Electronic marketing efforts deliver
(IDG) -- The sharp two-edged sword of the Internet age: You can now stay razor-close to your customers electronically, either through your Web site or e-mail. But what you may think of as a product announcement could be interpreted by your customers as spam.
Still, the payoff is obvious. The Internet lets you deliver specific, targeted messages to customers and prospects efficiently. It even has a built-in feedback mechanism. But each group's needs are different, and targeting the right information to the right group takes more than guesswork on the behalf of your marketing team.
Keeping track of what boils down to everybody's likes and dislikes is no small challenge. A new niche of software, dubbed marketing automation tools, is evolving out of sales-force automation tools to offer better ways of tracking the results of Web advertising, e-mail campaigns and even the administrative details of traditional ad campaigns. These tools are variously designed to manage electronic marketing campaigns and measure the success of those campaigns, as well as electronically organize marketing materials such as brochures and presentations so that they are readily available via the corporate intranet.
Some of these marketing automation tools can even be configured to keep tabs on the competition by using intelligent agents to crawl competitors' Web sites.
Though they vary by the scope of the jobs they tackle, these tools work similarly in that they operate as front-office components, integrating with corporate Web servers, e-mail servers and databases to collect and disperse customer data. Typically, the tools run as Unix or Microsoft Windows NT application servers, with Windows or Java running on client desktops. For CIOs interested in aiding their companies' marketing efforts, they're a worthwhile topic of discussion at this early stage of the market.
A super market
Today marketing departments work much the same as they always have: Direct-mail campaigns are planned and designed by teams of marketing and sales staff, then sent to the printer and, finally, the post office. Weeks or months later, a marketing assistant may amass enough data to report on the success of a campaign. Sales leads, too, are handled individually, either being passed along via e-mail or physically handed to sales reps.
Marketing automation tools aim to modernize existing marketing methods by applying business rules to govern the way these and other tasks are carried out. By slicing and dicing the customer database, the tools automatically segment the campaign's target audience based on parameters marketing professionals select. Once the campaign is designed and executed—via either direct mail, Web banners or e-mail—marketing, folks can measure results by recording and tracking responses to the campaign. The software lets you track responses not just according to volume but also by demographics and other criteria.
Focus of the group
Naturally, each marketing automation tool has its own strengths. San Mateo, Calif.-based Rubric Inc. and Los Altos, Calif.-based Annuncio Software Inc., for instance, say their tool suites let marketing professionals define and execute campaigns from their desktops so that IS doesn't have to write e-mail scripts for electronic campaigns (which isn't to say there aren't integration challenges, which are discussed below).
Rubric's tool uses a graphical program editor to lead marketing professionals through the task of defining media channels, creating special offers and promotions, managing customer lists and generating instruction lists for service bureaus, such as printing houses.
One marketing company that looked at Annuncio Live—due for commercial release at the end of this quarter—is Miller/Huber Relationship Marketing in San Francisco. The agency needs real-time campaign analysis to help its clients determine the best combination and frequency of Web-based marketing campaigns.
"Our goal is to help clients test several different [marketing] models to determine the most effective model," explains former Miller/Huber associate Matt Ridings. "[The client] might have six different banners posted on six different Web sites and find that the majority of traffic is really coming from just one or two of those banners." By adjusting the campaign to run the most viewed banners more frequently, for example, clients get a bigger return on their ad dollars, Ridings reasons.
Managing sales leads is another task these tools aim to automate. "Because sales leads come from so many sources, you can't always rely on a human to follow through," says Susan Habernigg, former director of sales development for Vantive Corp., which is currently beta testing Annuncio Live. Vantive makes its own sales-force automation software, but the Santa Clara, Calif., developer is specifically interested in integrating Annuncio's tool for its lead-tracking capabilities.
