Last week, independent research firm Forrester released its latest report “The Forrester Wave™: Enterprise Marketing Software Suites, Q4 2014 ” on the marketing cloud landscape, naming Adobe as the leader in marketing enterprise software, with the highest overall score for its current offering.

It’s news to us, but according to Forrester, when it comes to offering a platform to deliver the full marketing mix, Adobe takes top spot over Salesforce as well both the mighty Oracle and the all-encompassing IBM, all of whom have madesizeable marketing enterprise-sized acquisitions as of late, which also include marketing automation platforms and enterprise email platforms too (Salesforce with ExactTarget & Pardot, Oracle with Responsys & Eloqua and IBM with Silverpop & Unica).

Since the report was released, it’s been interesting to see the reactions roll in. In Advertising Age, Alex Kantrowitz actually interviews Brad Rencher, General Manager of Adobe’s Digital Marketing, to find out why Adobe feels they are staying ahead of the pack. According to Rencher, what matters is producing a system which helps marketers make sense of data, which helps them share it effectively across functions, and which helps them put it into action when it matters.

Sounds sensible, but are Adobe actually doing this, and are they really winning the marketing-cloud battle?

Our Thoughts

Forrester are normally pretty spot on with their analysis, they have really interesting things to say and are probably the leading analyst in the marketing tech space, but in this instance we think they are a little wide of the mark.

Adobe is a very interesting company and is in a similar state of acquisition integration as Oracle (Adobe bought on-premise French MA provider Neolane), but we are surprised they are seen so far ahead. In our day to day dealings with marketing-cloud technology, we’re just not seeing Adobe emerging as a clear frontrunner ahead of the pack. It may be what the analysts and theorists say, but for us pragmatists in the trenches, it just doesn’t ring true.

Why? Think Beyond UX

Adobe may have won over Forrester because their offerings were assessed by a 'front-end' oriented team impressed with their admittedly very good, neatly integrated user experience, but surely this is no surprise – they are, after all, a company that creates applications to make stuff pretty.

We’re more concerned with a platform’s ability to scale and support dedicated, multichannel marketing programmes intelligently. The smart CMOs realise the source of marketing outperformance in the future is through the back-end infrastructure, and that data and business intelligence first and foremost – this takes top spot over UX any day.

Want a second opinion?

Check out the stats on BuiltWith. BuiltWith is a really smart market analysis tool that allows you to search and measure the installed base of various web technologies so that you can produce lists of leads for sites using these technologies.

It will show exactly how many websites are using each of the marketing-cloud technologies analysed in the report.

A view from the trenches: The real winner

If you want to compare the winners and losers between Eloqua and Adobe per se, then the movement is pretty equal. What is true is that since the acquisition of Eloqua by Oracle, just over 18 months ago, Eloqua revenues have doubled and a new, more intelligent, softer sales engagement is happening at the company.

Indeed, at the recent Modern Marketing experience in London, which was attended by over 1000 customers and prospects (see #MME14 on Twitter and our highlights post), vice chairman of Oracle Jeff Henley talked of the need for Oracle to move from being a world class sales organisation to being a world class marketing one too, and that these marketing technologies certainly are top of mind inside the organisation. Truly an organisation used to winning.

As of today, Oracle definitely has the widest and strongest play in the enterprise space. It has, in addition to Responsys and Eloqua, BlueKai and more acquisitions planned. Oracle may have been late to the marketing market they are now considered “legacy” in the best possible way, just as IBM is with many of their acquisitions including Cognos and SPSS to add to their mix.

Salesforce is definitely emerging as a strong contender with their portfolio of Radian6, Pardot and ExactTarget and because of its installed base of SFDC users topping over 100,000, it will no doubt be a big threat and game changer in the future. In most technology battles the disruptive technology is coming from the low end to the high end, so well immortalised in Clayton’s Christensen book, The Innovators Dilemma. So coming from the other direction, SFDC has potential to do extremely well, with ease.

Our view of the market

Today, the top 3 vendors today are:

  1. Oracle,
  2. Adobe
  3. Salesforce

In all instances, at least two of these vendors of these should make your “consideration set” of three.

The ‘tier 2 outsiders’ are in very different markets and include:

  1. Marketo (mid to enterprise, the independent)
  2. IBM (high end enterprise)
  3. Act-on and
  4. Hubspot (SMBs)

Now if Salesforce and Adobe (revenues of ‘just’ $4bn each) merged and it left Oracle ($38bn revenues) against these two, it might make for an interesting matchup and a whole new blog post as well.

One of the immutable laws of marketing is that the market share winner typically makes the most profit too, though profit is often less of a concern in the tech sector; what is true is that and that over time the sector is usually dominated by 1 or 2 vendors. In this sense the marketing-cloud battle is far from over, and while the key players may have useful things to learn from Adobe, it’s clear to us that they have a way to go in becoming the go-to platform, and that in this battle, there’s room for more than a few players.