead of other areas such as e-mail, content management and mobile, which includes SMS and push messaging.

For Salesforce, a company that has grown largely through acquisition, the Google partnership is also in line with a goal to provide clients with a more integrated offering across its disparate sales, customer service and marketing businesses.

For example, a customer recently asked Salesforce to help it make offers to its loyalty card holders at particular "moments of intent" around travel, according to the company The client's initial strategy was to buy media across travel websites and "capture intent" that way. However, most travel purchases start with a search for flights or hotels, said Liam Doyle, VP-advertising products at Salesforce. Through Google Match, Salesforce could serve an ad that said something like, "We know you're traveling; here's a 20% discount on X."

Last year, the company introduced its "Next Gen Marketing Cloud," enabling customers with separate service and marketing accounts to see the same customer profile from both in one place, use that data to manage communication efforts across channels, and serve ads across multiple websites and devices using a new ad-targeting platform.

Around that time, the company did a similar deal with Facebook and more recently expanded its ad-tech and ad-buying capability to a variety of sites. It also continues to enhance its Journey Builder product, which listens to "customer events," such as a negative tweet or ad interaction, and suggests what a client should do with that customer, be it serve an ad through one Salesforce division, or respond to a customer service complaint through another, explained Mr. McCorkle. Google sites can now be part of those recommendations.

Salesforce for the past year has also been making an efficiency claim, with the sales pitch that it can now combine separate social audience segments onto one list and follow customer interactions across all. It means that Salesforce can see when one list of customers bought a product or service, and then exclude that customer from the combined list of people getting digital ads. In the past, if you took one segment out of a CRM list, you'd have to go to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to exclude that segment manually. That has been "messy and difficult," and clients have wasted ad money following around customers who had already bought a product, said Mr. Doyle.

As marketing tech companies like Salesforce start to look more like digital ad buyers, their compensation models set them apart. Unlike media-buying agencies that get compensated according to the number of people working on the business, commissions as a percent of media spend or media mark-ups, when Salesforce supports an ad buy it gets paid based on the number of audience segments it helps the client reach. For example, one client might want to take an audience segment from Salesforce -- a group of people who live in the Bay Area and recently bought a car -- and target lookalikes on Facebook. Those lookalikes would be one of three audience segments in a package the client agrees to pay for.

Now that it's tackled Google, Salesforce's marketing cloud team is focused on identifying new potential social and digital media partners, like Yahoo Gemini and Pinterest, Mr. Doyle said.

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