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This week I was able to sit down and speak with Bill Wagner, the CEO of StrongView to talk about the name change for StrongMail and what is coming up in the future. Below is the transcription and you can hear my full interview by clicking on the link above.

OI: Can you tell me why the name change and what does that signify for the company

Bill: StrongMail was a great name for a company that was founded 10 years ago as an email infrastructure provider, but we have evolved so much beyond that. As we announced the rebranding the question I'm getting more than "Why did you change the name?" is "why did it take you so long to change the name." And we tend to agree with that.

It is really a reflection of who we are. We have so far surpassed what StrongMail was when the company was founded that we felt the timing was right and frankly it fits our aspirations and the products that will coming out shortly.

OI: Can you Talk a little about those "aspirations".

The new name doesn't mean a new strategy. The new name is catching up with the strategy. StrongView is a reflection of not only the cross channel capabilities but more importantly the visual nature of our product. It has evolved quite a bit: there are a lot of visual elements to it. Visually depicting audience engagement across all the different possibilities of various test splits , the view of campaign performance as it is happening in real time, dashboards that really give you a view of what is happening in and across campaigns. To some extent it sets the immediate reflection of "view" within the product, but the more aspirational view has to do with what is going to be coming out that is not yet announced, so i can't give away too much detail.

But we did an announcement in February with Amazon where we are leveraging the Amazon data warehouse and our upcoming product release which will be coming out very shortly, will reflect that integration. We are going to be doing some really interesting things with data that nobody else is doing. At that point the "Visual" part of the name will be beyond "visual" aspect of the product,  per se, and more visual as a reflection of insight and knowledge born out of the data. So that is the aspirational aspect of what you will see shortly.

OI: Will clients notice any difference in they currently way they function with the product?

The short answer is that current clients will not notice anything different, per se, what they will experience is an opportunity to have an expanded set of capabilities. If you are happy with the way things are, you are going to be happy with what's coming. If you want more and you want to expand to have new capabilities and do some new things, you'll have that opportunity.

OI: I don't know if you have been following any of the discussion on the Only Influencers list, but some of the comments about the name change dealt with this notion of an "Integrated" approach vs "Best of Breed" and that vendors develop integrated platforms when the company's themselves are silo'd as far as job function.

I did see that thread. The first  thing I will say is that the organizational aspect of Silo'd over Integrated is still being worked out and what we are experiencing is every organization is different. I'm not seeing a clear trend yet in terms of ownership. It is a function of the size of an organization, the religious beliefs of the organization in terms of how they like to do things, right? It is really a mixed bag.  It is not Integrated vs best of bread is far as an "or" function. we see more as an "and" function. And the reason we see it that way is we are, for most, focused on Enterprise accounts. Those accounts tend to be very heterogeneous, even though they might have big investments with a vendor, they do more often than not have a lot of different products, technologies, data sources and things like that. So what we try to do when we engage a brand, we look at what they have, we look at what they want to do aspirationally. If they have a CRM system or an whole campaign management system from an IBM, an Oracle and they want to retain that investment, we don't come in and say  "hey rip that out", we basically show them how to amplify that  investment: in those situations we'll integrate with those platforms.

But not every company has those systems and I think that is where the idea of integrating comes in to fill that gap for where those systems don't exist. The other thing I see playing out is the discussion brands are having with vendors and the criteria is very much a multi-channel criteria but not always with a clear line of sight how they are going to use that. In some ways they are sort of hedging their bets: before when they would have gone out and vetted an email service provider they are now, for that same set of requirements, vetting email service providers with a cross channel capacity, again not with necessarily a clear line of sight on how they are gong to integrate these things but more about hedging their bets wanting vendors to bring those capabilities to the table. they are still sorting it out themselves. That is what I'm seeing.

OI: Could you talk a little about the industry in general and what you see. Will a standalone email service provider even exist 5 years from now?

I think from what I'm seeing, email service providers are being forced to add additional capability, what we were referring in the Influencers thread as an integrated approach primarily because of the way the playing field is being set by other players in the market and also being set by how brands are vetting their provider. they are looking beyond email, they want to see their provider provide these different capabilities even though they haven't really sorted it out themselves.

I think in terms of how are things going to shake out, I think it is really interesting besides Salesforce's acquisition of ExactTarget, you have Adobe's acquisition of Neolane and those acquirers doing something had been long rumored. I think we are only seeing the beginning of it frankly. I think those moves are going to force other players to re-evaluate what they thought they had and see if they are really prepared in face of these new competitors. Companies like IBM and SAP and Oracle and Terradata, companies that have done these acquisitions in the past are going to have to re-evaluate and say "what does this mean now? Are we really prepared? or do we need to respond to these things." How it is going to shake out in the end, who is going to be left standing independantly and who is going to get swallowed up is really a matter of speculation. I think the level of activity is only going to increase at this point because it is a big chess game the piece are moving.

