Mar
06
2019
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Clari platform aims to unify go-to-market operations data

Clari started as a company that wanted to give sales teams more information about their sales process than could be found in the CRM database. Today, the company announced a much broader platform, one that can provide insight across sales, marketing and customer service to give a more unified view of a company’s go-to-market operations, all enhanced by AI.

Company co-founder and CEO Andy Byrne says this involves pulling together a variety of data and giving each department the insight to improve their mission. “We are analyzing large volumes of data found in various revenue systems — sales, marketing, customer success, etc. — and we’re using that data to provide a new platform that’s connecting up all of the different revenue departments,” Byrne told TechCrunch.

For sales, that would mean driving more revenue. For marketing it would it involve more targeted plans to drive more sales. And for customer success it would be about increasing customer retention and reducing churn.

Screenshot: ClariThe company’s original idea when it launched in 2012 was looking at a range of data that touched the sales process, such as email, calendars and the CRM database, to bring together a broader view of sales than you could get by looking at the basic customer data stored in the CRM alone. The Clari data could tell the reps things like which deals would be most likely to close and which ones were at risk.

“We were taking all of these signals that had been historically disconnected from each other and we were connecting it all into a new interface for sales teams that’s very different than a CRM,” Byrne said.

Over time, that involved using AI and machine learning to make connections in the data that humans might not have been seeing. The company also found that customers were using the product to look at processes adjacent to sales, and they decided to formalize that and build connectors to relevant parts of the go-to-market system like marketing automation tools from Marketo or Eloqua and customer tools such as Dialpad, Gong.io and Salesloft.

With Clari’s approach, companies can get a unified view without manually pulling all this data together. The goal is to provide customers with a broad view of the go-to-market operation that isn’t possible looking at siloed systems.

The company has experienced tremendous growth over the last year, leaping from 80 customers to 250. These include Okta and Alteryx, two companies that went public in recent years. Clari is based in the Bay Area and has around 120 employees. It has raised more than $60 million. The most recent round was a $35 million Series C last May led by Tenaya Capital.

Jan
15
2019
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Campaign Monitor acquires email enterprise services Sailthru and Liveclicker

CM Group, the organization behind email-centric services like Campaign Monitor and Emma, today announced that it has acquired marketing automation firm Sailthru and the email personalization service Liveclicker. The group did not disclose the acquisition price but noted that the acquisition would bring in about $60 million in additional revenue and 540 new customers, including Bloomberg and Samsung. Both of these acquisitions quietly closed in 2018.

Compared to Sailthru, which had raised a total of about $250 million in venture funding before the acquisition, Liveclicker is a relatively small company that was bootstrapped and never raised any outside funding. Still, Liveclicker managed to attract customers like AT&T, Quicken Loans and TJX Companies by offering them the ability to personalize their email messages and tailor them to their customers.

Sailthru’s product portfolio is also quite a bit broader and includes similar email marketing tools, but also services to personalize mobile and web experiences, as well as tools to predict churn and make other retail-focused predictions.

“Sailthru and Liveclicker are extraordinary technologies capable of solving important marketing problems, and we will be making additional investments in the businesses to further accelerate their growth,” writes Wellford Dillard, CEO of CM Group. “Bringing these brands together makes it possible for us to provide marketers with the ideal solution for their needs as they navigate the complex and rapidly changing environments in which they operate.”

With this acquisition, the CM Group now has 500 employees and 300,000 customers.

Dec
18
2018
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Seismic scores $100 million Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

Seismic has been helping companies create and manage their sales and marketing collateral since 2010. Today the company announced a $100 million Series E investment on a $1 billion valuation.

The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and T. Rowe Price. Existing investors General Atlantic, JMI Equity and Jackson Square Ventures also participated in the round. The company has now raised $179 million since inception.

What is attracting this level of investment is Seismic’s sales enablement tools, a kind of content management for sales and marketing. “What we’re trying to do with our technology is to help marketers who are striving to create the right content to help the sellers, and help sellers navigate all of the content out there and put together the right pieces and the right materials that are going to help them move the sales cycle along,” Seismic CEO and co-founder Doug Winter explained.

