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Where does the new IBM spinoff Acoustic fit in?

In April, IBM said it was spinning off its Watson Marketing division to private equity firm Centerbridge Partners. This week, the new company announced its new name: Acoustic.

Listening vs. surveillance

The branding raises two main questions about the direction of this marketing platform, built around IBM’s Jeopardy-winning supercomputer system, Watson: the value of this new name, and the market position for this new company.

In its announcement, Acoustic CEO Mark Simpson said that the new name represents the company’s attitude that “only by listening carefully to consumers can marketers make themselves heard.”

IDC Research Director Gerry Murray told ClickZ via email that, while Acoustic is “all about listening,” and that can be a good foundation for a customer-centric message, they need “to be careful about slipping into the surveillance trap.”

In these days of growing privacy and consent rules, he noted, there’s a big difference between listening to customers so you can respect “their intentions” — and “listening to everything all the time so you can make probabilistic guesses about engagement.”

‘Optimal orchestration’

The new Acoustic Marketing Cloud will offer experience analytics, content management, personalization, customer journey analytics, promotion capabilities, a payment gateway and campaign automation like email marketing, all of which will utilize Watson’s automated recognition of textual and spoken natural language, and of still images and video.

Analyst David Raab pointed out to ClickZ via email that Acoustic is “built from a large collection of products that IBM purchased, so the company’s challenge will be to harmonize them (get it?) into a properly integrated system.”

He said that the “real question is whether being freed from IBM will enable the management to be more agile and focused.”

Murray said that Acoustic’s differentiators could include the use of AI, microservices and open APIs to deliver data, analytics and recommendations across the applications.

“The market is no longer about best of breed,” he said. “It’s about optimal orchestration.” In that sense, he added, “they are not that different from other major marketing cloud providers that are still working on integrations between many acquired code bases.”

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