OI: Anything I missed?

Not really.  The way that I couch the rebranding is that it is really just the beginning and it is a shoring up of who we already are with the name. I think what you are going to see going forward as far as partnership announcements and product are really going to reflect the new brand. So this is much more than just a name change. What you are going to see coming from us shortly is going to surprise a bunch of folks.  So I look forward to surprising everybody.

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georgebilbreyjoshbaerThis week I interview George Bilbrey, President of Return Path and Email Entrepreneur  Josh Baer, whose company  OtherInbox was acquired by Return Path last year.


OI: Josh, tell us a little about ContextIO? 


Josh: ContextIO is a small company out of Canada that ReturnPath acquired late last year. What ContexIO does is provide an API, basically a set of tools for programmers, that want to build stuff on top of email. The API is designed to allow you to build Email into your application. Now, you might do that if you want to make an Email Client, something that is all about reading email. But more commonly you want to bring some of the data and intelligence that is in Email into something else that might have nothing to do with email.


For example, you might have a CRM application to keep track of your sales leads, and you might want to see right next to you emails exchanged with those leads or files they've sent to you. Those files are living in your inbox and are hard to unlock normally but with ContextIO it is easy for anybody to connect to the inbox and pull any of the relevant data out and show it in a contextual way, which is where the "context" part of the name comes from. 


Typically if you are building something you are connecting to IMAP or Exchange or to Hotmail. Things that are not easy to program to. These are things that if you ask a programmer "hey, you want to go write some IMAP code?" , no one is happy with that. They are old protocols that are hard to work with and so what ContextIO does is give you ONE thing to write to. It is well designed, it is easy to use. You write to that one thing and you can connect to Gmail, and to IMAP and lots of other platforms in a really easy way. 


OI: And who is the customer for this. Is it the ESP's or is there something here for the individual marketer with internal resources would be interested in as well? 


Josh: it can be used a lot of different ways. The core market is not really ESP's or marketers but any kind of application or service that somebody might be using so it is more application developers than ESP's or things like that. What is relevant to marketers is what comes out of it. So what we can do is that the anonymous data that is pulled out of this can create some really interesting intelligence tools for marketers. 


OI: Are there any tools that have been developed so far using ContextIO? 


Josh: ContextIO acts as an anonymous panel that then seeds a lot of the different products that Return Path developed and has released so the most recent of those is the Inbox Inside product which is fully based on it. 


OI: Return Path recently rebranded themselves as an Email Intelligence company. Can you tell me what exactly that means? 


George: The goal of Email Intelligence at a high level is to take a lot of the guess work for marketers in how to optimize their email marketing program. Everyday on the Only Influencers list there is a question "say, should we do 'X' and our goal is to provide empirical evidence that if you do 'X' here is what the results are based on where you are in your email marketing program right now. So it is the application of a lot of different data - some of panel data that Josh was talking about comes from Other Inbox, some comes from ContextIO, plus our vast store of reputation data, the data we have coming from ISPs - apply some really great analytics to that and turn that into solid advice for email marketers. 


OI: can you give me a concrete example of the kind of advice a marketer might be able to get out of it? 


George: We had a client in the travel industry, an extremely narrow vertical, looking at how they were sending mail and the days of the week they were sending mail and looking at the days their competition was sending mail on and they found there was a whole in the calendar that no one was sending mail out on Saturdays. So they made the decision to send their mail on Saturday and those campaigns turned out to be their highest performing campaigns. Another example, we had a client that had a fair amount of deliverability issues: they were getting delivered about 92%. They wondered, could they mail more and still get delivered at the same rate? So we were able to look at both the reputation data as well as the panel data, take a look at some of their competitors and other people that looked roughly like them from a reputation standpoint and we determined that it was highly unlikely that increasing the cadence on one particular group of their subscribers was going to drive delivery issues and sure enough they were able to send more mail, get more impressions, get more views and reads without suffering any decrease in inbox placement.


OI: what data could marketers get using these tools that they couldn't get by just close monitoring of the email programs? 


George: The key part of the question is "Close examination of their own email programs". I think what is interesting about the data we can bring to the problem is that you gain knowledge from other people email marketing experience. So what I see a lot of marketers doing is "groping for greatness", the phrase I like to use internally, they have a place where they are, they have a strategy they've been following, they have results associated with that. They have a rough idea of where they think they want to go. They do a series of A/B split tests, incrementally get to an optimum. But that optimum might be a very local optimum, it might not be the very best they can get because it is based on where their starting point is. By taking a look at what your competitors are doing and other best in class marketers are doing, you might actually be able to start in an entirely other new starting place, achieving a global optimum, not just a local optimum. 