The inclusion of an investor like T. Rowe Price often is a signal of IPO ambitions, and Winter acknowledged the connection, while pointing out that T. Rowe Price is also a customer. “We do have a goal to be public-ready as a company that we are aiming for. We are the leader of the space, and we do feel like striving to be a public company and to be the first one in our space to go public. It’s a goal we are going to push for,” Winter told TechCrunch.

But he says taking this investment is more about taking advantage of market opportunity. The money gives Seismic the ability to expand to meet growing sales. Today, the company has more than 600 customers averaging more than $200,000 in spending, according to Winter.

The company acquired the Savo Group in May to help expand its market position. Seismic is based in San Diego with offices in Boston and Chicago (from the acquisition). It also opened offices in the U.K. and Australia earlier this year and plans further international expansion with the new investment. The company currently has more than 600 employees, including 185 engineers and project managers, and plans to keep hiring as it puts this money to work.

Oct
05
2018
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Salesforce acquires Rebel, maker of ‘interactive’ email services, to expand its Marketing Cloud

Salesforce’s Marketing and Commerce Cloud is the company’s smallest division today, so to help beef it up, the company is making an acquisition to add in more features. Salesforce has acquired Rebel, a startup that develops interactive email services for businesses to enhance their direct marketing services: recipients of interactive emails can write reviews, shop and take other actions without leaving the messages to do so.

In an announcement on Rebel’s site, the startup said it will be joining Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud operation, which will integrate Rebel’s API-based services into its platform.

“With Rebel’s Mail and API solutions, brands, including Dollar Shave Club, L’Oreal and HelloFresh, turn emails into an extension of their website or app – collecting data, removing friction from the conversion process, and enhancing the customer experience. Rebel will enhance the power of Salesforce Marketing Clod and fundamentally change the way people interact with email,” the founders note.

That makes it sound as if the company’s existing business will be wound down as part of the move, although Salesforce and Rebel are not specifically commenting on that yet, and so customers haven’t been informed yet one way or the other.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed in the Rebel announcement. We have contacted both the startup and Salesforce for further comment and to ask about the price. To date, Rebel — co-founded originally as Rebelmail by Joe Teplow and Trever Faden — had raised only about $3 million, with investors including Lerer Hippeau, Sinai Ventures, David Tisch, Gary Vaynerchuk, and others, so if the deal size is equally small, Salesforce likely will not be disclosing it.

Salesforce has made a number of acquisitions to build and expand its marketing services to compete with Adobe and others. Perhaps most notable of these was buying ExactTarget, one of its biggest-ever acquisitions, for $2.5 billion in 2013. (And according to some, it even wanted to buy Adobe at one point.) Competition has been heating up between the two, with Adobe most recently snapping up Marketo for $4.75 billion.

But on the other hand, marketing is currently Saleforce’s smallest division. It pulled in $452 million in revenues last quarter, putting it behind revenues for Sales Cloud ($1 billion), Service Cloud ($892 million) and Salesforce Platform ($712 million). Adding in interactive email functionality isn’t likely to float Marketing and Commerce Cloud to the top of that list, but it does show that Salesforce is trying to improve its products with more functionality for would-be and current customers.

Those customers have a lot of options these days, though, in targeting their own customers with rich email services. Microsoft and Google have both started to add in a lot more features into their own email products, with Outlook and Gmail supporting things like in-email payments and more. There are ways of building such solutions through your current direct marketing providers, or now directly using other avenues.

What will be interesting to see is whether Rebel continues to integrate with the plethora of email service providers it currently works with, or if Salesforce will keep the functionality for itself. Today Rebel’s partners include Oracle, SendGrid, Adobe, IBM, SailThru and, yes, Salesforce.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Jul
23
2018
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SessionM customer loyalty data aggregator snags $23.8 M investment

SessionM announced a $23.8 million Series E investment led by Salesforce Ventures. A bushel of existing investors including Causeway Media Partners, CRV, General Atlantic, Highland Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also contributed to the round. The company has now raised over $97 million.

At its core, SessionM aggregates loyalty data for brands to help them understand their customer better, says company co-founder and CEO Lars Albright. “We are a customer data and engagement platform that helps companies build more loyal and profitable relationships with their consumers,” he explained.

