There’s no marketing automation platform like Marketo. I’m surprised nobody has tried to invent a better Marketo-like platform: a product that takes core architecture design cues from the original, but also gets a fresh start building on the latest technologies. There is no comparable alternative to Marketo which is why I think Adobe made a smart bet. This isn’t the first marketing automation company to be acquired: Marketo is to Adobe what Silverpop was to IBM, ExactTarget/Pardot was to Salesforce, MarketingPilot was to Microsoft, LeadFormix was to CallidusCloud/SAP, and Neolane was to Adobe. That leaves HubSpot, the last of the original stand-alone marketing automation companies still standing alone – at least for now.
The day will come when Marketo won’t be tagged “an Adobe Company.” That reality creates some tension in the Marketo Marketing Nation – some of that tension comes through in my conversations with Digital Pi clients from time to time. Think about what Volkswagen was saying in that 1966 ad Will we ever kill the bug?: they were telling their customers and buyers that VW is hell-bent on constantly improving upon the original to make it better year after year. “5,000-odd changes” in 18 years. Imagine that: a car that looks basically the same after 18 years (offering buyers comfort in familiarity) but incorporates the latest and greatest automotive engineering (safety, efficiency, reliability). What does this 1966 VW ad have to do with modern-day Marketo? I believe Adobe has got to keep killing Marketo every chance they get because it’s the only sure way to keep it from dying. In other words, Adobe has to figure out how to move the platform and its entire ecosystem forward by striking the right balance of innovation and integration with consideration given to all of the stakeholders: employees, investors, partners and of course customers. That’s a tall order.
I am so used to thinking of Marketo as its own platform, it’s still jarring for me to see Marketo visually represented on the Adobe web site as one of eight boxes in the Adobe Experience Cloud. I don’t pretend to know what the fully integrated world will look like down the road, but I do know this: the post-acquisition era is a time of excitement, uncertainty, turmoil, opportunity and risk. I have to think Adobe and Marketo are experiencing all of the above. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing – just a thing that unfolds over time until if all goes well, Adobe + Marketo morphs into something bigger and better than either company could be as individual companies.
Ironically, Volkswagen did in fact kill the bug in 1978. The emotional tug of the familiar bug had finally aged out and engineering just couldn’t innovate on the original platform any longer to keep up with the competition. The last type 1 VW bug rolled off the assembly line in 1978, twelve years after the “will we ever kill” ad ran.
But the bug wasn’t squashed forever. Twenty years later, in 1998 VW launched the New Beetle, with a style that harkened back to the original bug design, built on a modern chassis (the Golf). The bug lives! Yes, but not for long: VW is once again killing the New Beetle this year. So much for nostalgia. VW didn’t really set out to kill the bug, the world changed and with it tastes and technology. This idea that innovation could make or break an iconic car sits at the very heart of what drives the tech industry going back to the earliest computers: innovate or die.
The story of the VW bug played out over eighty years, but if you clock lifespan in tech company years the typical lifespan for a stand-alone company would be a fraction of that. Tech investors want the next unicorn, tech customers want to get more done faster/better/cheaper/more. Established companies want to grow market share and compete more effectively – mergers and acquisitions enable growth and competitive advantage. Excitement. Uncertainty. Turmoil. Opportunity. Risk. I think all of these factors are in play right now with Adobe / Marketo. No matter how it all plays out, the winner in all of this will be marketers always ready to try new ways to work smarter and engage customers at scale.
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