ExactTarget aims to deliver ads through new channels

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Facts on ExacTargetTo many around these parts, ExactTarget is still that software/services company that helps businesses market themselves via e-mail.

So when co-founder and CEO Scott Dorsey recently referred to e-mail as the 10-year old company’s “legacy product,” some were left scratching their heads.

E-mail is the e-mail firm’s quaint legacy product?

Sure enough. These days, e-mail is merely one component of ExactTarget’s explosive growth, which included last month’s announcement of 500 new jobs by 2015.

In the last few years, ExactTarget’s software-as-a-service platform has been expanded to support additional marketing channels, such as mobile devices and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Besides the broader delivery channels, throw in the more sophisticated analytics included with its software and ExactTarget is arguably stepping on the robe of the Big Kahuna of marketing software, Indianapolis-based Aprimo. Aprimo’s software supports numerous Fortune 500 companies’ broader marketing campaigns and in-house marketing administration.

E-mail, says ExactTarget Chief Marketing Officer Tim Kopp, “will continue to be an extremely material part of what we do.”

One of its largest clients, for example, is Groupon—a daily deal site that offers customers discounts on everything from restaurants to hotels. ExactTarget powers Groupon’s 125 million e-mails a month throughout the United States and Europe.

But “it is undeniably the tidal wave of social and mobile [marketing] that is coming. … We don’t have many discussions with decision-makers where mobile and social media don’t come up.”

The privately held Indianapolis company doesn’t break out how much of its annual revenue—$95 million in 2009—can be traced to social media or mobile marketing products. It’s sort of irrelevant, anyway, given that ExactTarget’s latest offering, the platform known as Interactive Marketing Hub, allows companies to advertise across all diverse channels—whether e-mail, mobile devices, social media or websites.

Social media advertising is still developing, but marketing types are salivating at the potential. ExactTarget estimates that 5 percent of U.S. online consumers are Twitter followers. That equates to 11.5 million households.

About 42 percent of U.S. households, or 46 million people, use Facebook at least once a day.

Industry analytics firm Gartner Group, in a report last month, said it is seeing more companies in the business-to-consumer realm that have invested in a variety of tactical marketing technologies “looking to consolidate their marketing applications and move to more integrated platforms, with fewer vendors.”

That means forget contracting with a separate e-mail marketing vendor, separate mobile marketing firm and separate social media software firm.

With a company using multiple software vendors supporting particular marketing channels, “you end up with the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing,” Kopp said.

Marketers have growing expectations from the vendors in ExactTarget’s realm, where Forrester Research lists 15 companies as players. ExactTarget was ranked among the leaders of the pack.

“Given the increasing complexity of the e-mail marketing channel, including the need to integrate e-mail with social and mobile channels, the call for strategic guidance will only continue to grow in importance,” Forrester says in its latest report on the sector.

Being able to effectively pitch through multiple channels is king.

Take, for instance, ExactTarget client Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. Scotts struck a deal with Major League Baseball to sponsor the fields of several baseball stadiums, including Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark.

Someone attending a Reds game this summer would’ve seen a Scotts ad flashing on the stadium’s video screen. The ad included an invitation to any fan who wanted to know how the groundskeepers kept the stadium lawn looking so good. Fans could text the keyword on the stadium video screen and Scotts’ ExactTarget platform would e-mail the fan a groundskeeper’s guide and maybe even a coupon.

The fan could then elect to share it via Facebook or another social media site with a friend.

The potential reward of social media marketing itself hasn’t been a surprise.

“What’s surprised us is the interactivity that’s happened across all the channels,” Kopp said.

ExactTarget clients use such marketing pitches in other settings, such as in retail stores. For instance, a client could be waiting in line on Black Friday and see a sign to text a keyword for more information on a product. That way, marketers catch the potential customer while at the height of their interest, while they’re engaged with a brand at the store. Again, they could share the e-mail they receive with friends via social media sites.

But ExactTarget isn’t the only company in its genre staying abreast in this changing world.

“Expect a lot more of this in the future. The trend to watch is larger ‘digital marketing’ vendors developing that manage e-mail, Web and social channels,” said Bob Thompson, CEO of CustomerThink Corp., a Burlingame, Calif.-based research firm.

Companies such as San Bruno, Calif.-based Responsys and Boston-based Neolane are also e-mail marketing vendors moving into “multichannel campaign management,” said Adam Sarner, an analyst at Gartner Group.

“Expect more competition from evolving niche players as campaign management itself becomes an increasingly online activity,” Sarner said.

Ad campaign management software is also a portion of Indianapolis-based Aprimo’s business. Aprimo, which had nearly $70 million in sales last year, has offered customers an increasing number of tools in channels such as e-mail, blogging and social marketing.

Aprimo’s bread and butter, however, has been marketing administration, which involves sophisticated software to manage and analyze and plan marketing strategies across all delivery formats, including traditional ones. Social media and e-mail marketing remain a small slice of Aprimo’s overall business.

“Multi-channel e-marketing is just one aspect to the broader landscape of marketing technology,” said Aprimo’s chief marketing officer, Lisa Arthur, calling Aprimo the leader in integrated marketing management software solutions.

E-mail marketing, she said, “is the most crowded and commoditized category, with dozens of competitors.” Customers seeking “an easy-to-use, yet more sophisticated e-mail marketing solution turn to Aprimo.”

Kopp plays down the notion of emerging competition with Aprimo, noting that the firms have a different focus.

While ExactTarget will continue to focus on new opportunities in mobile and social media, ironically there’s still a way to go in e-mail marketing. Just a decade ago, many businesses weren’t even using such marketing. Even today, some firms are just starting to adopt it as a marketing tool.

“In many ways, I think we’re in the early days of e-mail,” Kopp said.•


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  1. I took Bruce's comments to highlight a glaring issue when it comes to a state's image, and therefore its overall branding. An example is Michigan vs. Indiana. Michigan has done an excellent job of following through on its branding strategy around "Pure Michigan", even down to the detail of the rest stops. Since a state's branding is often targeted to visitors, it makes sense that rest stops, being that point of first impression, should be significant. It is clear that Indiana doesn't care as much about the impression it gives visitors even though our branding as the Crossroads of America does place importance on travel. Bruce's point is quite logical and accurate.

  2. I appreciated the article. I guess I have become so accustomed to making my "pit stops" at places where I can ALSO get gasoline and something hot to eat, that I hardly even notice public rest stops anymore. That said, I do concur with the rationale that our rest stops (if we are to have them at all) can and should be both fiscally-responsible AND designed to make a positive impression about our state.

  3. I don't know about the rest of you but I only stop at these places for one reason, and it's not to picnic. I move trucks for dealers and have been to rest areas in most all 48 lower states. Some of ours need upgrading no doubt. Many states rest areas are much worse than ours. In the rest area on I-70 just past Richmond truckers have to hike about a quarter of a mile. When I stop I;m generally in a bit of a hurry. Convenience,not beauty, is a primary concern.

  4. Community Hospital is the only system to not have layoffs? That is not true. Because I was one of the people who was laid off from East. And all of the LPN's have been laid off. Just because their layoffs were not announced or done all together does not mean people did not lose their jobs. They cherry-picked people from departments one by one. But you add them all up and it's several hundred. And East has had a dramatic drop I in patient beds from 800 to around 125. I know because I worked there for 30 years.

  5. I have obtained my 6 gallon badge for my donation of A Positive blood. I'm sorry to hear that my donation was nothing but a profit center for the Indiana Blood Center.