Essentially that means, they are pulling data from a variety of sources and helping brands offer customers more targeted incentives, offers and product recommendations “We give [our users] a holistic view of that customer and what motivates them,” he said.

Screenshot: SessionM (cropped)

To achieve this, SessionM takes advantage of machine learning to analyze the data stream and integrates with partner platforms like Salesforce, Adobe and others. This certainly fits in with Adobe’s goal to build a customer service experience system of record and Salesforce’s acquisition of Mulesoft in March to integrate data from across an organization, all in the interest of better understanding the customer.

When it comes to using data like this, especially with the advent of GDPR in the EU in May, Albright recognizes that companies need to be more careful with data, and that it has really enhanced the sensitivity around stewardship for all data-driven businesses like his.

“We’ve been at the forefront of adopting the right product requirements and features that allow our clients and businesses to give their consumers the necessary control to be sure we’re complying with all the GDPR regulations,” he explained.

The company was not discussing valuation or revenue. Their most recent round prior to today’s announcement, was a Series D in 2016 for $35 million also led by Salesforce Ventures.

SessionM, which was founded in 2011, has around 200 employees with headquarters in downtown Boston. Customers include Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Barney’s.

Jun
15
2018
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Adobe could be the next $10 billion software company

Adobe reported its Q2 FY’18 earnings yesterday and the news was quite good. The company announced $2.2 billion in revenue for the quarter up 24 percent year over year. That puts them on an impressive $8.8 billion run rate, within reach of becoming the next $10 billion software company (or at least on a run rate).

Revenue was up across all major business lines, but as has been the norm, the vast majority comes from the company’s bread and butter, Creative Cloud, which houses the likes of Photoshop, InDesign and Dreamweaver, among others. In fact digital media, which includes Creative Cloud and Document Cloud accounted for $1.55 billion of the $2.2 billion in total revenue. The vast majority of that, $1.30 billion was from the creative side of the house with Document Cloud pulling in $243 million.

Adobe has been mostly known as a creative tools company until recent years when it also moved into marketing, analytics and advertising. Recently it purchased Magento for $1.6 billion, giving it a commerce component to go with those other pieces. Clearly Adobe has set its sights on Salesforce, which also has a strong marketing component and is not coincidentally perhaps, the most recently crowned $10 billion software company.

Moving into commerce

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen speaking to analysts on the post-reporting earnings call sees Magento as filling in a key piece across understanding the customer from shopping to purchase. “The acquisition of Magento will make Adobe the only company with leadership in content creation, marketing, advertising, analytics and now commerce, enabling real-time personalized experiences across the entire customer journey, whether on the web, mobile, social, in-product or in-store. We believe the addition of Magento expands our available market opportunity, builds out our product portfolio, and addresses a key underserved customer need,” Narayen told analysts.

If Adobe could find a way to expand that marketing and commerce revenue, it could easily surpass that $10 billion revenue run rate threshold, but so far while it has been growing, it remains less than half of the Creative revenue at $586 million. Yes, it grew at an 18 percent year over year clip, but it seems as though there is potential for so much more there and clearly Narayen hopes that the money spent on Magento will help drive that growth.

Battling with Salesforce

Even while it was announcing its revenue, rival Salesforce was meeting with Marketing Cloud customers in Chicago at the Salesforce Connections conference, a move that presented an interesting juxtaposition between the two competitors. Both have a similar approach to the marketing side, while Salesforce concentrates on the customer including CRM and service components. Adobe differentiates itself with content, which shows up on the balance sheet as the majority of its revenue .

Both companies have growth in common too. Salesforce has been on quite a run over the last five years reaching $3 billion in revenue for the first time last quarter. Adobe hit $2 billion for the first time in November. Consider that prior to moving to a subscription model in 2013, Adobe had revenue of $995 billion. Since it moved to that subscription model, it has reaped the benefits of recurring revenue and grown steadily ever since.

Each has used strategic acquisitions to help fuel that growth with Salesforce acquiring 27 companies since 2013 and Adobe 13, according to Crunchbase data. Each has bought a commerce company with Adobe buying Magento this year and Salesforce grabbing Demandware two years ago.

