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Marketing tech — and especially messaging / marketing automation — is hyper-competitive, with buyers struggling to differentiate between solutions.

If the marketing tech industry was the restaurant industry, people would all claim to serve “pizza”. Instead of pizza, you’d get Bagel bites out of a toaster or pizza-flavored Combos. Occasionally someone who says they serve pizza actually gives you pizza. Unfortunately it’s really hard to tell the difference from the outside since everyone says the same thing. That’s the world Customer.io operates in. A strategy that shows clear differentiation is one of the biggest challenges of our business.

With our recent release of Customer.io Actions, I wanted to share a bit about how we think about our business and our future in the market.

First, what is Customer.io Actions?

For the first four years of the company, we’ve enabled people to automate highly targeted emails. Email was what was on the menu.

At a high level, Customer.io Actions makes it possible for people to use the same segmentation and rules platform for sending those emails to trigger any message. Actions allows our customers to send more than email and create omni- / multi-channel experiences, leveraging all of the rich behavior data that they’re sending into Customer.io. (Thanks to everyone who continually asked us for this!)

To fill in more context about my pizza analogy, let’s take a quick look at marketing tech as a space.

The Marketing Tech Space in 2016

The number of marketing tech companies has ballooned since we started our business in 2012. We were on the early side of the wave of new marketing technology companies.

ChiefMartec.com tracks companies in the Marketing technology space and estimated ~ 1000 companies in 2014, ~ 2000 companies in 2015, and ~ 3,500 companies in 2016.

In our four years, we’ve seen competitors enter with big war chests and then flame out. We’ve seen others enter who were never able to gain traction. A subset of new entrants gained traction and are still around today.

Given how competitive the space has been, our approach is to out-survive the competition. We’ve done this to date by taking minimal funding — just enough to get to the next milestone and by focusing on what we do best.

Focusing on core strengths

We recognized that our strengths are:

  1. Segmentation: looking through rich behavior data and identifying people and groups who are similar.
  2. Rules & Triggering: Real-time workflows that turn the data our customers share into action.

To continue investing in these strengths, we said “no” to building email delivery infrastructure. Instead, we relied (and continue to rely) on third parties to manage email delivery. It’s a core strength that lies with others and not one we wanted to develop.

Actions builds on our core strengths

I tweeted that I’ve been wanting to release actions since 2012:

We learned from our early customer conversations in late 2011 / early 2012 that people didn’t want us to build an analytics product (our original goal), but they did like the idea of using analytics data to encourage behavior change. Hearing this a few times was our “eureka moment”.

When we launched Customer.io, we weren’t thinking about “emails” alone. We were thinking about Customer “inputs” and “outputs” (Get it? Customer.io?). Inputs would come though website or app activity from a customer (behavior data). Outputs would be reactions to that behavior data. Customer.io is the place where a business orchestrates their interactions with a customer.

Over the four years we’ve had our email-only solution in the market, we realized that the list of things people want out of a tool like ours is infinite. But one resounding thing we’ve heard from businesses that have a website and an app is that they love the way Customer.io handles the logic for email — and wanted to be able to use it for other types of messages they were sending. One of our customers who did an evaluation of every mobile push product on the market said that nobody does it how we do it and his business was comparing all other solutions against the hypothetical that we would some day do push.

It was validation like that that made us want to invest in Actions.

A calculated bet

Our first release of Actions is a calculated bet. Nobody asked us to create an abstraction on sending a message and release that as a feature. However, that’s all sending an email ever was in Customer.io: a nice interface over an API request.

We were able to give people tremendous flexibility in this first release by allowing our more adventurous customers to create API requests directly from Customer.io to other services. Our strategy has been to provide openness and flexibility first and refinement later.

Best of breed

Everything I’ve said so far should hint at a belief in depth over breadth. We want to be best of breed for creating meaningful customer-centric experiences, regardless of messaging channel, and allow customers to use other best of breed services to deliver each message.

The future of marketing is about different solutions working together to provide an amazing experience for the customer, who will seamlessly flow from channel to channel and expect you as a business to keep up with them.

As we expand to other channels, we want our customers to have choice in the vendors they are using. Marketers should be able to build their ideal stack using best of breed tools, and we want Customer.io to play nicely with all of those tools and get your data where it needs to go to best serve your customers and business needs.

I’m excited to share this new release with you as well as the reasons why we’re doing what we’re doing. Use and enjoy this new expansion of the product and please send us feedback and how you’re using Actions!

Happy messaging!

Oh, p.s. We’re on Product Hunt! Come join the conversation there on the release. (Just search for “Customer.io Actions on Product Hunt.)*

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