Salesforce on Paid Media Ambitions: 'Where Facebook Goes, We Go'

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Today at Salesforce's Cloudforce conference in New York, CEO Marc Benioff said CMOs are like "fighter pilots without a cockpit" when it comes to social campaign management.

"They're going to want all the analytics, the ability to listen, place media, test media, run A/B tests," he said in response to an AdExchanger question. "They're going to want the ability to do broad tests of campaigns. Our job is to create that dashboard, give them the controls, give the fighter that cockpit. We've bought two world class companies, Radian6 and Buddy Media, to help do that."

Salesforce's intentions around paid media have been hard to read. With its acquisition of Buddy Media this year and the recent launch of its Marketing Cloud platform, the enterprise software giant signaled a clear interest in moving up-funnel from sales into marketing as part of its "social enterprise" pitch to global clients such as Coca-Cola, GE, and Virgin Airlines.

Less clear is where paid media fits in its plans. Shortly before Salesforce scooped it up for nearly $700 million, Buddy Media bought Facebook ad platform Brighter Option. But it's been an open question how much Benioff and his board cared about the ad component – versus Buddy's core focus on managing brand presence and content on social networks.

Turns out, they care quite a bit.

If Benioff's "cockpit" line is too vague for you, consider this from one of Benioff's lieutenants, former Radian6 CEO Marcel Lebrun:

"Whatever ad product Facebook introduces within their customer experience or as they expand to Facebook-connected sites, we will through our social ads product in the Marketing Cloud support it," he told AdExchanger. "They have a billion people and amazing richness, so we think they have a great opportunity to expand outside their walls."

Here Lebrun is hinting at the possibility of a Facebook ad network, which could push sponsored stories, interest-targeted ads, and formats into non-Facebook inventory. The world is getting its first taste of that scenario right now through an experimental Facebook mobile ad network (AdExchanger story).

Perhaps more interesting to Salesforce in the short term is Facebook's recent decision to let advertisers match their CRM databases to segments of its users, using email addresses and phone numbers.

Lebrun said, "It's a completely different layer from the fan categorization – whether someone's fan or non-fan – it cuts through that."

It does seem clear that Salesforce is closely aligned with Facebook. As a strategic Preferred Marketing Developer, it has committed to support all Facebook's ad product initiatives in the Marketing Cloud.

And it's very strongly focused on supporting extensions of branded content, that are desired by users or at least aligned with their interests. For now that makes Facebook a great fit. Broadcast or online pre-roll advertising? Not so much.

Here's Lebrun again: "The vision we believe in is more an 'amplify your stories' than an 'interrupt your customer' vision. Some ad platforms are more aligned with that approach than others. We try to think about, how do we help customers amplify their stories. We definitely see the opportunity to expand beyond Facebook to other things that fit that model, where it's about the content."

Running with Benioff's cockpit analogy, Lebrun talks about the Brighter Option integration this way: "When you think about a dashboard or an aircraft, you need a skilled pilot who knows how to run that stuff, and then you have the autopilot. The thing about Brighter Option is there are very sophisticated capabilties for a media buyer who knows what they're doing and wants to set up all these rules, and then you have the brand manager who says, 'This is kind of what I want to do.'"

The implication is that the Marketing Cloud social ads capability can be run by digital marketing specialists, working hand in hand with marketer-side executives who guide the content and paid media strategy.

Social Analytics Build-Out

Separately, Salesforce has integrated Marketing Cloud with 20 analytics vendors including Kanjoya, Klout, Kred, Bitext, and EpiAnalytics. Customers can identify brand chatter and find engaged prospects on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere using these capabilities. For now the intent is around engaging prospects rather than setting up marketing or ad segments.

"Right now the use case is heavily around analytics and insights and engagements," Rob Bregg, Salesforce VP of Marketing,  said. "We're trying to give marketers a single place and connected environment."

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