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Global CIO: SAS Takes On IBM, As IT Meets Marketing

Analytics is changing marketing, as recent M&A activity shows.

SAS's acquisition of Assetlink offers the latest evidence that marketing is becoming a data-driven discipline, and that IT must build closer ties to their marketing colleagues. It also ups the importance of marketing capabilities in the battle between SAS and IBM over which vendor will provide companies with the analytics software they need to compete.

Demand for marketing analytics is growing as chief marketing officers are increasingly under the gun to prove more precisely the effectiveness of advertising and promotions. They're also expected to monitor and analyze the online conversations going on about a company's products--what's being said in online reviews and blog comments, and on social networks.

This week's deal for Assetlink puts SAS that much closer to more of the raw data of marketing. Assetlink develops software for marketing resource management, used to plan and budget ad spending, manage the content, provide workflows, and manage leads on would-be buyers. SAS plans to combine that with its analytics software to better analyze results, in closer to real time. SAS says applying real-time analytics to this data will let companies "predict customer attrition, calculate customer profitability, and discern topics and sentiment from consumer reviews and complaints."

SAS is the king of analytics, but IBM wants to steal the crown. While IBM's $1.2 billion acquisition of SPSS was its biggest move in analytics broadly, IBM also made a major push into marketing analytics last year, in the form of a $480 million deal for Unica (for analyzing and delivering targeted marketing) and the acquisition of Coremetrics (Web site analytics and sentiment analysis). Teradata also got into the game late last year, through its purchase of marketing management software company Aprimo for $525 million. Last August, when IBM bought Unica, SAS sniffed that IBM was "late entering an already mature market."

Marketing analytics hardly feels like a mature market, though. Just 4% of marketing pros and 7% of IT say they're "very prepared to exploit digital marketing," according to a study by Accenture and the CMO Council released last fall. And only about 27% of marketers and IT executives agree with the statement “we know what we need to know about customer’s usage of our digital channels.”

It looks to me like there's huge uncertainty and disruption ahead as companies figure out how to master the art of digital marketing, including how to effectively use real-time and predictive analytics, personalize digital marketing, and react to consumer sentiment on social networks.

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