Sunday, August 23, 2009
Marketers and the vendors who support them are working feverishly to harvest the opportunities created by social media. The result has been a profusion of single-function products that provide one part of a comprehensive solution. Probably the most common are products that make it easier to post comments or share links via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other public forums. Many demand generation vendors now offer something along those lines.
But social media are for interactions, not broadcasts. Products to monitor different communities for mentions of a particular topic provide the first step towards starting a dialog. These too are increasingly common, although most still operate outside of the marketing automation suites. Many of the monitoring systems also help users post responses to the messages they find.
But truly integrating social media with other marketing activities requires considerably more. Social media events must be logged within the core marketing system, linked in that system to other information about the same individual, and responded to through standard marketing system campaigns. In other words, social media must be managed like any other marketing medium.*
Sweet Suite, a product from the Pedowitz Group, addresses precisely this need. The system scans Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for mentions and can make automated replies when it finds something. It can also generate a “social media score” for each individual, using whatever formula the marketer specifies, and provides a dashboard to track over-all social media results.
But what's really important is that Sweet Suite reads the public profile of the mentioner, extracts key information such as name and number of followers, and sends the data to a demand generation system. From that point, the demand generation system can use the data like any other input, for lead scoring and campaign selections. Thus, the critical connection between social media and "normal" marketing processes is complete.
Sweet Suite currently connects with Eloqua via an API, and is likely to connect with other systems in the future. The Eloqua interface also tries to link the commenter to existing records in the demand generation database, generally by looking for a match on the social media username. Sweet Suite can also match on an email address if it’s captured in a social media form.
Sweet Suite can also receive, parse and reply to text messages, and of course send the resulting data to the demand generation system. Pedowitz is working on a spider to scan blogs and other Web sites and add their data as input.
Suite Sweet is still technically in beta, but the product is in production at four clients. Current pricing is set at $1,000 per month regardless of number of users or data volume. The system is sold as a hosted service.
*Or perhaps not: some social media evangelists might argue that social media is so radically different from everything else that it can’t be managed in the same way. But while I do think that the details of the treatments will differ, I see no reason they can’t be brought into the standard marketing infrastructure. The advantage of this integration is that the information gleaned from the social media interactions becomes available to guide messaging in all other channels, and vice versa.
Thinking a bit more deeply about social media integration, the closest existing analogy is probably the telephone call center. Like social media interactions, telephone calls currently must be handled by human agents rather than automated replies. This suggests that tools used to enhance phone agents’ effectiveness, such as context-sensitive recommendations and standardized scripts, can also help to guide social media agents.
Social media interactions are somewhat more structured than telephone calls, so it may eventually be easier to automate them fully. But even if human agents remain involved, both the social media system and other channels will benefit from having all their data in the central system—just as today’s marketing systems benefit from incorporating call center histories.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Aprimo is in the early stages of launching Aprimo Marketing Studio, a new Software-as-a-Service marketing automation suite that is separate from the existing Aprimo product.* The new offering is designed to support all stages of interactive marketing, starting with traffic generation from paid search, Web banner ads and blogging, and continuing with visitor behavior tracking, landing pages and forms, interactive dialogs, multi-step email campaigns, lead scoring and CRM integration. These are supported with Web analytics and extensive marketing operations features including workflow, digital asset management and financial analysis.
If you read that list quickly, it sounds pretty much like every other marketing automation vendor. But in fact it’s a substantially broader scope than I’ve seen in other products.
- Consumer-oriented systems generally limit themselves to outbound email and multi-step campaigns, and sometimes provide real-time recommendations to call centers and Web sites.
- Business-oriented (demand generation) vendors add some Web support through visitor tracking, landing pages and forms, but even they rarely do much with other “inbound marketing” channels including paid search, banner ads, search engine optimization and blogging.
- Both sets of vendors generally do a decent job with asset management, Web analytics and other reporting, although only the consumer-oriented systems tend to offer serious support for planning, workflow and detailed financial analysis.
- Neither group provides tools to build and manage a major corporate Web site (generally called "Web content management", although I've labeled it "Web site management" in the following table). The landing pages, forms and related content management that these systems do provide are only designed to let marketers supplement an existing site. I'm increasingly convinced that effective interactive marketing will eventually require the marketing system to run the Web site.
- Neither group has meaningfully integrated social media monitoring and interactions beyond making it easy to share posts to Twitter and Facebook, although Alterian’s Techrigy acquisition (see my related blog post) and Pedowitz Group’s Sweet Suite (see yesterday's post) are steps in that direction.
I've summarized this in the following table. Of course, I’m generalizing about sets of vendors so there will be individual exceptions.
|consumer marketing automation|
business marketing automation (demand generation)
|- paid search management|
|- banner ad management|
|- search engine optimization|
|- outbound email|
|- social media monitoring, intervention and analysis|
|- Web landing pages and forms|
|- multi-step campaign flows (including trigger, event-driven)|
|- real time recommendations to external systems|
|- lead scoring|
|- sales automation integration|
|- Web visitor tracking (individuals)|
|- Web analytics (aggregate behaviors)|
|- general campaign reporting|
|- predictive modeling and advanced statistics|
|- marketing planning|
|- content and digital asset management|
|- Web site management|
|- detailed cost analysis|
In short: both groups are quite weak when it comes to inbound marketing and social media, and the consumer marketers fall glaringly short when it comes to integrating with Web sites.
