IBM Watson’s Newly Sold Marketing Tech Division Rebrands as Acoustic

Its major selling point is focus

Acoustic is IBM Watson's marketing tech division rebranded as a standalone company. Acoustic
Headshot of Marty Swant

The company formerly known as IBM’s Watson Marketing has rebranded as a standalone company called Acoustic.

The new name, announced today, comprises the 1,000-person division acquired in April by the private equity firm Centerbridge Partners that hopes to bring a more focused approached to marketing assisted by artificial intelligence.

When asked to describe the brand strategy, Acoustic CEO Mark Simpson didn’t provide many tangible details about the reasoning. However, he said it would help people think of listening to something—or someone—and help marketers think less about technology and more about a “very human thing.”

“Rather than sort of treat our company as a technology company and look at the size of things,” he said. “We want to bring back that humanity and the art into marketing and to understand what their customers are needing and demanding of them and help them make themselves heard in the market.”

While IBM still owns the Watson Advertising division, Acoustic will use IBM’s application programming interface to offer three core services: campaign automation like email and mobile messaging, customer relationship management and analytics, and content management and recognition. That includes using Watson for natural language processing as well as image and video recognition.

Watson Marketing wasn’t the first part of IBM’s marketing technology suite to be acquired. Last year, the company sold a number of software products to HCL Technologies, including its Unica marketing automation division and another focused on omnichannel ecommerce.

Making the business focused on marketers outside of the rest of IBM could give Acoustic more flexibility and focus compared to its competitors like Salesforce and Oracle. Its open ecosystem also could potentially give it the option to partner with other AI companies that aren’t IBM.

While Simpson said Centerbridge plans to invest heavily into Acoustic, it has a long way to go to catch up to the competition as Salesforce’s Sales Cloud already has 37.9% of the market share. Salesforce itself is also already tapped into Watson as a strategic partner, perhaps giving it some of the same types of AI-powered data as Acoustic hopes to tap.

It’s too early to know what kind of traction the business might have. However, one agency analyst said comprehensive marketing suites aren’t as attractive to marketers as juggernaut companies think. That’s because it’s hard to sell too many solutions at the same time to one client—especially as agencies like to pick a variety of services from a range of sources.

Others—including one competitor—agreed that the increased focus might help the company grow rather than be lost in the shuffle of a giant with other more profitable areas to invest in.

“Watson has had a great impact on the field of AI, particularly in inspiring the consumer,” said Ben Lamm, CEO of the Austin-based AI agency Hypergiant. “However, it also set up a lot of expectations that it hasn’t been able to realize, which has had a negative impact on the adoption of and enthusiasm for AI in the market. I’d posit that given this move, IBM is likely separating the company from the main IBM P&L structure to give it time to see if it can deliver on the promised potential.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.