As a stand-alone application, email marketing is all but dead.

As an integral part of a robust CRM system, email marketing is not only alive but also thriving.

For the past five years or more, email marketing has been in a state of flux, with applications 1) adding new features to better compete with social media; 2) being acquired by CRM vendors to bolster their suite of customer service and marketing menu offerings; 3) falling prey to the forces of consolidation; or 4) some combination of all four.

So it goes with Bronto, a well-known email-marketing vendor that was snapped up by the mid-market software provider NetSuite last week for $200 million.

Relevant Digital Commerce

NetSuite is a comprehensive cloud-based software suite that focuses on CRM and its accounting/ general ledger roots. It has been steadily building up its functionality, to say nothing of its revenue base, over the years both through acquisition and organic growth and development.

Bronto Software email marketing automation platform, for its part, has been used by more than 1,400 brands, including Armani Exchange, Timex and Trek Bikes, for years.

The acquisition, according to NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson, marries "a rich marketing automation system with a cloud-based omnichannel commerce platform.

"Just as customers demand seamless cross-channel shopping experiences, they increasingly expect companies to communicate consistently through all of their digital experiences – on site, at stores, in email or through social or mobile," he said. "By combining the two companies' offerings and technology, we can help merchants deliver relevant and consistent digital commerce experiences throughout the customer journey."

An Independent Unit

With Bronto set to become part of the NetSuite family – to be precise, it will be an independent business unit of NetSuite – it is fair to observe that there are fewer and fewer pure-play email marketing apps. Indeed, if we were to be strictly accurate, even before Bronto's acquisition the number of pure-play email marketing apps has been diminishing – largely because the applications have been building out their own broader features.

Bronto CEO Joe Colopy wrote, when the deal was announced, that "since its founding almost 13 years ago, Bronto has remained deeply committed to helping you drive revenue through email and other channels."

In other words as social media gained ascendency a decade or so ago, email marketing providers were quick to realize the necessity of incorporating these channels into their offerings.

Consider ExactTarget, an email marketer that was eventually acquired by Before it was, the company had made some hefty acquisitions as well as built out an impressive array of mobile, social and local features – thus turning itself into a viable competitive offering and attractive acquisition candidate to boot.

Learning Opportunities

This is hardly a new story of course; the software industry rarely stands still; pure play applications are routinely gobbled up by larger competitors or providers of complementary apps that are seeking to acquire new features or customers or marketshare or all three.

The Difference with Email Marketing

What is different about email marketing is that, unlike other niche plays, these features are unlikely to be subsumed by the larger software suite. Email marketing, simply put, is still the most effective way of reaching out to customers as numerous studies have shown. Just to cite one, last year a Gigaom Research report found that email was most effective channel for awareness, acquisition, conversion and customer retention.

Another report, by eConsultancy, came to similar conclusions.

Such studies give credence to the industry's claims that these applications will be further developed and supported even as they became part of a larger suite.

"As we look to the future, we are continuing with Bronto's winning formula but applying it to a broader vision, and on a larger stage," Colopy wrote.

It is a vibrant picture he paints.

"This entails deeply integrating digital messaging channels like email, mobile and social with the transactions that happen through the digital shopping cart, in-store point-of-sale, and call center," he wrote.

"It also involves tying them into backend processes like order management, inventory management, and global tax in order to offer an unparalleled personalized and seamless experience for commerce marketers and their customers. This moves omnichannel from being a buzzword to a true reality — a reality that is possible when industry leaders like Bronto and NetSuite come together to provide something truly innovative."