Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Eventricity Lets Banks Buy, Not Build, Event-Based Marketing Systems

As you may recall from my posts on Unica and SAS, event-based marketing (also called behavior identification) seems to be gaining traction at long last. By coincidence, I recently found some notes I made two years about a UK-based firm named eventricity Ltd. This led to a long conversation with eventricity founder Mark Holtom, who turned out to be an industry veteran with background at NCR/Teradata and AIMS Software, where he worked on several of the pioneering projects in the field.

Eventricity, launched in 2003, is Holtom’s effort to convert the largely custom implementations he had seen elsewhere into a more packaged software product. Similar offerings do exist, from Harte-Hanks, Teradata and Conclusive Marketing (successor to Synapse Technology) as well as Unica and SAS. But those are all part of a larger product line, while eventricity offers event-based software alone.

Specifically, eventricity has two products: Timeframe event detection and Coffee event filtering. Both run on standard servers and relational databases (currently implemented on Oracle and SQL Server). This contrasts with many other event-detection systems, which use special data structures to capture event data efficiently. Scalability doesn’t seem to be an issue for eventricity: Holtom said it processes data for one million customers (500 million transactions, 28 events) in one hour on a dual processor Dell server.

One of the big challenges with event detection is defining the events themselves. Eventricity is delivered with a couple dozen basic events, such as unusually large deposit, end of a mortgage, significant birthday, first salary check, and first overdraft. These are defined with SQL statements, which imposes some limits in both complexity and end-user control. For example, although events can consider transactions during a specified time period, they cannot be use a sequence of transactions (e.g., an overdraft followed by a withdrawal). And since few marketers can write their own SQL, creation of new events takes outside help.

But users do have great flexibility once the events are built. Timeframe has a graphical interface that lets users specify parameters, such as minimum values, percentages and time intervals, which are passed through to the underlying SQL. Different parameters can be assigned to customers in different segments. Users can also give each event its own processing schedule, and can combine several events into a “super event”.

Coffee adds still more power, aimed at distilling a trickle of significant leads from the flood of raw events. This involves filters to determine which events to consider, ranking to decide which leads to handle first, and distribution to determine which channels will process them. Filters can consider event recency, rules for contact frequency, and customer type. Eligible events are ranked based on event type and processing sequence. Distribution can be based on channel capacity and channel priorities by customer segment: the highest-ranked leads are handled first.

What eventricity does not do is decide what offer should be triggered by each event. Rather, the intent is to feed the leads to call centers or account managers who will call the customer, assess the situation, and react appropriately. Several event-detection vendors share this similar approach, arguing that automated systems are too error-prone to pre-select a specific offer. Other vendors do support automated offers, arguing that automated contacts are so inexpensive that they are profitable even if the targeting is inexact. The counter-argument of the first group is that poorly targeted offers harm the customer relationship, so the true cost goes beyond the expense of sending the message itself.

What all event-detection vendors agree on is the need for speed. Timeframe cites studies showing that real time reaction to events can yield an 82% success rate, vs. 70% for response within 12 hours, 25% in 48 hours and 10% in four days. Holtom argues that the difference in results between next-day response and real time (which Timeframe does not support) is not worth the extra cost, particularly since few if any banks can share and react to events across all channels in real time .

Still, the real question is not why banks won’t put in real-time event detection systems, but why so few have bought the overnight event detection products already available. The eventricity Web site cites several cases with mouth-watering results. My own explanation has long been that most banks cannot act on the leads these systems generate: either they lack the contact management systems or cannot convince personal bankers to make the calls. Some vendors have agreed.

But Holtom and others argue the main problem is banks build their own event-detection systems rather than purchasing someone else’s. This is certainly plausible for the large institutions. Event detection looks simple. It’s the sort of project in-house IT and analytical departments would find appealing. The problem for the software vendors is that once a company builds its own system, it’s unlikely to buy an outside product: if the internal system works, there’s no need to replace it, and if it doesn’t work, well, then, the idea has been tested and failed, hasn’t it?

For the record, Holtom and other vendors argue their experience has taught them where to look for the most important events, providing better results faster than an in-house team. The most important trick is event filtering: identifying the tiny fraction of daily events that are most likely to signal productive leads. In one example Holtom cites, a company’s existing event-detection project yielded an unmanageable 660,000 leads per day, compared with a handy 16,000 for eventricity.

The vendors also argue that buying an external system is much cheaper than building one yourself. This is certainly true, but something that internal departments rarely acknowledge, and accounting systems often obscure.

Eventricity’s solution to the marketing challenge is a low-cost initial trial, which includes in-house set-up and scanning for three to five events for a three month period. Cost is 75,000 Euros, or about $110,000 at today’s pitiful exchange rate. Pricing on the actual software starts as low as $50,000 and would be about 250,000 Euros ($360,000) for a bank with one million customers. Implementation takes ten to 12 weeks. Eventricity has been sold and implemented at Banca Antonveneta in Italy, and several other trials are in various stages.


Arun Chearie said...

Hi David,

Not too sure about other solutions, SAS definetely provides Event Based Marketing solution as a standalone product.

It is important to note for event-based marketing, relevant data needs to be sourced from an array of systems and provided for processing to identify events. Likewise, once events are generated, they will have to be provided to the front-line system to act upon.

Acknowledging the value of giving
adequate input for processing and processed events are to be acted upon in a timely fashion, SAS addresses these areas as well. However, for someone to procure just a Behavioral Event-Based Marketing Solution, these components are not mandatory.

Why I am saying it is not mandatory? Well, if an enterprise is considering to invest in an event-based marketing solution has an existing investment on the aforesaid Input/Output areas, it can be truly leveraged in SAS solution as part of integration.

Arun Chearie

David Raab said...

Hi Arun,

It would have been appropriate to identify yourself as a SAS employee.

But you are correct: I believe all the major vendors will sell their event-based marketing products as a stand-alone system or hosted service. The point I was trying make was that those vendors offer EBM as one of several products, and in no case their primary offering, while it is the sole business of eventricity. Thanks for pointing out the ambiguity.