One of the things that immediately strikes you about Peter Heffring, the CEO of Expion, is his down-to-earth manner. It's one indication that in a white-hot space that has come to be known as Social Relationship Software, Expion is different.
It's headquartered not in Silicon Valley, New York or Austin, but in Raleigh, North Carolina. And until its recent hire of Bryan Wiener from digital super-star-agency 360i (home of the Oreo at the Super Bowl tweet), it had very little buzz around its buzz-measurement platform. Also, unlike its one-time competitor, Syncapse, which exited the scene last year, it has enjoyed solid growth, steady improvement in its development, and a spectacular customer list that includes Heineken, IBM, Coca Cola, Hilton and many others. But still, they are not the first company that customers consider for either initiating or expanding their social relationship management or content marketing optimization.
That's about to change. With a couple of key moves made earlier this year, Expion is ready to take the main stage.
One, they recently formed a strategic partnership with Clarabridge. Their combined strengths were on display at SXSW, where they hosted a series of customer panels with IBM, Coca-Cola, Mondelez and other customers to talk about social and analytics. Expion is clearly using analytics as its strategic lead in marketing a suite that also includes publishing, real-time listening, and advocacy campaigns.
Secondly, they hired Bryan Wiener, former CEO of 360i, in February as Chairman. Wiener recently led a major round of investment in the firm (undisclosed but in the seven figures). Wiener had been on the board and is stepping up his role to help Heffring make major investments in marketing and sales with the new capital.
Says Heffring: "In the past year, Expion has more than doubled its revenue and it recently signed on clients such as Clinique, IBM and Heineken. Bringing Bryan on will be an invaluable addition to Expion, bringing deep sales and marketing experience as well as extensive knowledge of what it takes for a global brand to be successful in today's digital marketing landscape. Bryan is bringing significant amount of capital and advisory relationships as well to fuel our growth."
Staying beneath the radar has not hurt Expion as it has continued to provide excellent client referrals and build both its team of 41 developers in Raleigh and its dashboard. Heffring is someone who strikes you as a CEO who listens to his customers, and clearly this listening has gone straight into product.
One of the things he has clearly "heard" is the rising importance of analytics, particularly to the strategic management of social. As social marketing becomes both more "traditional" as well as just simply marketing, analytics - and common measurements, become both the wedge for greater justification and spend, as well as the glue that binds social to overall marketing campaigns. Perhaps it is not surprising that its client base includes companies like IBM, who themselves have oriented their marketing deliverables around analytics.
But no SRM vendor can afford, these days, to focus on any part of its platform at the exclusion of others. As leading analyst Paul Greenberg, author of CRM At the Speed of Light, notes: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, pretty well sums it all up. This is one of those disciplines that requires all of the pieces to be valuable at all. Without one, the others diminish in importance. To put it in a short sentence or two - in order to personalize the experience of a customer and to actively respond to that customer in a meaningful manner, you have to hear what they are saying, figure out who they are and then respond accordingly. Miss a piece - i.e. listening, analytics, campaign - and you miss the whole thing."
One of the notable developments in the wake of the acquisitions of hot start-ups like Buddy Media (Salesforce), Vitrue (Oracle), Radian 6 (Salesforce), Netbase (SAP), and many others is that despite the overwhelming marketing and sales force of the big enterprise software vendors, the smaller "independents" continue to thrive and, according to them, find themselves more often competing against each other than the big companies. Could this be because the major brands are still fairly early in the adoption cycle of social? Or could it be that social marketing and channels continue to change so quickly that the smaller, more nimble companies have the advantage?
"The interesting thing about this space is the constant evolution. Just when you think it is maturing, there are new platforms and new ways of integrating social data across an enterprise. This definitely gives us an edge with our agile development to quickly deliver our clients better ways to leverage their investment in social data," says Heffring.