What comes to your mind when you think of IBM? An IT giant? A multi-national company? A company that makes computers? Well, how easy is it to associate IBM with marketing? Not so easy right?
In July 2019, IBM Watson’s marketing tech division was sold to a private equity firm, Centerbridge Partners. Post the acquisition they rebranded the firm to Acoustic as an independent company which provides focused marketing solutions through modern technology such as artificial intelligence.
However, IBM Watson still owns the Advertising division in the company. As owners they ought to provide IBM’s application programming interface to support services such as customer relationship management, campaign management through automation of mobile and email messaging and last but not the least, complete content management and recognition.
To talk about Acoustic their services and plans Medianews4u caught up with Matthew Marriott, Senior Vice President of Sales and Client Success, Acoustic and Navneet Narula, Head of India and South Asia, Acoustic.
How was Acoustic created?
Matthew: About six or seven years ago, IBM bought several companies with an idea to create a business unit within IBM called Smarter Commerce. We bought DemandTec, a suite of cloud-based merchandising applications for retailers and we bought Silverpop a cloud based digital marketing platform that provides email marketing lead management and mobile management solutions with marketing automation. We bought companies that existed somewhere on Gartner or IDC or Forester’s Magic Quadrant, and we wanted to integrate them so that it was a uniform platform, which would have become a market first.
With the aim of integrating all these companies into what we called IBM’s Smarter Commerce, we got one senior executive at IBM, who was in charge of buying all these companies together. His name was Mike Rhodin. We bought these companies and integration started happening even before the investment happened. Mike moved on to start the Watson business and ultimately helped start and progress Watson health and then he ultimately ended up leaving IBM.
Now, there were several different general managers who were inserted into our Smarter Commerce business, each one stayed for a year or more and ended up transitioning out, and the platform was not integrated. Some of the offerings suffocated a little bit.
About two years ago Mark Simpson joined IBM, he was the guy who started and progressed and ultimately sold IBM Maximizer to Acoustic back in the day. Impressed by his vision and his work we said, “Mark, we want you to come and look after our product” to which Mark agreed and you’ve probably heard that Mark is now the CEO of Acoustic. But the moment he came, he started conceptualizing what these products, offerings and services exist more elegantly outside of IBM than inside of it.
What made you want to look at Centerbridge?
Matthew: We began speaking to a lot of software companies, and with some of the software companies we spoke we thought we were just recreating a smaller version of IBM or a smaller version of Salesforce. So we began in talking with a bunch of different venture capitalist companies who had very different investment thesis.
Some of them looked at these companies as five separate companies and thought let’s split them up. Our design point was that we wanted to make a company that is completely purpose built around the office of the CMO totally focused; because that’s one of the things we couldn’t get at IBM. I mean, IBM had a lot of strength and firepower in different areas, but it wasn’t a focused play. Even in the area where these products and services lived, a lot of our sellers had conversations around supply chain because they were they were charged with the supply chain business, and the on-premise commerce business which ultimately became Acoustic, a SAAS marketing piece of our business.
So we turned our sites towards some private equity firms and we wanted one that where the guys were super cool to work with, and that they seemed like it was the right personality fit. We wanted one that had a little bit of a longer term investment thesis because we knew there was some serious investment required to make sure that we could get that initial dream set together where it was an open built integrated platform.
You were looking for a cultural fit…
Matthew: Cultural fit, but then also we wanted our stuff to actually look and feel like it’s all one offering and set this vision that we had when it was within IBM. We knew that would take a little bit of time because in IBM for a lot of the right and smart reasons we were required to use all the internal resources of IBM such as the IBM Cloud, the IBM software suite, the IBM development suite, etc because we were IBM.
And outside of IBM, there’s a chance for us to use the best tool for the best job. Some of it will be IBM and some of it won’t be IBM.
Mike Rhodin had a previous relationship with a private equity firm called Centerbridge, and he whispered in Centerbridge’s ear “I think this is potentially the right fit here.” We can get this stuff together and it’s a little bit of unfulfilled dream that I had to bring this stuff together and if we do it the right way, we will have the only Integrated Marketing Cloud that exists and be the largest Marketing Cloud so we chose Centrebridge.
What will acoustic provide marketers in India with?
Navneet: Marketers in India, today are already over worked and whatever amount of time they spend on getting the campaigns out, making sure that guy who responded to a campaign gets at least a try to give a similar feel when they land on the digital asset or an offline asset. Now think what technology can do for these marketers. If I can help them save those extra two hours which they can happily spend with their family and friends, and at the same time, support them to drive more conversions? Because our goal is to have a unified platform. I think that’s why I keep telling the marketers that let me help save time, and technology do the legwork for you. What you need to do in 80% of your time is just ideate and analyse.
We can support marketers by helping them make smart decisions and quickly. We are not saying you’re not using your brains but we just give them enough information to make that smart marketing decision.
Execution is technology’s job, where in our market today 80% to 90% of the time they’re after execution, whether the campaign went out, did everyone get it? I hope it was within the limits of TRAI SMS campaign. If I can give these two things, then I’m sure that marketers here will get promoted quickly with conversions increasing, I’m sure that we’ll be happy to spend that extra time with the family, which is a much needed reality in Mumbai and Delhi traffic.
Who are your clients in India? Will Acoustic be affordable for smaller and regional brands? Describe you services.
Navneet: We have clients such as Adidas, Indiabulls and a few e-commerce brands as well. These are some top of the tier brands, however our objective is to serve through the entire breadth of the market.
We would like to differentiate ourselves on our product and having said that, we do have a very competitive price point and probably do the same with some of the other large competitors that are out there.
Running campaigns for clients is only one part of our business, it’s a very important part of our business and is at the centre of the wagon wheel, but analytics for our customers, creating an AI based content hub where people can find and attach the right content to their campaigns is another piece of it, creating deep economic engine such that marketers can do real time pricing and finally merchandising is another part of the business. So it’s not just the campaigns, if I look at some of the different types of customers that might not be the top clients across but some of them have chosen a deep dive in just one part of the business.
I would say, hundreds of customers over this long tail of customer specifically around of our campaign or business, there are smaller clients, there’s more points they want to use AI to figure out a way to, to talk to their clients more effectively.
While Acoustic comes from the powerhouse of IBM backed by Centerbridge Partners, what remains to be seen is how would their services create differentiation from the Indian marketing automation players.