Where we are unique is we can help find where practices are going to start to get you in trouble in terms of deliverability and help you walk that fine line between optimizing read rates and responses and having deliverability problems. 


OI: Are you finding that marketers are coming to you with a need for competitive intelligence? 


George: We've had great success with the Inbox Inside product with marketers. I think calling it a competitive intelligence product I think sometimes is slightly limiting. I think the way I'd like to think about it: it's a tool that provides you a roadmap to higher returns on your marketing program. You can take a look at what other people are doing to determine what's working and not working and give you some great ideas for your own marketing program. If you call it Competitive Intelligence sometimes only those companies that have a Competitive Intelligence group really get excited about it.

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(Featured Topics on Only Influencers)

Ben Bloom (Digital Strategist, Wunderman):


My argument, featured in "gloves off" for DM news , is that no network is intrinsically important, and to my mind Instagram's acquisition by Facebook strengthens that idea. What do you think? Is tumblr's acquisition of Pinterest around the corner?

If you would like to weigh in on the site, please do, but I would love to hear what you all think. (see Article Here)

Gretchen Scheiman (Marketing Strategy Consultant):


Nice Ben, thanks for sharing.

There are two aspects to this question - do we think photo sharing as an activity separate from other social sharing is unlikely to be self-sustaining, and do we think Pinterest itself has not been designed with enough competitive advantages to forestall competition from moving in quickly.

I suspect that photo sharing (outside of ones' own pics) is - like video - complex enough that it deserves its own space. I can't imagine an integrated user experience with either FB or Tumblr that would work as elegantly. So I'd have to say that photo-sharing as a separate utility looks like it is here to stay.

As for the second question - while I think that Pinterest in some ways is a negative for businesses (specifically its policies around link/affiliate stuff), I actually like the business model overall. They deserve kudos for actually having a business model this early on - let's face it, that's a bit of an anomaly in the social space. It's quite refreshing. I'm sure Pinterest has some growth and revisions ahead of it, and I'm not sure it's well-protected against competitors, but it does seem to have enough legs to make it a worthwhile investment for some companies right now. Anthropologie is an early adopter that seems ideally suited given the target demographics of their audience.

Which gives Pinterest another face: ultra-relevant affiliate promotions. Could Pinterest be a catalyst for consumers to create a sort of micro-affiliate market, on a far greater scale than we've seen so far? Is Pinterest really a combination of FB/Etsy or FB/eBay?

So while Pinterest may go the way of MySpace, it feels a bit more like Twitter right now. And with more potential and a better business model than that company.

My 2 cents to help start the dialogue - I'd like to hear others weigh in on this topic too.

Andy Goldman (Principal BRAND+MEDIA+TECHNOLOGY):


Pinterest is enabling something that other site services and networked platforms have not, communal expression through photos. To date this has been attempted only by brand-owned platforms with very little sharing capabilities (KODAK Gallery, Snapfish, etc.).

People like to express themselves. They like to do so with varied creative techniques. Photo and picture sharing combined with a communal 'voting' or approval technique like Pinterest provides a unique media for consumers to engage with. It's not going anywhere too fast, is my bet, in its 'intrinsic networked form.'

It may be acquired, or folded into, something new. That's for sure. Because without the piggyback effect of a broad social network that exists for more than to connect consumers to their visual pinups, I do believe Pinterest begins to fall off - it just won't be FOTM (flavor of the month) at some point.

However, I might see a Google acquisition (G turbo business plan?) before I'd see Tumblr. Or really interesting ... Twitter Pinterest? That would fundamentally change how visual sharing works ... will be interesting.

Loren McDonald (VP, Industry Relations, Silverpop):

No idea if Pinterest is "just a passing fad" - but it apparently is a fast-growing least according to Experian Hitwise, it is now the 3rd largest "social network" in the US having passed LinkedIn and Google+ - based on monthly site visits -Pinterest Now No. 3 US Social Network, Surpasses Linkedin

In my view, Facebook may have won the battle for the ubiquitous social network, but we've entered the era of there being room for thousands of social networks to succeed in niche areas.

Arien Gessner:


I think Pinterest is a flood of copyright lawsuits waiting to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the percentage of photos pinned by people with ownership rights to be in the single digits. Am I the only one that sees this as a major roadblock for Pinterest’s longevity?

Andy Goldman:


Arien, it might come to pass with respect to commercial rights, given that some businesses are claiming transactions off of Pinterest engagement, but I don't know that they company is liable for the sharing of imagery any more so than Getty images if I went to the site, right-clicked an image, and put it on my web site.

