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Cheetah Digital Will be Dedicated to Marketers

“Today we become a new company and a new brand,” said Matt Seeley, former president of Experian Marketing Services, addressing the audience at the Rev2017 client summit (“revive, reveal, revolutionize”). It was announced in April that Experian PLC would sell 75 percent of its cross-channel and email marketing business to Vector Capital, retaining a 25% stake. The name of the independent brand remained a secret until this week.

While looking to the future, the new name — Cheetah Digital — also reaches back into the past. CheetahMail, which Experian acquired in 2004, had been the core of its new marketing division, and Seeley had come to Experian as president of CheetahMail. He will be COO of Cheetah Digital: The new CEO is Sameer Kazi, an experienced ExactTarget executive.

I asked Kazi whether there had been reservations about reviving the Cheetah handle. He admitted that there might have been an element of “internal risk.” The team at Experian had included many former CheetahMail employees, but also recruits from other companies, like Conversant and Virid. This was overshadowed by external benefits, especially the continuing positive name recognition for CheetahMail. As Seeley told the audience, “We never went away, and we’re not going anywhere now.”

This does not mean, he emphasized, that Cheetah Digital will focus primarily on email. “The misunderstanding is that a company like ours is a channel-driven product. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. Cheetah Digital will be data-driven, and will operate across channels, including email, mobile, and some social. The immediate aims, he said, are to modernize the infrastructure (the last significant investment had been in 2010); create a modern approach to data management; and create products for marketers which will make their lives easier.

He also discussed moves to “abstract our business logic and data layer from the app to accelerate innovation around the app.” This also means, he explained, that it will be easier for clients to plug third party solutions directly into the data layer. “We need to be a platform,” he said.

Asked about the reasons for the split from Experian, he said: “Experian owned the asset since 2004, and built a marketing group around it, expecting to see convergence of [the use of] first and third party data.” A change of leadership at Experian — the arrival of CEO Brian Cassin in 2012 — saw the company pivot to its core businesses.  Experian, however, continues to believe in the cross-channel marketing business strategy: Brian Cassin will become a member of the Cheetah Digital board.

The amicable divestiture pays off for clients in a terms of a fairly seamless transition. Although Experian retains certain marketing capabilities — Audience Engine, for example, its segmentation and targeting tool, and its newer Social Media Analysis offering — Kazi said there were very few instances during the due diligence process where contracts had to be picked apart. “Out of 3300 customers, a handful,” he said.

Kazi and Seeley both underlined that Cheetah Digital would be dedicated to marketers, swimming against the large vendor-driven current of blending marketing with sales and service as part of a generalized customer experience. Kazi was skeptical about that level of versatility: “If we find the unicorn that can state that — and do it — I’d be happy to see that company in the market-place. We are all experts. Our choice is marketing.”

After the reveal celebrations, Kazi plans to embark on the Cheetah Digital world tour (the brand has 1600 employees in 17 countries). “I want to learn about the customer and the markets: Throw myself into that.”

There were no product announcements at the summit. Product and technology, Kazi told me, would be a focus in the coming months.

Cheetah Digital covered DMN’s expenses for attending Rev2017.

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