Adobe has the toolset to keep the marketing side of its business growing. It might never reach the revenue of the creative side, but it could help push the company further than it’s ever been. Ten billion dollars seems well within reach if things continue along the current trajectory.

Mar
30
2018
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As marketing data proliferates, consumers should have more control

At the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas this week, privacy was on the minds of many people. It was no wonder with social media data abuse dominating the headlines, GDPR just around the corner, and Adobe announcing the concept of a centralized customer experience record.

With so many high profile breaches in recent years, putting your customer data in a central record-keeping system would seem to be a dangerous proposition, yet Adobe sees so many positives for marketers, it likely believes this to be a worthy trade-off.

Which is not to say that the company doesn’t see the risks. Executives speaking at the conference continually insisted that privacy is always part of the conversation at Adobe as they build tools — and they have built in security and privacy safeguards into the customer experience record.

Ben Kepes, an independent analyst says this kind of data collection does raise ethical questions about how to use it. “This new central repository of data about individuals is going to be incredibly attractive to Adobe’s customers. The company is doing what big brands and corporations ask for. But in these post-Cambridge Analytica days, I wonder how much of a moral obligation Adobe and the other vendors have to ensure their tools are used for good purposes,” Kepes asked.

Offering better experiences

It’s worth pointing out that the goal of this exercise isn’t simply to collect data for data’s sake. It’s to offer consumers a more customized and streamlined experience. How does that work? There was a demo in the keynote illustrating a woman’s experience with a hotel brand.

Brad Rencher, EVP and GM at Adobe Experience Cloud explains Adobe’s Cloud offerings. Photo: Jeff Bottari/Invision for Adobe/AP Images

The mythical woman started a reservation for a trip to New York City, got distracted in the middle and was later “reminded” to return to it via Facebook ad. She completed the reservation and was later issued a digital key to her room, allowing her to bypass the front desk check-in process. Further, there was a personal greeting on the television in her room with a custom message and suggestions for entertainment based on her known preferences.

As one journalist pointed out in the press event, this level of detail from the hotel is not something that would thrill him (beyond the electronic check-in). Yet there doesn’t seem to be a way to opt out of that data (unless you live in the EU and will be subject to GDPR rules).

Consumers may want more control

As it turns out, that reporter wasn’t alone. According to a survey conducted last year by The Economist Intelligence Unit in conjunction with ForgeRock, an identity management company, consumers are not just willing sheep that tech companies may think we are.

The survey was conducted last October with 1,629 consumers participating from eight countries including Australia, China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US. It’s worth noting that survey questions were asked in the context of Internet of Things data, but it seems that the results could be more broadly applied to any types of data collection activities by brands.

There are a couple of interesting data points that perhaps brands should heed as they collect customer data in the fashion outlined by Adobe. In particular as it relates to what Adobe and other marketing software companies are trying to do to build a central customer profile, when asked to rate the statement, “I am uncomfortable with companies building a “profile” of me to predict my consumer behaviour,” 39 percent strongly agreed with that statement. Another 35 percent somewhat agreed. That would suggest that consumers aren’t necessarily thrilled with this idea.

When presented with the statement, Providing my personal information may have more drawbacks than benefits, 32 percent strongly agreed and 41 percent somewhat agreed.

That would suggest that it is on the brand to make it clearer to consumers that they are collecting that data to provide a better overall experience, because it appears that consumers who answered this survey are not necessarily making that connection.

Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that at a press conference after the Day One keynote announcing the unified customer experience record, many questions from analysts and journalists focused on notions of privacy. If Adobe is helping companies gather and organize customer data, what role do they have in how their customers’ use that data, what role does the brand have and how much control should consumers have over their own data?

These are questions we seem to be answering on the fly. The technology is here now or very soon will be, and wherever the data comes from, whether the web, mobile devices or the Internet of Things, we need to get a grip on the privacy implications — and we need to do it quickly. If consumers want more control as this survey suggests, maybe it’s time for companies to give it to them.

Mar
30
2018
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IoT devices could be next customer data frontier

At the Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas, the company introduced what could be the ultimate customer experience construct, a customer experience system of record that pulls in information, not just from Adobe tools, but wherever it lives. In many ways it marked a new period in the notion of customer experience management, putting it front and center of the marketing strategy.