Now, rights management has come up alot with Pinterest, and I'm no expert, but I'm thinking that unless there is a transaction that Pinterest is somehow taking a piece of, it will be some time before they are specifically liable for what others do with images through their technology.

That's a gut feeling from a non-legal expert in the field. But if you look at how long it's taken(ing) for digital rights management standards to form along content that is known to have monetary value (i.e. music), one might think it'll be some time before it matures into solid arguments in this case. Or maybe not.

Loren McDonald:


A post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on Pinterest's Terms of Service...which just changed on April 6. Pinterest's Pernicious Terms of Service

Ben Bloom:


On the rights issues:

Pinterest apparently tested one approach to generating $ from traffic to retailers, and stopped just before a blogger posted a story which created its own firestorm in Feb.

Pinterest adds disclosure about how they (might) make money. Conversations with Pinterest CEO.

While as Loren notes, pinterest updated their TOS to reflect such a possibility for the future, the monetization (via data sharing, CPA deals, affiliate links, or whatever) of the shared image make Pinterest's future appear, to me, similar to YouTube. The company will be sued, acquired- and then settle out of court for $$$.

Karen Talavera (Principal, Synchronicity Marketing):


I think like MySpace was eclipsed by Facebook, Pinterest itself could be eclipsed (or acquired) so whether they specifically will survive I don't know. I don't think the concept, however, of a visual/graphic social sharing site is a passing fad.

I think the concept IS sustainable and most likely if Pinterest doesn't evolve or build on it, someone else will (or as I mentioned will just buy them first). Because Pinterest was the first to offer/master virtual pin-boarding/scrapbooking/whatever maybe they'll be able to become entrenched enough and quickly leverage their position to stay the frontrunner – if that's what the founders want. Otherwise I suspect they'll sell.

I think there's a lot to be said for the "social scrapbooking" concept specifically around the idea of showing vs telling. Facebook, FourSquare, Twitter, LinkedIn are all so much about telling – chat, conversation, announcement, soundbite, status. But people LOVE the show as well, and as the saying goes, a picture can speak a thousand words.

There's something about a visually-rich, text-light social experience I find deeper and more satisfying than the alternatives. That said, I think Pinterest will remain niched toward users/brands/interests that skew toward and benefit from "show" at least as much as or more than "tell". So sure, the cooking and wedding planning and home décor will prevail, but it there's also the celebrity factor (neat to see what celebrities like, use and share), the expert factor (what your favorite author, chef, designer or life coach is doing) and the topical-community factor (easier to share prom dress ideas/photos here or places not to miss in say, Istanbul, than on other platforms) to consider.

I love how brands that are a natural fit are using it – like Horchow – and it gives them more specialized real estate to "show" than either a print catalog or their website – both of which are built more to sell than act like an interior design service.

Tobias Schremmer (Sales Director, MarketingProfs):


Karen, great thought process on all of this…thank you.

I’ve had versions of these same ideas floating around in my mind for months, but your write-up crystallized it better than I could have. For me, the turning point (if that’s the right phrase) from ‘telling’ to ‘showing’ was Instagram. I had soured on Facebook over 2 years ago, to this day I rarely go on it. Same with FourSquare – it just got old really fast, felt like a rat pecking the bar for a fresh food pellet for every check-in.

Then Instagram came along and immediately it was awesome: a photo and a few words or hash tags is just extremely compelling. And I’m not even a “visual” person as much as other people are. IG is in my shortlist of iPhone To-Do’s first thing every morning (with checking email and catching up on Words with Friends). One key to both Instagram and Pinterest is the ability to so effortlessly explore & discover other content. And even when it comes to “likes” (and follows and comments) – I’ll trade one random-stranger-from-Japan’s Like on IG or Pinterest for 5 friends Liking a FB post or 10 new Twitter followers/retweets.

Also, not mentioned enough is that every new social channel like Pinterest means another fresh wave of fodder for MarketingProfs (et al)!

Loren McDonald:


One thing that continues to confound me about a lot of the conversations about social networks/channels/tools on this and the Email list is that there is often an assumption that for something to be viable and valuable - it has to be ubiquitous and everyone must like it.

Foursquare and checkins won't succeed unless there is broad adoption (but I can still have fun getting more points than you) - but not everything will have to beat Facebook or have 1 billion users to survive. Just ask Bill McCloskey. I think it is OK that you love Instagram and I love Foursquare...but not the other way around.

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Melinda J. Smith is the Program Manager for Expedia. This is her story. If you like Meliinda's story, share it with your network and help her win a bottle of wine:

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denise cox (and yes she likes her name in lower case letters) has been the lead consultant for Newsweaver for the last 11 years. This is her story. If you like denise's story, share it with your network and help her win a bottle of wine.

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