Forrester Dissects Social-Ads Platform Strengths, Weaknesses

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ReissDavisSocial advertising has become table stakes for multiplatform marketers. On the vendor side, the emerging leaders providing social-ad technologies share a few key commonalities to meet that demand, according to an inaugural Forrester Wave: Social Advertising Platforms report released Tuesday.

In a series of interviews with 21 digital marketers, Forrester Research found the average amount spent on social advertising per month was $512,000, most of which was allocated to Facebook. Yet, despite spending “substantial amounts of money,” said Forrester analyst Zachary Reiss-Davis, marketers had difficulty assessing the value of different social-advertising platforms. That difficulty catalyzed Forrester’s latest report.

“[Marketers] were struggling to figure out if they were getting real business value and what that business value was, and struggling to spend that money efficiently,” Reiss-Davis said.

In his report, he evaluated seven third-party social ads targeting tools. The selection criteria was “fairly stringent,” said Reiss-Davis, adding it was mandatory for platforms to offer a self-service offering to even be considered.

“It’s certainly possible today to sell a lot of social advertising through an entirely managed service offering, but that doesn’t scale that well and it’s not the way forward in almost any technology space,” he said. He focused his report on vendors that get half of their business via self-serve customers.

Additional criteria included: more than $50 million in customer platform spend over a 12-month period; vendors with a substantial enterprise customer base in which at least half had more than $1 billion in revenue; and a scale rating in which vendors were ranked from 1-5 across 45 criteria around product, strategy and market presence.

In no particular order, here’s a breakdown of the seven social-ads platform players evaluated in the Wave:

Leaders

Kenshoo: Kenshoo was the only social-ads  “Leader” of the Wave. Leaders strike a balance between easy creation of ads and subsequent reporting, as well as augmenting measurements that go beyond the social advertising walls and measure campaigns in comparison to other channels such as search. Kenshoo’s aggressive partner expansion brings social relationship management and listening into the ad-buying fold through platforms like Shoutlet, Spredfast and Tigerlily.

Strong Performers

Salesforce.com’s Social.com: Although Salesforce.com’s Marketing Cloud consists of a number of social listening (Radian6) and publishing products (Buddy Media), there is still some work to be done on interweaving these applications with ad buys on Social.com through unified log-ins and interfaces, Reiss-Davis said. “Their strength, alternatively, has really [been about building] out a breadth of different features that make up their [Social.com] solution and packaging them in a fairly easy to use fashion.” Social.com also has room to grow in search and display advertising, the report said.

Unified: Forrester called Unified “one of the most advanced vendors at broadening the scope of social advertising.” Forrester cited Unified’s early entry into the LinkedIn API partners program. Even though it was founded less than two years ago, Unified’s scale gave it an advantage over enterprise competitors such as an Adobe Social. Though Adobe Social operates within a broader Marketing Cloud suite, as a newer product, Reiss-Davis said it still needs to scale up (one of the reasons why it did not make this particular Wave cut). Unified’s next step should be expanding its mobile capabilities, the report noted.

Optimal: Optimal, acquired by Brand Networks for $35 million this fall, has core strength in brand marketing and cross-platform reach – “They’ve really been ahead of the curve at spreading to multiple social networks to enable social campaigns in a holistic” manner that includes social relationship and listening integrations, Reiss-Davis said. Forrester also praised Optimal’s audience-targeting abilities, enhanced through a partnership with Salesforce.com’s ExactTarget.

SHIFT: SHIFT, which recently snagged a $6 million line of fresh funding, has a strong partner base, ranging from Kenshoo and search bid management to Expion and SocialFlow for social relationship management. However, the report points out that SHIFT’s “ability to optimize marketing spend and analyze results lags behind other vendors,” citing that reporting, at present, "leaves customers unsatisfied." Where SHIFT wins is its functional strength and collaborative features for media agency partners, advertisers, etc.

Marin Software: Although Marin’s core business has been search bid management, Forrester praised its “superior analytics and optimization capabilities” added to its newer social offerings. Founded in 2006, Marin is one of the longer-standing companies featured in the report. At present, Marin isn’t planning to support ad placements beyond Facebook, which could put it at a disadvantage behind a competitor like SHIFT, which doubles up as a Facebook PMD and Twitter Ads API partner.

Contenders 

Nanigans: Nanigans focuses more on performance-based Facebook marketing. Although Forrester praised the way Nanigans facilitates strong social advertising spend, Facebook advertising is somewhat “divorced from other social marketing, with no integration with social relationship or social listening capabilities.” Nanigans’ growth areas could include updates in usability and support of other social networks and search/display capabilities.

 

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