SHIFT makes marketing a team sport, adds 12 technology partners to its Open Marketing Cloud

By Michael Carney , written on April 9, 2013

From The News Desk

Eight months after launching its cloud collaboration and productivity platform for online marketers, and an accompanying open API for developers, SHIFT is announcing the addition of 12 partners that will offer their software for use within its Open Marketing Cloud. These apps include Aggregate Knowledge, Convertro, Curalate, Expion, Fan Appz, Kenshoo, Moontoast, Offerpop, Optimal, Inc., SocialFlow, The Trade Desk, and SHIFT’s proprietary social advertising app, GraphEffect.

The idea behind SHIFT is to bring marketing teams together, including the various agencies, brands, and publishers that work on a single campaign, and give them all the necessary tools in a single place to manage, execute, and measure that project. Tools range from media buying to data management to content creation, in addition to the communication, scheduling, and reporting tools built natively into the SHIFT platform.

“We’re really trying to provide a better alternative to closed, monolithic clouds from Salesforce, Adobe, and others,” SHIFT CEO James Borow says. “We think that by offering openness and flexibility to marketers, and incorporating as many of the best and latest technologies into these clouds as possible, we can make it as easy for marketers as it should be.”

SHIFT has been available in private and then public beta for several months now, with early adopters including American Express, Toyota, Verizon, Marriott, Disney, and Samsung, and their respective agencies, among others. It has since grown to host 300 brands and agencies, including 10 of the Fortune 20 brands. With today’s announcement, the platform will officially shed its beta label, and become available to all who wish to sign up.

In October, SHIFT announced the addition of former Facebook Preferred Marketing Developers (PMD) partner manager Adam Gerston as its VP of Strategic Partnerships, opening a Palo Alto “partnerships office” and beginning to lay the groundwork for today’s launch.

Gerston and his crew have been working ever since on developing a SHIFT Certification Program which requires that every app on the platform pass a series of rigorous tests measuring its level of integration with SHIFT and its underlying company’s ability to adequately serve the world’s largest brands. With this certification in place, SHIFT can then endorse and market on behalf of its app partners, and also give them autonomy to manage their own update cycles. In app store parlance, it’s an Apple-like initial review process, and then Android like ongoing monitoring and interference.

All app integration relies on the SHIFT OAuth single sign on protocol and shares object level integration. What this means is that events and actions occurring within an app can be published and engaged with within the broader collaboration platform. For example, should an agency account manager design a new creative asset for a social marketing campaign, other members of that project and account would receive a notification and could review and comment on that work within SHIFT. Gerston’s team spent spent the last quarter working closely with each of its partners on deepening and perfecting the level of their integrations.

One of the interesting things about the initial suite of partner apps is that there are several conflicts and overlaps present, including with the in-house GraphEffect. The initial portfolio was assembled directly at the request and suggestion of SHIFT’s brand and agency users. The idea, after all, is to offer a comprehensive suite of the best-in-class tools that marketers would be using off of the platform and increase their value and efficiency by connecting them all within SHIFT.

“We’re ecstatic with the number and mix of apps currently – it’s absolutely quality over quantity,” Borow says. “We have a pretty long list of submissions wanting to get onto the platform.”

SHIFT will collect a revenue share from its app developers from all new users that sign up through the platform. In other words, its taking a lead-gen-based business model. Existing users of the respective apps can import their accounts into SHIFT at no charge to the developers. The underlying SHIFT collaboration platform is entirely free and will almost certainly remain that way forever, according to its CEO.

Prior to the launch of SHIFT, GraphEffect was already generating more than $50 million in revenue by helping brands purchase and optimize their social advertising spend. The company is one of just 12 Facebook Strategic Preferred Marketing Developers, and is one of the few to also be designated a Twitter Ad API Partner. And while this is SHIFT’s lone in-house app, there remains the strong possibility that the company will one day develop others.

The SHIFT and GraphEffect team has grown to include 65 people across its headquarters in Santa Monica and offices in Palo Alto, New York, and Chicago. The company raised a $12 million Series A round in June 2012 led by Rincon Venture Partners, with participation from existing investors Lerer Ventures, Thrive Capital, Founder Collective, Rincon Venture Partners, CrossCut Ventures, Baroda Ventures, DFJ Frontier, and Siemer Ventures, bringing its total capitalization to $14 million.

The big risk with the SHIFT strategy would be that developers of marketing software choose not to integrate their apps with the platform. But given that the platform drives new business to these products, including that of elite brands and agencies, and generally makes the products more useful, this seems foolish. The fact that several GraphEffect competitors are already on board speaks to this fact.

The next possible challenge would be another cloud collaboration platform, such as Asana, choosing to open its doors and launch a similar app ecosystem. This is more likely to happen than not, but the threat that it poses to SHIFT is unclear. Not only does SHIFT have a significant head start and impressive traction at this stage, but it was founded by a team of ad-tech veterans with deep experience and relationship in the industry. The product and its early partners are reflective of this fact. For a competitor to enter the market and erode these relationships would be a tall order, although not impossible.

The final hurdle still in front of the SHIFT team is that of maintaining quality as the platform and app catalog grow. With just 12 apps, discovery and platform noise are of little concern. Turn up the volume to 100 or 500, and this could become a real issue in both cases. Borow and Gerston are well aware of this challenge and are paying close attention to their early adopters, hoping to determine the average number of apps used by each team, and the volume of information those apps publish to the platform. In the future, the ability to recommend apps and filter this noise on a need-to-know basis for each person’s unique role will become increasingly important.

Successful online marketing is a team sport and one that has evolved to requires a number of highly technical tools. Other standalone collaboration platforms in the market today lack the job-specific tools now available through SHIFT to help marketers work effectively. At the same time, the standalone apps lack the requisite collaboration layer to make work efficient. SHIFT built a platform and invited the industry’s best to come collaborate and market their wares. The remarkable thing is that they’ve all shown up.