Acquia provides a cloud platform for building, delivering, and optimizing digital experiences. It was founded by the maker of Drupal. We interviewed Acquia’s CMO to talk about the company’s positioning, differentiation and CMS trends.
Where does Acquia fit in the landscape of CMS vendors?
We describe ourselves as the digital experience company. We help our customers unify content, community and commerce, meaning their traditional .com website, their commerce site, and their social community site, on our Acquia platform. And we harness the open-source product Drupal as the underlying technology behind our platform.
What is digital experience management and how universal a term is it?
The generally accepted category that we all compete in is Web Content Management. It’s not sexy, but when I see RFPs, or when Sitecore and Adobe see RFPs, the majority of them are still using the phrase web content management.
I think vendors and some analysts like Forrester have jumped on the term digital experience because the word “web” implies one channel, when in reality it is a website, a mobile device, a screen, all these digital touchpoints. The term is trying to capture that it’s multi-channel. And it’s really a recognition that “web content management” is actually wrong. It’s not just about web, it’s about every digital touchpoint. It’s not about content—content can be lots of things. And it’s not about management, because we’re all trying to figure out how to get better value out of our content, so the word “management” isn’t really capturing that either.
I think digital experience is a technically correct, better way to describe what we all do, but I don’t think the buyers have really changed how they think about it. I think a lot of us are looking forward to the day where “web content management” goes away, but I don’t think we’re there yet.
Who’s the target audience for digital experience management software, and where is Acquia’s focus specifically?
Generally, the buyer might be the CIO or the enterprise architect, and there is a line-of-business stakeholder, which is often marketing, but can also be e-commerce or customer support. The most common pairing of decision-makers for our platform would be a technology executive combined with a marketing executive.
In terms of size, Drupal can scale from an individual website that you might run your home business on, all the way up to a big global enterprise. So for Drupal, the market is really broad. For Acquia, our focus is what we call mid-market companies, which we define as $100 million+ annual revenue, and enterprises. We generally focus on a handful of core verticals, which are media/entertainment, publishing, financial services, life sciences, high tech, public sector, and non-profits.
What products are your customers usually migrating from?
Our business is kind of bifurcated. In the early days of Acquia, we were all about building a product for people who were already running Drupal. Acquia was founded by Dries Buytaert, the original project lead for Drupal, who built it out of his college dorm room. Dries founded Acquia because there were so many sites running on Drupal that he realized there was a need for a company that could help these companies be successful. So we built our business around organizations who were already using Drupal, and that’s what allowed us to grow really fast. We were the fastest growing private company in the U.S. a year ago.
This continues to be part of our current market. But the fastest growing part of our business is in the enterprise where the customer hasn’t decided on Drupal. They’re going through a re-platform of their legacy stack, and moving away from IBM or Oracle or Interwoven, and in those deals, generally Acquia, Adobe and Sitecore are the top three being considered.
What is the value proposition of using Acquia versus Drupal only?
Drupal runs the gamut from some of the biggest sites in the world to very simple sites. So at Acquia, we hone in on things that big enterprises need. And the word that we use to describe that is “resiliency.” We’ve figured out how to help our customers deliver highly scalable, highly reliable and highly secure Drupal sites. So if you’re Time Inc., running SportsIllustrated.com and you break the “Lebron James is going back to Cleveland” story, you don’t want your site to ever go down and we’ve built our platform to be highly resilient. We tend to have a really compelling value prop for organizations that need scalability, security, and reliability from their site.
Drupal is really flexible and powerful, so the second part of our value proposition is the expertise we’ve built. We can help customers and partners with professional services, where we’ll do scaling workshops, security workshops, site audits, etc.
And how do you differentiate from the purely commercial products like Sitecore or Adobe Experience Manager?
The obvious answer is price. Adobe has gone after the highest end of the market. If you look at the investment you have to make to buy into not just Adobe Experience Manager, but the entire Marketing Cloud vision, it comes at a price that’s hard for most organizations to swallow. Adobe and Sitecore are going after this end-to-end, with integrated stacks of technology around the marketer. I think that looks good in a PowerPoint slide, but the reality is that our customers already have big pieces of their marketing technology stack in place, and they’re not looking for Adobe to go in and sell them Target, Campaign, Experience Manager, Social, etc. Same thing with Sitecore – they’re not looking to buy the Sitecore Experience Manager Platform and use it for email, analytics, personalization, and web content management. They want it to work with what they already have.
But while price might be a factor, the conversation almost always comes down to agility. Because Drupal is open-source, because there is a community of 28,000 developers who contribute to Drupal, it simply moves faster than proprietary technology like Adobe and Sitecore. So we win where organizations value speed—meaning I want to be able to launch a new site in a matter of days and weeks, not months and years, or I want to quickly add some new capabilities to my site without having to go spend $100,000 to custom build something. There are so many contributors working on Drupal that our customers gain better agility from it.
So there’s a huge built-in advantage that Drupal has over Adobe and Sitecore. When you want to work with the technologies you’re already using with the Drupal ecosystem, like marketing automation for example, there are already integrations available for that, and that’s just not the case with Adobe and Sitecore, who are trying to sell you that end-to-end marketing stack.
Do you compete at all with pureplay e-commerce vendors?
