Rise of the marketing cloud: Adobe vs IBM vs Oracle vs Salesforce

Marketing technology is the new battleground of the biggest tech firms; the favoured strategy is to build a comprehensive “marketing cloud”. Who is winning and what’s in it for you?

That put the cat amongst the pigeons: the Gartner analyst Laura McLellan’s 2012 prediction that by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO seems to have concentrated the minds of decision makers in the technology industry, setting the scene for the rise of the marketing cloud.

Added to this global market intelligence firm IDC’s forecast that spending on marketing technology will continue to increase until at least 2018, and you can clearly see what is causing the gold rush mentality:

IDC's marketing technology map revenue, the precursor to the rise of the marketing cloud

Why so serious?

Marketing technology is horribly fragmented and selecting a vendor can be paralysing for buyers.

Thus the big software companies, alongside a number of smaller competitors, have seized the opportunity to sell their customers more complete marketing suites. In theory, this takes some of the hassle out of building a bespoke, marketing stack.

For companies of a certain size and ambition, simplifying and unifying marketing software is alluring, ideally meaning less time spent integrating and more time spent marketing. Customers are buying packages stuffed with possibilities – paying meaty sums, annually billed, in the process – but their employees aren’t necessarily exploring the full breadth of what is included. If you were feeling cynical, you might commend this trend as an impressive example of mass upselling.

Price is a major issue here: if you simply want to send email, monitor web traffic and/or manage social channels, there are cheaper or indeed free alternatives (TFM has established regularly updated hubs on the most popular freemium tech, including Google Analytics, Hootsuite and MailChimp).

Buying a marketing cloud from one of the software titans, with their reputations for dependability, stability and trustworthiness, offers a warm blanket for the IT department, after all: “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”. Implementing any new technology is a serious investment, so whilst the services of small, sexy startups can be appealing, you want to be sure that your core systems are robust and your vendors are in it for the long haul.

Further, at a time when cybersecurity is a case of ‘when, not if’, entrusting customer data to a single, well-protected cloud is attractive.

What is a “marketing cloud”?

Definitions vary, but a marketing cloud that passes muster should be built around a core of content management, marketing automation and solid analytics. Each of the big four have competencies in each of these core systems, with an additional collection of different data management, social and advertising tools around them. The Hub notes that predictive analytics and customer journey mapping are the next must-have features for marketing clouds.

Clash of the clouds

Four of these suites – the titular “marketing clouds” operated by Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle and IBM – have been built through acquisition as the industry goes through a period of consolidation: Oracle’s CEO Mark Hurd sees just two cloud application providers controlling 80% of the market within 10 years.

The first marketing cloud was officially launched by Adobe in 2012 following its acquisition of Omniture which triggered a series of major acquisitions by the four giants of this space. The spending spree shows no sign of slowing down with the latest (Salesforce’s acquisition of ecommerce platform Demandware) going for a staggering $2.8 billion.




Who is winning search?

Google Trends tracking of “Adobe Marketing Cloud”, “IBM Marketing Cloud”, “Oracle Marketing Cloud” and “Salesforce Marketing Cloud” shows all four enjoying the growth of search interest, with Adobe taking an early lead. As Adobe have now been overtaken by Salesforce in search volumes, does this suggest that Salesforce are the current kings of the marketing cloud?

Adobe Marketing Cloud

TFM has published an updates hub with all the latest news on the Adobe Marketing Cloud.

Who shot first? Adobe did.

The official first-mover in the rise of the marketing clouds, Adobe has spent $3.2 billion on acquisitions in the space. Now rebranded Adobe Analytics, its key acquisition – SiteCatalyst’s web analytics platform Omniture – was bought in 2009 for $1.8 billion. The technology sits at the heart of the Adobe marketing stack, enabling customers to measure everything in the cloud.

The acquisition of Neolane (now Adobe Campaign) in 2013 for $600 million added marketing automation; alongside Audience Manager (personalised ads), Experience Manager (content), Media Optimizer (ad management), Primetime (video), Social and Target (testing), it means that Adobe probably has the most comprehensive stack on the market.

