StrongView (Was StrongMail) CEO Wagner Discusses Re-Branding As Email Evolves

strongviewWhen people talk to StrongView (was StrongMail) CEO Bill Wagner about his company’s decision to re-brand (see last week’s release), he says that it’s often less about why they re-branded, but more about why they waited so long.

StrongView was originally founded in 2002 as an email infrastructure company and, like other email infrastructure companies such as Responsys  or Silverpop, it has been steadily forced to change or seek new opportunities in the marketplace – depending on how you look at it.  $36 million in invested capital from demanding venture capital firms such as Sequoia Partners will put a burr in your infrastructure saddle, too.

Today, with 180 people aboard and year-over-year revenue growth of around 40% according to the company, the triggers for the new StrongView name were clear to Wagner: “We’re beyond email now, – we’re social, mobile and display. And, we’ve got a big data play going on, too.”

Digging deeper on the new name, Wagner says he felt it had to be “Strong-something” given the former brand’s equity.  And, “View” had several facets.

“First, the nature of our product is visual.  It depicts how audiences and segments can be engaged across all the different channels that I mentioned. There’s this notion of visually seeing paths that audiences are taking through marketing campaigns. Then, more aspirational and more about what we’re doing with data now is the notion of a ‘view’ being insight and knowledge that’s actionable.”

“We did an announcement back in February with Amazon where we’re integrating our product with Redshift, Amazon’s online data warehouse.  It provides for a cost-effective way of bringing tons of detailed data into the marketing mix so that you can create, an unprecedented view of the client based on all that data.  These are all the things that went into the notion of ‘view’ and why we chose Strongview.”

Wagner discussed his company’s strategy and industry trends.

AdExchanger:  Has the customer changed for StrongMail, now StrongView?  In other words, is it a new person or role that you’re selling to within the enterprise?

BILL WAGNER:  What we’re experiencing is more of an evolution than a revolution in terms of whom we engage within accounts.  In a lot of cases the marketing responsibility for individual channels is siloed, but what we’re experiencing is that the email marketing team – because it’s the workhorse of the marketing mix – there’s an established budget with an understood return on investment.

What we’re increasingly seeing is that the email marketing teams are being both tasked and proactively looking for how they can leverage additional channels around email to amplify the value of email.  In the process, building a broader view of the customer, and at the same time satisfy this need to touch them across all these channels.

The audience has not changed, but what they are looking for from their email provider is changing.  On that topic what I will tell you is that this weighed into our thinking as far as timing for why we did the re-branding now.  Increasingly, when we engage prospects either in RFP’s or in actual presentations and engagements, is that they are buying [through] cross channel platforms to address their email needs.  In other words, they set the criteria as being “cross channel,” even though they know that 90% to 95% of what they’re going to be doing is email.  They are exploring how to use, for example display in conjunction with email or how to leverage mobile in conjunction with email and social, and so on.

Do you see StrongView in the marketing automation bucket at all?

A lot of times marketing automation is associated with B2B, lead scoring, Marketo, Eloqua and those types of products.  I don’t put us in marketing automation, although the automation of marketing tasks is very central to what we do within our product and the capabilities of our product because the reality is that marketers tend to be a bit hamstrung on resources.  They’re always looking for, “How can I get the product to do more of what we need done with fewer resources?”

Where to next?  For example, Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, IBM, SAP – they are all creating different types of marketing opportunities or “stacks,” if you will.  How do you see StrongView fitting in that future?

Some of the companies that you’ve mentioned – for example, Facebook and Apple – are creating new touch points that marketers are going to want to leverage.  We will support those.

In the vendor context of the platforms that are being built through IBM, SAP, Oracle, etc., what’s happening is really interesting to me. The big, longer-term, legacy players have a DNA that is very much in IT.  They’re used to selling technology to technologists.  Creating useful marketing applications is not in their DNA.

Where I see us going is, and this is what we do today is, that we very much try to have a symbiotic relationship with those bigger players who might have very broad datasets playing within the enterprise.  We basically show them how to use our products to amplify the value of those installed products within their accounts.

Are you finding you’re servicing the CIO more? Or, is it still entirely on the marketing side?

The CIO plays a role – and that’s true whether the product is consumed on-premise or in a SaaS model.  We do both.

But no, I don’t see the CIO playing more of a role.  I do see them being involved, but no more than what they’ve been in the past.  I do see CMO’s being more involved.  I’m sure you’ve seen the projection from Gartner where CMO’s are going to be spending more on IT than the CIO in the next few years.  I agree – that is the direction things are moving.

How important is creating its own service layer to Strongview and providing that to clients?  I’m talking about people.

It’s critically important.  Part of our evolution started back in 2009 when we started doing some acquisitions of small agencies to bootstrap our services capability.  The reason it’s important is twofold.  One – most brands are a bit hamstrung on staff themselves, in terms of getting stuff done.  More often than not, they don’t have the breadth of experience, so they’re looking to their provider to bring those ideas, strategies and experience to them.

The other important dimension of it is that you want to bring a services team to the brand that understands the technology platform and how to leverage the specific capabilities and nuances of that technology platform to meet their business goals.  This is especially true of enterprise accounts and that is where we are focused.  That is less true when you go down market to small and medium-sized businesses that frankly, are not going to probably spend the money on the services layer and would prefer a self-service tool.

Of the many products that you’re providing customer’s today, what’s the one with the biggest momentum right now – or is it still email?

If I’m looking at it in terms of impact for clients, I see it continuing to be email for the foreseeable future. But, increasingly I see it as becoming how to amplify what’s happening in email by leveraging additional channels.

If I’m looking at it from a brand perspective and trying to drive return on investment impact for them, for me, it’s the data side of things.  I mentioned the Amazon Redshift partnership that we established earlier in the year.  As everyone knows, with big data and so on, the devil is in the details with how effectively somebody uses data.

Is CRM a part of StrongView’s world?

If you look at the traditional CRM players in the market, on one hand they’ve got a very interesting set of data that could be made readily available for marketing purposes.  It’s no surprise that Salesforce acquired ExactTarget and Adobe acquired Neolane.  I think that traditional CRM players have a gap in the marketing execution side of things, especially for B2C.  They don’t have viable tools, in my opinion, to put in the hands of marketers to allow them to capitalize on the data assets that they have.

It’s no surprise that these acquisitions have taken place and I think it’s only the beginning.  I think that these recent moves are going to force everybody else – IBM, SAP, Oracle, Teradata – to take a hard look at what they have and say, “Are we now at a disadvantage relative to, for example, Salesforce?  Because they have ExactTarget.  They’ve got a viable tool for marketers, but we don’t.” It will be an interesting set of moves that are going to play out shortly.

I know you’ve addressed this in the media before.  But, regarding an IPO or getting acquired down the road – can you see StrongView going public? 

I can.  As a business we have to plan for some eventuality.  That eventuality in my way of thinking is not planning for an acquisition because you can’t necessarily make somebody acquire you.  You can tempt them, but you can’t make it happen. And if it doesn’t happen, where does that leave you?  So I have to plan the business for an IPO and that’s what we’re planning for.  If something happens along the way to change that then so be it.  We’ve got to plan, drive our growth, our product and our market strategy towards an IPO.

What’s the timing on that?

Not determined at this point, but this is something that we talk about frequently.

Follow Bill Wagner (@wtwagner), StrongView (@strongview) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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