Typically, leads have to be collected from a number of sources, such as corporate Web sites, trade shows, phone calls and salespeople themselves. These leads must then be distributed to the appropriate salesperson, who in turn must follow up on them until they become sales or dead ends. Lead management is the primary focus for Lexington, Mass.-based MarketSoft Corp., which expects to deliver its first product by June.
Cupertino, Calif.-based Magnifi Inc., on the other hand, targets the sane organization of marketing materials, another task ripe for automation. The 2-year-old company started out as a document management company, offering software for storing audio and video as well as text.
"Unlike other parts of an organization, marketing deals primarily with unstructured data, such as white papers, brochures, logos, commercials, business presentations and Web advertisements. Companies need a way to manage all this creative content to deliver a consistent brand message," says David Dubbs, senior marketing director at Magnifi. Future versions of its software will incorporate more workflow and campaign automation, he adds.
Arguably the most valuable aspect of marketing automation tools, however, is their reporting and analysis capabilities. "Everybody cares about results, but getting to those results has always been a challenge," says Monica Nester, Annuncio's senior vice president of marketing. "After a campaign is finished, there's the usual scurry to see how many and what kind of responses came in."
A component of the Annuncio Live suite is designed to let marketing professionals check ongoing metrics by querying the system while campaigns are still in progress. Similarly, Mountain View, Calif.-based MarketFirst's product, which started shipping last year, has been updated to include pre-fab reports for measuring survey responses and summarizing customer profiles and campaign results.
Finally, there's also the acknowledgment that companies need to market themselves because of competition. Several tools, including Magnifi's Marketbase and MarketSoft's forthcoming software, can be set up to deploy intelligent agents using keywords to scan the Web for media coverage, competitors' press releases and industry news.
Knowledge doesn't come cheap
Even with all these advantages, there are still obstacles to deploying marketing automation tools. For one thing, they aren't cheap. Annuncio's product will start at $100,000 for a base system and for software, according to the company. Likewise, MarketFirst's product ranges in price from $150,000 to $250,000, depending on which modules are purchased.
"Cost is definitely a downside. There's no way a 200-person company is going to be able to justify this software," says Dara Pond, Internet marketing manager for BEA Systems Inc., a middleware developer in San Jose, Calif. A former programmer who used to write her own scripts for generating mass e-mail campaigns, Pond is currently in the process of evaluating several marketing suites.
Sticker shock isn't the only factor that may keep CIOs cautious about investing in these tools. Time and complexity are also important. Because the tools require tight integration with databases, Web servers and e-mail servers, getting them installed and running and then training IS staff and marketing professionals on how to support and use these systems can become a time-consuming challenge. Aside from adding to the IS workload, marketing automation tools require marketing teams to do a substantial amount of homework before they're able to get good use out of them. Depending on the application, marketers will need to compile customers' purchasing preferences and enter them into a database. Likewise, they'll need to define business rules to govern how they'll track responses from direct mail faxes, phone calls, e-mails and Web pages before meaningful reports on campaign results can be tabulated.
"These tools are probably a little too sophisticated for most companies right now," says Michael Bernstein, research analyst with GartnerGroup Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "Companies can use [the tools] tactically as a way to keep track of customers and promotions, but most companies haven't gathered enough customer data to use these tools strategically."
It's also still difficult to identify the multiple relationships you might have with a customer. Few companies are able to confirm that customers who respond to marketing online and customers who physically buy products through retail outlets might be the same people, for example. "Not many companies know that Joe who visited the company Web site is the same Joe who visited the store and bought goods at point-of-sale," Bernstein says. "For the tools to be really effective, companies need to look at customer data from all perspectives."
Finally, there's the bugaboo of any computerization project—-making sure your initial data is correct so that you avoid garbage in, garbage out. "Without the right data to analyze," notes Bernstein, "marketers could wind up automating a bad campaign."
Claudia Graziano is a San Francisco-based freelance writer who covers the Internet and technology.
How to make your fortune on the Web
RELATED IDG.net STORIES:
Improving the odds
Annuncio Software Inc.
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.