In November 2015, Adobe acquired comScore’s Digital Analytix technology assets and customer accounts, helping to keep it out in front and improve its data manipulation chops.

Most recently the software giant announced its acquisition of Livefyre, known for its online commenting system, which it plans to integrate into its Experience Manager, its content management service for building web sites and basic mobile apps.

It may be that Adobe’s brand strength in other areas ends up being its greatest marketing asset, with its Creative Cloud (in particular Photoshop), sitting on the desktops of designers and marketers across the world. Adding marketing tech that slots in alongside the market-leading creative software could be an alluring prospect: one only Adobe can offer.

Adobe does not offer a CRM solution, preferring to partner and integrate with Microsoft Dynamics CRM (our sister site Callcentre.co.uk has published a Microsoft Dynamics CRM updates hub).

It’s not a cheap, easy solution though.

According to The Forrester Wave: Digital Experience Platforms, Q4 2015:

“Adobe outshines the other evaluated vendors when it comes to services partners, though some of these partners have begun to complain about Adobe’s cost and complexity, leaving potential openings for competitors. Adobe remains a fit for companies with sophisticated marketing needs that require best-of-breed solutions — and with the budget to support them.”

IBM Marketing Cloud

TFM has published an updates hub with all the latest on the IBM Marketing Cloud.

IBM has spent $1.4 billion on marketing cloud acquisitions, covering analytics (Coremetrics in 2010), campaign management (Unica in 2010), analytics for retailers (DemandTec in 2011), customer behaviour analysis (Tealeaf in 2012), ad-focused mobile messaging (Xtify in 2013) and marketing automation (Silverpop in 2014).

The new kid in town in terms of marketing clouds, Big Blue has been going great guns in the ecommerce sector, with the IBM WebSphere Commerce platform serving many of the large retailers. An integration of IBM WebSphere with its marketing cloud could prove very appealing to retailers in particular.

As a pioneer of advanced analytics with its Watson natural language processing platform, IBM could set alight the marketing cloud race for supremacy by bringing artificial intelligence to marketing (or accidentally launch Skynet and wipe out the human race).

IBM pushes two innovations in particular: its Journey Designer software for improving customer experience; and its Universal Behaviour Exchange for connecting data across applications.

A few months prior to its marketing cloud rebranding however, VentureBeat labelled IBM’s available software “martech spaghetti”:

“For example, in customer analytics, IBM has eight separate Tealeaf-branded product families and 12 separate named products. In digital marketing, it has 12 different IBM-branded products, including six analytics products. In omnichannel, the company has nine different products, plus 11 more in omnichannel advertising.”

Oracle Marketing Cloud

TFM has published an updates hub with all the latest on the Oracle Marketing Cloud.

Oracle announced its marketing cloud in April 2014, promising to “Predict behavior. Optimize content. Scale on an open platform.” Its approach has been slightly different from its marketing cloud competitors, with an explicit emphasis being made on openness and integration rather than being a “monolithic suite”.

With a solid tech background and the trust of IT teams, Oracle has spent $4.2 billion to date on acquisitions for its marketing cloud, starting with leading marketing automation platforms Eloqua (designed for B2B) and Responsys (for B2C).

This deals were followed up with moves to add data management (BlueKai), marketing analytics (Datalogix), content management (Compendium) and testing and optimisation (Maxymiser).

Oracle also boasts a Service Cloud, built on CRM/social/contact centre software acquisition RightNow.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud

TFM has published an updates hub with all the latest on the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Salesforce dominates with its world-conquering CRM platform and huge ecosystem of partners. Further, the Salesforce App Exchange – the largest B2B apps store – boasts 249 marketing apps.