Adobe was not alone, of course. Salesforce, with its three-headed monster, the sales, marketing and service clouds, was also thinking of a similar idea. In fact, they spent $6.5 billion dollars last week to buy MuleSoft to act as a data integration layer to access  customer information from across the enterprise software stack, whether on prem, in the cloud, or inside or outside of Salesforce. And they announced the Salesforce Integration Cloud this week to make use of their newest company.

As data collection takes center stage, we actually could be on the edge of yet another data revolution, one that could be more profound than even the web and mobile were before it. That is…the Internet of Things.

Here comes IoT

There are three main pieces to that IoT revolution at the moment from a consumer perspective. First of all, there is the smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. These provide a way for humans to interact verbally with machines, a notion that is only now possible through the marriage of all this data, sheer (and cheap) compute power and the AI algorithms that fuel all of it.

Next, we have the idea of a connected car, one separate from the self-driving car. Much like the smart speaker, humans can interact with the car, to find directions and recommendations and that leaves a data trail in its wake. Finally we, have sensors like iBeacons sitting in stores, providing retailers with a world of information about a customer’s journey through the store — what they like or don’t like, what they pick up, what they try on and so forth.

There are very likely a host of other categories too, and all of this information is data that needs to be processed and understood just like any other signals coming from customers, but it also has unique characteristics around the volume and velocity of this data — it is truly big data with all of the issues inherent in processing that amount of data.

The means it needs to be ingested, digested and incorporated into that central customer record-keeping system to drive the content and experiences you need to create to keep your customers happy — or so the marketing software companies tell us, at least. (We also need to consider the privacy implications of such a record, but that is the subject for another article.)

Building a better relationship

Regardless of the vendor, all of this is about understanding the customer better to provide a central data gathering system with the hope of giving people exactly what they want. We are no longer a generic mass of consumers. We are instead individuals with different needs, desires and requirements, and the best way to please us they say, is to understand us so well, that the brand can deliver the perfect experience at exactly the right moment.

Photo: Ron Miller

That involves listening to the digital signals we give off without even thinking about it. We carry mobile, connected computers in our pockets and they send out a variety of information about our whereabouts and what we are doing. Social media acts as a broadcast system that brands can tap into to better understand us (or so the story goes).

Part of what Adobe, Salesforce and others can deliver is a way to gather that information, pull it together into his uber record keeping system and apply a level of machine and learning and intelligence to help further the brand’s ultimate goals of serving a customer of one and delivering an efficient (and perhaps even pleasurable) experience.

Getting on board

At an Adobe Summit session this week on IoT (which I moderated), the audience was polled a couple of times. In one show of hands, they were asked how many owned a smart speaker and about three quarters indicated they owned at least one, but when asked how many were developing applications for these same devices only a handful of hands went up. This was in a room full of marketers, mind you.

Photo: Ron Miller

That suggests that there is a disconnect between usage and tools to take advantage of them. The same could be said for the other IoT data sources, the car and sensor tech, or any other connected consumer device. Just as we created a set of tools to capture and understand the data coming from mobile apps and the web, we need to create the same thing for all of these IoT sources.

That means coming up with creative ways to take advantage of another interaction (and data collection) point. This is an entirely new frontier with all of the opportunity involved in that, and that suggests startups and established companies alike need to be thinking about solutions to help companies do just that.

Mar
27
2018
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Adobe wants to be your customer experience record keeping system

For years, the goal of marketers was to understand the customer so well, they could respond to their every need, while creating content specifically geared to their wishes. Adobe Cloud Platform has long acted as a vehicle to collect and understand customer data inside the Adobe toolset, but today Adobe took that a step further.

The company hopes to transform Adobe Cloud Platform into a company’s experience record keeping system, a central place to collect all the data you may have about a customer from both the Adobe Cloud Platform and external data sources.

Suresh Vittal, vice president of platform and product at Adobe Experience Cloud says tools like CRM were intended to provide a record keeping system for the times, and they were fine in a period when entering and retrieving data was state of the art, but he thinks there needs to be something more.

