CMO's top 8 martech stories for the week - 17 February 2022

All the latest martech and adtech news from Zendesk, Optimizely, Google Cloud, Branch, BigCommerce, Mediaocean, Soul Machines, Qualtrics, Samba TV and PubMatic

Zendesk boast rejects unsolicited acquisition proposal

Zendesk’s board has rejected an unsolicited, non-binding acquisition proposal from a consortium of private equity firms, saying it significantly undervalues the customer experience management vendor.

The non-binding proposal to acquire all of Zendesk’s outstanding shares was based on an all-cash transaction valued at US$127-$132 per share, or about US$17 billion. In a statement, Zendesk’s board of directors said while they were open to opportunities to maximise shareholder value, this wasn’t it.

“After careful review and consideration conducted in consultation with its independent financial and legal advisors, the Board concluded this non-binding proposal significantly undervalues the Company and is not in the best interests of the Company and its shareholders,” the statement read. “The proposal is not conditioned on the termination of Zendesk’s pending acquisition of Momentive.

“The Board continues to believe strongly that the continued execution of its strategic plan, including the proposed acquisition of Momentive, will generate substantial additional long-term value for shareholders. The Board unanimously recommends a vote FOR its proposal to approve the issuance of Zendesk stock in connection with the transaction at the shareholder meeting on February 25.”

Zendesk announces its intention to acquire a 78 per cent stake Momentive, which owns the SurveyMonkey platform, for about US$4 billion in stock, or about $28 per outstanding share in November. But it’s come under pressure from a cohort of shareholders, led by investors, Jana Partners and Janus Henderson, to drop the deal. 

Jana Partners has now informed nominated four directors to vye for board positions at the company’s upcoming 2022 shareholder meeting. The four candidates would run against Zendesk's four directors slated for election this year, including two of the three Zendesk directors who served on a transaction committee that spearheaded the Momentive transaction.

The move also comes a week before shareholders are due to vote on the Momentive deal on 25 February.

Zendesk reported Q4 and full-year numbers which showed revenue for the quarter rose 32 per cent year-on-year to US$375.4 million with a net loss of $61.8 million. Full-year revenue was up 30 per cent year-on-year to US$1.3 billion, while overall Zendesk reported a net loss of $223.6m.

Optimizely and Google Cloud partner up for experimentation

Optimizely and Google Cloud have entered a strategic partnership which will see the digital experience platform’s experimentation solutions migrated onto the Google Cloud. The two companies said their multi-year agreement shows a joint commitment to collaborate on innovative opportunities and bring advanced, digital-first marketing solutions to market.

Optimizely’s Web Experimentation and Full Stack Experimentation aims to give marketers tools to deliver more personalised, meaningful engagements. Through the new partnership, its customers will be able to use these, supported by Google Cloud’s infrastructure and capabilities in AI, ML and analytics.

Google Cloud and Optimizely will also work to co-innovate and develop new and expanded digital offerings. In addition, the pair will also create a joint go-to-market and sales execution strategy to seamlessly deliver experimentation solutions to customers globally.

“I couldn’t think of two tech companies that are more relevant for the data-driven growth marketer than Google Cloud and Optimizely. We share the same philosophy on leveraging data, AI and experimentation to replace guesswork with certainty,” commented Optimizely CEO, Alex Atzberger. “By entering into this strategic partnership with Google Cloud, we’re empowering marketers to unlock their digital potential, create exceptional customer experiences and deliver strong business outcomes all on a trusted, secure platform. It’s a true win-win-win situation for Optimizely, Google Cloud and the marketing industry overall.”

Branch raises US$300m to crack walled gardens

Silicon Valley adtech player, Branch, has secured US$300 million in funding at a $4 billion valuation to drive growth and scale of its mobile app and measurement offering.

The latest funding round was led by existing investor, NEA. Branch has more than 500 employees and 16 offices globally and has been used by more than 100,000 mobile brands since its founding in 2014 including NBC, Under Armour and Airbnb, to create and measure mobile experiences.

Branch CEO, Alex Austin, pointed out consumers spend more than a third of their waking hours on their phones, with over 90 per cent of that time spent in apps.

“Despite this, many apps are struggling to survive as they contend with changes in the mobile ecosystem, from privacy changes like ATT to the explosion of new device types,” he said. “Branch is committed to helping companies overcome these new ecosystem challenges by expanding our product offerings to reflect this new normal, while still maintaining our commitment to user privacy.”

Branch said it’ll use the new financing to double down on product investments including expanding its mobile linking platform to help brands unlock new ways to grow through owned and organic channels, as well as better integrate mobile in cross-device and offline-to-online crossover experiences. It’s also planning to expand mobile measurement partner solutions for paid media, plus accelerate research into new solutions to improve app discovery.

BigCommerce Ninjas way to bigger B2B offering

Ecommerce platform provider, Big Commerce has acquired Quote Ninja, an enterprise software solutions company with complementary B2B commerce capabilities for merchants, for an undisclosed sum.

Ninja is a long time BigCommerce partner and offers a quoting solution for ecommerce. The acquisition is expected to enhance BigCommerce’s ability to deliver powerful ecommerce functionality to B2B merchants. BigCommerce CEO, Brent Bellm, said the deal complements its recent launch of B2B Edition.

“This is the next big step in providing a platform that is easier to use and faster than legacy B2B solutions and more flexible and powerful than other SaaS platforms,” he claimed. “We continue to invest in ways that make BigCommerce the best platform for merchants of all sizes regardless of who or where their customers are or where merchants are selling.” 