Adding powerful marketing tools to market-leading CRM potentially brings Salesforce closer than its competitors to the promise of “putting the customer at the centre”. Analysts have thus far called into question how well integrated Salesforce’s cloud are:

“While Salesforce remains a powerhouse on sales and service, and the Marketing Cloud has many loyal customers, the integration between these clouds and marketing is not fully executed — lacking common tooling, architecture, or code base. Fortunately, as a native cloud platform, the robust APIs and extensions owned by the sales and service clouds overcome some challenges, but even this approach is not shared across the portfolio today.” – The Forrester Wave: Digital Experience Platforms, Q4 2015

It has spent $6.3 billion on acquisitions, including the two biggest single purchases in the sector.

In June 2016 it acquired ecommerce platform Demandware, creating an enterprise ‘Commerce Cloud’ to accompany Salesforce’s current collection of clouds for sales, marketing and customer service. Paying  $2.8 billion, this is the largest ever acquisition in the marketing technology industry,

It follows the $2.5 billion 2013 purchase of ExactTarget (which itself had acquired CoTweet, Pardot marketing automation, iGoDigital and Keymail Marketing). Social media capabilities have been bolstered by the purchase of Buddy Media and Radian6. The inevitable marketing cloud rebranding came in 2014, and in recent months Salesforce has made the largest ever marketing tech acquisition when it bought out Demandware for $2.8 billion.

The Hub notes that Salesforce has relied heavily on partnerships in a very cooperative marketplace. If the rate of consolidation in the sector continues however, this may become a harder path to tread.

Salesforce has built a reputation for digital transformation; it also benefits from the megaphone provided by branded conference Dreamforce, now the biggest software conference on Earth with 150,000 delegates and 10 million joining in online.

While the Adobe Summit is growing quickly in size and status, Google Trends data shows that Dreamforce still enjoys 10 times the search interest:

Google trends data on the respective events of the software giants with a marketing cloud


And the winner is…[awkwardly long pause]…

If there is agreement across analysts, it’s that Adobe is on top in the marketing cloud wars, with Salesforce and Oracle hot on its heels, each following distinct strategies. Through its acquisitions and reputation, IBM is still a fierce competitor but has some way to go in terms of integration between its products and also suffers from developing its cloud and on-premises digital marketing portfolios in parallel.

Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle make it into the “leaders” quarter of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Digital Marketing Hubs while IBM Marketing Cloud can be found among the challengers:

Gartner Digital Hubs 2017Among the things it has measured for its marketing cloud report, VentureBeat finds that Adobe edges in front in terms of market penetration, and as of March 2015 was “killing it in marketing clouds” racking up 99.4 points on its 12-category scoring matrix:

VentureBeat Insight's marketing clouds by market penetration showing Adobe in the lead

IBM hadn’t launched its marketing cloud when this graph was originally published.

Looking at Google AdWords search volumes, of the 234,000 marketing cloud-related monthly global average searches, Adobe enjoys a 43% share, followed by Salesforce (24%), Oracle (23%) and IBM (10%).

Branded “marketing cloud” searches (e.g. “Adobe Marketing Cloud”) are small compared to searches for specific products, for example, Omniture (2.7 times the number of searches for Adobe Marketing Cloud), Pardot (4.1 times more searches than for Salesforce Marketing Cloud), Eloqua (five times more searches than for Oracle Marketing Cloud) and Silverpop (11.3 time more searches than for IBM Marketing Cloud.

Marketing cloud brands split by product, according to Google Trends search volume

This indicates a branding gap to be bridged between individual products and the wide cloud portfolios, in particular for most recent entrant IBM.

What’s that coming over the hills…

There are of course many other competitors: HP with its Autonomy-based marketing cloud which Gartner chose not to include in its digital marketing hubs analysis this year; Marketo, with its marketing automation suite and upmarket strategy to take on the big boys; HubSpot growing beyond its focus on inbound marketing and startup chutzpah; Google’s recent announcement of the extension of its Google Analytics platform into this space; and many more besides.

With so much to play for, this fight will run and run.

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Thomas Quillfeldt

Thomas Quillfeldt

Content Contributor, UBM

Thomas Quillfeldt is a writer for UBM covering customer technology across Technology for Marketing, eCommerce Insights and Callcentre.co.uk.

In another universe, he enthuses about music and video games. Oh, and it’s “Tom”.

August 15, 2016

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