Traditional commerce platforms are really good at managing the infrastructure side of commerce, such as fulfillment, order processing, shopping cart, and all that, but there’s a gap around the merchandising and brand experience of these commerce platforms. We can help our commerce customers deliver a better experience, while still letting them leverage their existing commerce platforms.
Puma, for example, two years ago had a separate commerce experience – store.puma.com – from their brand experience. As a consumer, you had to choose: do you want to go shop, or do you want to explore the brand? We helped them get rid of those two sites, and use Acquia as the content platform and leverage Demandware as the commerce transaction engine to get back to having a consistent brand experience. So we work together with technologies like Demandware, Hybris, Magento.
There are some native capabilities in Drupal for commerce, which do work for some smaller organizations. But Acquia’s focus is working in conjunction with existing commerce platforms.
How does the integration with e-commerce vendors work?
All of the commerce platforms have the ability to do personalization and merchandising—if you like this, you might like this. When we’re rendering a page, we’re using the API to grab and say, “What would you have rendered in this page?” Rather than being rendered via a Demandware presentation layer, it could be rendered via Acquia. So in some cases, you can rely on the commerce engine’s abilities to give us that feed of content, and we determine how to present it. However, there are cases where customers use our native capabilities for personalization. They have the option to do that.
Tell us more about Acquia’s approach to personalization.
Part of the Acquia Platform is a product called Acquia Lift. Acquia Lift is about helping our customers better understand their customers, and then using that data to do segmented delivery or personalization of content. At our core, we have a customer database that we call Content DB. It’s about building a unified customer profile. So you visit a site that Acquia powers, and we start gathering information about your behavior and how you got to the site, and eventually we can connect you to the commerce system and to the marketing automation system once we have an email address. We can connect what Acquia’s learned about that visitor to the commerce data, to the Marketo and Salesforce data, etc., and you can start using that to do segmented delivery and show a different experience.
So for us, if the customer has maturity around their personalization efforts—for example, if they’re doing recommendations with their commerce engines—we don’t have to take that over. But most of the customers we talk to are actually very immature when it comes to personalization, and they like the fact that we can be a one-stop shop.
There are other types of vendors that are starting to offer personalization as well, such as tag management, A/B testing and some marketing automation vendors. How is the CMS lens on personalization different?
There is a race right now; whoever owns data owns the customer. You’ve got the tag management vendors and the traditional personalization vendors doing this. We’re taking a different approach. One, we recognize that we’re never going to own all the data. In a real enterprise, there are lots of silos of data. So our take is that we should collect data and make it really easy to connect the data organizations already have. So we have pre-built connectors to Marketo, Salesforce, Eloqua, Demandbase, and given users the ability to connect to custom apps.
Are there any other trends driving your strategy?
There’s this explosion happening right now where organizations aren’t just managing one or two or three sites—they’re managing hundreds or thousands of sites. A lot of this is driven by marketing campaigns. Historically, if you’re a big brand and you want to launch a marketing campaign, you go to an agency, they build the site for you from scratch, host it for you, and charge you for it. And one day you wake up and you have hundreds of these sites, with no ability to take a top-down look at it, and say, “how is our brand across these sites, how are we governing it?”
So we created Acquia Cloud Site Factory, which is about the management and governance of template sites that you would use in a marketing campaign, so that you can manage them in a central location, and you can spin them up incredibly quickly.
The whole web content management paradigm of managing the big-name.com sites doesn’t work when your real problem is that you’ve got thousands of campaign sites you spin up and take down quickly. We’ve got an actual product that helps our customers manage that.
CMS seems to really sit at the juncture between IT and Marketing. Can you talk about those dynamics?
You’re starting to see vendors take sides. If you think about Adobe and Sitecore as an example, they’ve gone so aggressively to chase the marketer, and to us, that’s not the reality of this market.
It’s one thing to deploy a SaaS app, but when you’re doing a site re-platform, you’re talking about heavy duty IT infrastructure, security, having to think up-scale, reliability, our site can never go down…and you’re talking about some level of custom development. So this idea that marketers or CMOs buy and make decisions on the CMS is just factually not correct.
The technology team, the CIO, the enterprise architect, the director of architecture, the director of IT—they still have a heavy say in these platforms, because if you make the wrong the decision, if you put that website up and it gets hacked, there’s a huge implication to your brand.
So the CIO plays a heavy role in the selection. Our strategy is not to just try to chase the marketer. The perception that the marketer is the definitive stakeholder is just not true.
Anything else you’d like to add?
A lot of the basic requirements haven’t changed. I still talk to customers all the time who are looking for an easier, faster way to publish content. So though things like personalization are really important, a lot of it is still about what I consider to be the basics.
Secondly, I think we are in this “Renaissance of replacements” where Sitecore and Adobe and Acquia are now replacing a lot of legacy technologies. Organizations that have been living with their old data stack for a decade are looking for a better way.
Finally, the way that vendors are selling in this market isn’t how customers are actually implementing. So this idea that Sitecore is selling a customer experience platform, or Adobe is selling a Marketing Cloud—that’s not how customers actually buy this software. They’re still very specifically looking for a web content management system, there’s almost no one looking for a one-stop shop approach. There’s a disconnect between how vendors are marketing in the space and how customers are actually buying.