B2B Ninja is available to any BigCommerce merchant on any plan. It is pitched at merchants who don’t need all the functionality of B2B Edition but are looking for next-level quoting functionality, or for complex use cases that require extended quoting capabilities.

BigCommerce will continue to offer B2B Edition through exclusive partner integration of BundleB2B with BigCommerce Enterprise.

Mediaocean lifts creative game for paid social media

Omnichannel advertising platform, Mediaocean, has taken the wrappers off new creative automation solutions for paid social media aimed at accelerating and improving the scale of production and campaign performance.

The latest offers follow the acquisition of Flashtalking in 2021 and combined Mediaocean’s Scope by 4C and Flashtalking’s workflow tools for creative automation and reporting across all steps of a social media campaign. Key features include omnichannel scaled creative production, automated ad personalisation, cross-platform social media campaign management, centralised reporting and optimisation.

In addition, the platform offers a centralised digital asset library plus dynamic templates to automate in-market content and optimise creative to each social media platform’s specifications and algorithms.

“Consumers today expect and are accustomed to receiving relevant and personalised experiences across channels, so brands must meet that expectation inside and outside walled gardens, nimbly and at scale,” said Mediaocean president, John Nardone. “Our platform unites several best-of-breed capabilities to uniquely deliver that value proposition for brands and their agency partners.”

Soul Machines raises US$70m

Autonomous digital assistant producer, Soul Machines, has secured US$70 million in Series B1 financing, bringing total funding in the business to $135m to date.

The latest round was led by Softbank Vision Fund 2 with participation from Cleveland Avenue, Liberty City Ventures and Solasta Ventures. Existing investors including Temasek, Salesforce Ventures and Horizons Ventures also participated.

Soul Machines was founded in 2016 by serial tech entrepreneur, Greg Cross, and Academy Award winner, Mark Sagar. It produces autonomously animated digital workforces to handle virtual customer experience and brand support, but also has its eye on the emerging metaverse. The company brings digital workforces to life for brands such as Nestle, P&G, the World Health Organisation and Toll House, and is now beginning to create digital twins of celebrities including Carmelo Anthony.

Soul Machines said the latest investment will help it continue rapid growth in the enterprise market, with a specific focus on continuing deep tech research on its Digital Brain technology. It’s also planning to extend reach into the metaverse with digital twins of real-life celebrities.

“We are in a transformational era where brands need to introduce different ways of personalisation and ways to deliver unique brand experiences to customers in a very transactional digital world,” Soul Machines co-founder and chief business officer, Greg Cross, said.  

Qualtrics Discovers new experience management tools

Qualtrics has debuted a new set of products which it says will help organisations better listen to, analyse and act on what customers and employees are saying.

XM Discover taps into omnichannel conversational analytics in order to understand the emotion, intensity and effort behind customer and employee experiences. Qualtrics said organisations can use this to gather experience data from any structured and unstructured source, analyse it with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools, then take action to deliver better customer, employee, brand and product experiences.

Discover is based around technology from Qualtrics’ 2021 acquisition of Clarabridge. Specifically, it’s opening up more unstructured data sources for analysis including conversations, chat, social media posts and review sites onto a single platform, with an ability to scan conversations in 23 languages and bring more than 150 out-of-the-box models tuned into nuanced terminologies and discussions happening across industries.

Discover is being offered in five product versions. Discover for CustomerXM surfaces insights and patterns within voice and text conversations to help companies understand why customers are reaching out and how they feel about their experiences. Discover for EmployeeXM identifies trending topics and shifts in employee sentiment across situations like public or internal company forums, the employee intranet or other digital workplace tools. Discover for BrandXM is for tracking consumer sentiment in social and other channels to give organisations real-time insights into their brand health, while Discover for ProductXM analyses customer feedback from sources such as online reviews and support conversations to identify product gaps. Finally, Discover for DesignXM is designed to underpin more frequent market research programs.

Samba TV strikes deal with PubMatic

CTV audience measurement firm, Samba TV, has signed a deal with PubMatic to expand the reach of its programmatic omniscreen TV audience targeting offering.

Samba TV already has buy-side (DSP) deals with MIQ and The Trade Desk in Australia. The company said the latest deal marks continued growth and expansion for Samba TV in the Australian market and also comes off an existing sell-side European partnership with PubMatic.

The pair will combine Samba TV’s first-party TV data with PubMatic’s programmatic targeting capabilities to give Australian advertisers the ability to reach audiences based on TV viewing behaviours. In addition, advertisers will be able to deduplicate ad exposure data across linear, Connected TV and digital channels.

Samba TV’s software is integrated at the chipset level into 24 global CTV brands, which gives it access to insights into viewership data across broadcast, cable, over-the-top and digital media from millions of devices globally.  

“By combining Samba TV’s proprietary audiences with PubMatic’s scale and inventory quality, we’re excited to now offer advertisers in Australia the opportunity to achieve true incremental reach by leveraging our comprehensive TV audiences,” Samba TV managing director, Yasmin Sanders, said.

“With today’s consumers engaging content across so many devices, it is imperative to utilise omniscreen approaches to achieve true addressability,” added PubMatic VP of addressability, Peter Barry. “By targeting these high-value segments across PubMatic’s premium digital inventory at the supply side, buyers can deliver relevant ad experiences at scale, thereby optimising campaign performance.”  

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