“A lot of investments for past generations of software evolution have been around batch-based operational systems. While they were necessary back then, they are not sufficient where these brands are going today,” he told TechCrunch.

Adobe Systems world headquarters in San Jose, California USA Photo: Getty Images Lisa Werner / Contributor

Over time, as companies gather more and data, Adobe believes they need something that centers around the dynamic interactions brands are having with customers. “We believe every customer needs an experience system of record, a central [place to record] where the brand brings together experience data, content and a unified profile to power the next generation of experience,” he said.

To achieve this goal, the company is doing more than creating a new construct, it has built a new data model along with tools for data scientists to build custom data models.

Of course where there is data, there needs to be some machine learning and artificial intelligence to help process it, especially in a case where the goal is to pull disparate data into a central record. Adobe’s particular flavor of AI is called Sensei and the company is giving developers access to the some of the same AI algorithms it uses in-house to build its platform.

Any time you start pulling data together from a variety of sources to create a central record keeping system about a customer, there are huge privacy implications, and even more so with GDPR coming on line at the beginning of May in the EU. Vittal says the company has built in a governance and compliance layer into the toolset to help companies comply with various regulations around sharing data.

“You cannot turn all of this data into something useful without safeguards— semantics and control.” He says this involves creating a data catalogue, labeling data in the record and associating rules with each type. That way, data emanating from the EU will need to be handled a certain way, just as any personally identifiable information needs to be safeguarded.

This is where the machine learning comes in. “When you create data across the experience system of record, the data catalog recognizes [certain types of] data and recommends labels based on types of data using machine learning.”

All of this is very likely an attempt to compete with Salesforce, which provides sales, marketing and customer service stitched together with their own artificial intelligence layer, Einstein. The recent $6.5 billion MuleSoft purchase will also help in terms of pulling data of disparate enterprise systems and into the various Salesforce tools.

The tools and services announced today give Adobe a fully intelligent, machine learning-driven solution of their own. The whole notion of a customer experience record, while a bit of marketing speak, also serves to help differentiate Adobe from the pack.

Mar
22
2018
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IBM can’t stop milking the Watson brand

More than seven years after IBM Watson beat a couple of human Jeopardy! champions, the company has continued to make hay with the brand. Watson, at its core, is simply an artificial intelligence engine and while that’s not trivial by any means, neither is it the personified intelligence that their TV commercials would have the less technically savvy believe.

These commercials contribute to this unrealistic idea that humans can talk to machines in this natural fashion. You’ve probably seen some. They show this symbol talking to humans in a robotic voice explaining its capabilities. Some of the humans include Bob Dylan, Serena Williams and Stephen King.

In spite of devices like Alexa and Google Home, we certainly don’t have machines giving us detailed explanations, at least not yet.

IBM would probably be better served aiming its commercials at the enterprises it sells to, rather than the general public, who may be impressed by a talking box having a conversation with a star. However, those of us who have at least some understanding of the capabilities of such tech, and those who buy it, don’t need such bells and whistles. We need much more practical applications. While chatting with Serena Williams about competitiveness may be entertaining, it isn’t really driving home the actual value proposition of this tech for business.

The trouble with using Watson as a catch-all phrase is that it reduces the authenticity of the core technology behind it. It’s not as though IBM is alone in trying to personify its AI though. We’ve seen the same thing from Salesforce with Einstein, Microsoft with Cortana and Adobe with Sensei. It seems that these large companies can’t deliver artificial intelligence without hiding it behind a brand.

The thing is this though, this is not a consumer device like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. It’s a set of technologies like deep learning, computer vision and natural language processing, but that’s hard to sell, so these companies try to put a brand on it like it’s a single entity.

Just this week, at the IBM Think Conference in Las Vegas, we saw a slew of announcements from IBM that took on the Watson brand. That included Watson Studio, Watson Knowledge Catalog, Watson Data Kits and Watson Assistant. While they were at it, they also announced they were beefing up their partnership Apple with — you guessed it — Watson and Apple Core ML. (Do you have anything without quite so much Watson in it?)

Marketers gonna market and there is little we can do, but when you overplay your brand, you may be doing your company more harm than good. IBM has saturated the Watson brand, and might not be reaching the intended audience as a result.

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