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Why IBM's Retail Clients Just Got More Interested in Facebook Ads

Big Blue's marketing cloud gets more social

IBM's cloud connects with Facebook for the first time. Photo: Getty Images

Next week, IBM will hold its Amplify event in San Diego and pitch marketers on the possibilities in front of them thanks to the company's first deal with Facebook. Retailers that show up for the three-day affair may be more interested than most to see how the data cloud-based partnership could help them create more sales on the social media site. 

With the partnership announced today, IBM's business-to-business clients will be able take their known customer segments and find look-alike audiences on Facebook for the sake of targeting prospective buyers. More specifically, Jay Henderson, director of strategy at IBM, said his company's acquisitions in recent years—chiefly digital marketing services player Silverpop and a deal with The Weather Company in March—give Facebook-minded retailers and marketers the opportunity to zero in on consumers that have the "propensity to actually purchase that item."

That's because his Armonk, N.Y.-based company's data, which includes products left in abandoned Web shopping carts, previous purchase history, location and the weather forecast, are actionable along with interest-level information on Facebook Custom Audiences' 1.4 billion active global users. Such stats can help deliver ads to Facebook members on the site and mobile app, as well as across the Web via the Facebook Audience Network.  

For example, marketers can run shoe ads to consumers around what kinds of sneakers they prefer and what climate they live in. Carbon copies of proven campaigns can also be leveraged in retail stores, proprietary websites and other mobile apps, according to IBM. 

Deepak Advani, general manager, IBM Commerce, said that "consumer-product companies and retailers will be able to quickly and easily gain deeper insight into what their customers expect and in turn provide them with compelling experiences that bridge the physical and virtual divide." 

The Facebook deal illuminates what IBM probably had in mind when it bought Silverpop a year ago for a reported $275 million. Atlanta-based Silverpop automates digital marketing and uses customer profiles to define audiences on social, Web, email and mobile platforms.

Jordan Cohen, CMO of Fluent, commented that while Salesforce.com has received a lot of chatter for its interactive marketing services, "IBM has somewhat more quietly been amassing an impressive marketing cloud of its own."

Today's development may only be the tip of the proverbial iceberg, suggested David McIninch, vp of marketing at Acquisio. He contends that it would be a game-changer if Big Blue were able to use semantic search capabilities to read Facebook posts in real time and then serve up ads specific to people's requests for recommendations in their timeline.

"This would allow for much better targeting, married to the traditional means by which Facebook uses its 'ad set audiences' for advertisers to target ad delivery," McIninch explained. "This would be more powerful than layered targeting or custom audiences because the ads could be served to a defined need versus a series of demographic or purchase behaviors."

Lastly, IBM also revealed Facebook will be the first player to join Big Blue's new Commerce THINKLab. The initiative—as described in a statement—is "a research and collaboration environment in which the companies will work directly with brands to accelerate development of new technologies designed to personalize customer experience. IBM researchers, Facebook experts, domain experts, designers and other partners will be available to work side-by-side with clients to identify specific areas of need and generate new solutions."

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