Salesforce.com tackles social marketing with Marketing Cloud

Salesforce.com is getting into the marketing technology business with its latest release, Marketing Cloud.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Salesforce.com is getting into the marketing business with Marketing Cloud, one of several new products unveiled this week at the CRM giant's Dreamforce 2012 conference.

Marketing Cloud -- which combines the spoils of several Salesforce acquisitions, including Radian6 and Buddy Media -- is designed to give customers the tools they need to reach out to potential clients using social media.

The product offers "social listening" capabilities, as well as workflow management, automation, customer engagement and content management functions. Its social listening features allow the typical company to monitor, analyze and understand the context of what is being said about its brand on social media channels.

Salesforce also announced a new marketing-focused partnership with Facebook. Under the terms of the deal, Salesforce is integrating Marketing Cloud with Facebook's recently released audience targeting capability. The integration will allow Marketing Cloud users to directly target marketing materials at "customers, prospects, loyalty club members" and other Facebook users, according to Salesforce.

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Last week, before Dreamforce began, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff predicted that Marketing Cloud would someday reach $1 billion in annual revenue.

But throughout the four-day conference, Benioff and other Salesforce.com executives instead emphasized another prediction -- an estimate from Stamford, Conn.-based IT research firm Gartner Inc. that states that by 2017, chief marketing officers will spend more money on technology than chief information officers. Benioff pointed to the prediction as proof that marketing is becoming more important than ever, and that social media is at the forefront of that movement.

Several experts and marketers who attended Dreamforce agreed that there is growing demand among businesses for marketing tools that listen, capture and analyze social media data effectively. "Digital and social marketing are still evolving," said Denis Pombriant, founder of Beagle Research Group LLC, an IT consulting firm in Stoughton, Mass., and a Dreamforce attendee. "It's very much a fluid situation, but when you look at the marketplace, there are companies that understand marketing. Salesforce does."

Pombriant said that while impressive, the Facebook component of Marketing Cloud is "just the last mile in communication between a customer and a business." It's the combination of offerings from Buddy Media and Radian6 that will provide the real power behind Marketing Cloud, he said.

Dreamforce's Marketing Cloud presentation definitely piqued the interest of Natalie Lane, marketing manager for BlueGrace Logistics LLC, a Riverview, Fla., company that provides freight and logistics services. She currently monitors and answers customer social media by using several disparate offerings, including Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and HootSuite. It's time-consuming work, and there is no guarantee that she captures and responds to all the pertinent social media data that's out there.

Lane started researching Radian6 -- the social listening component of the new Marketing Cloud offering --- earlier this year. After attending Dreamforce and gathering more information, she suspects her boss will approve using the entire Marketing Cloud platform after it becomes available.

David Aponovich, an analyst at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said that "sales and marketing are inextricably linked. If [Salesforce.com is] making moves so that marketing is central to their platform, [it will be] compelling to see how that plays out."

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