The business marketing systems have their own weaknesses, particularly in operational support. But given the obvious and growing need to integrate Web marketing with everything else, the consumer systems’ gap strikes me as more important.
I’m even more concerned because there has been relatively little innovation among the consumer marketing automation vendors in recent years. They have competed mostly by extending and refining existing features than by moving into major new areas. The demand generation vendors have been much more dynamic.
There are good business reasons, or at least explanations, for the consumer marketing vendors' strategy. Number one is probably that their clients haven’t been pushing them to do more. But these gaps in their capabilities ultimately make them vulnerable to new, more comprehensive competitors.
This brings us back to Aprimo Marketing Studio. The new Aprimo product would fill every box on my table except social media, predictive modeling and Web site management. This scope makes it truly different.
Now, promising these features and implementing them effectively are very different things. I can't judge the new Aprimo system because I haven't had a detailed demonstration and the system won't start serving live customer until next month. (The official launch will be in November at the Salesforce.com Dreamforce conference.) But what matters for now is the vision. Even if Aprimo doesn’t execute it immediately, someone else eventually will.
I already mentioned that Marketing Studio is designed as a true Software-as-a-Service system. As discussed in an earlier post, this is unusual for a consumer marketing system – Entiera and Neolane are the only other pure SaaS products I can think of – although it’s standard for demand generation products. Aprimo already serves both types of marketers, so it's a logical candidate to bring SaaS to consumer marketing systems. But other consumer-oriented vendors are also moving in this direction. When you're evaluating those products, the question to ask is whether the vendor has truly reengineered the system to take advantage of SaaS economies, or is simply running its existing software in a hosted mode and sending a monthly bill.
Aprimo Marketing Studio is aimed at mid-size and larger companies. Pricing begins at $4,000 per month for the base version with up to 10 users and 250,000 emails. The marketing operations module adds another $2,500 per month and other modules are priced at $1,500 each. There will also be fees as clients add users and email volume. At the end of the day, Aprimo is expecting the average client to pay $50,000 to $75,000 per year. This is pretty standard territory for consumer marketing systems, but well above the median for demand generation vendors._______________________________________________________
* The new product has its own Web site, which you can reach here. The site offers a free copy of an excellent Forrester Research report on interactive marketing, which is well worth the inevitable Aprimo sales call that will follow.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Unica on Monday officially launched the 8.0 version of its enterprise marketing suite. The main thrust of the new release was visual – a new company Web site and graphics and, more important, a new interface that finally unified the various components the vendor has built and purchased over the years.
I can’t get too excited about the new visuals, which stress the “U” in Unica in phrases like “Discover the U in business”. The unified interface is better news, although it corrects a problem that I feel should have been solved long ago.
The new release does provide some substantive improvements. The most important is a central offer repository linked to cell-level campaign planning. This makes it easier to track the use and performance of standard offers. The planning is also now integrated with actual campaign designs, saving marketers some work as they move from one stage to the next. That’s good, although I think it’s fair to note that it's been two years since Unica purchased its MarketingCentral planning system.
The other major news involves improvements in the company’s eMessage email system. These include a central content repository, conditional text within system-built emails, better response tracking, and deliverability monitoring services from Pivotal Veracity. Integration is still a bit of an issue here – the email content repository is separate from the central offer repository, the conditional text rules engine is separate from the campaign rules builder, and conditional text rules cannot be shared across documents.
On the other hand, Unica has tightly coupled email execution to its campaign suite: in fact, the only way users can send emails via anyone except Unica is to export a file. Previous versions of the system allowed tighter integration with external email services. Unica sees this as simplifying the lives of its clients, although I suspect some may prefer to choose their own provider. The company said that 50 to 100 of its 500-600 campaign clients currently use its email delivery service. The balance will have to convert when they upgrade to Unica 8.0, or resort to the afore-mentioned file exports.
Pricing remains largely the same as previous Unica releases: clients pay for individual modules based primarily on database size. The one substantial change is the email services will now be based on email volume.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Since marketing automation for small business was on my mind last week, I checked in with the good folks at Infusionsoft, whose 15,000 customers make them leaders in the field. I ended up chatting with Scott Martineau, company founder and VP Product Management. It was a helpful conversation for a few reasons.
(As to the guarantee itself, the company Web site says “When you use Infusionsoft to fix your follow-up with prospects and customers, you will double your sales. If after 12 months you have not doubled your sales and you’re not confident with the progress you’re making, you can cancel the software and we’ll refund half of your first year’s subscription fees.” Although there were originally some conditions on the guarantee, the company removed them all last month.)
Nor, more surprisingly, does Infusionsoft provide inbound marketing (search engine optimization, paid search tracking, Web analytics, detailed activity tracking, blogging, etc.) features to help generate initial Web leads. I can think of a few possible explanations: Infusionsoft clients don’t do much inbound marketing, or they let their Webmasters do it for them, or they are happy with free tools like Google Analytics. Marketers at larger companies may be more demanding. Martineau said his main priorities are elsewhere, in better email and general ease of use.
The capstone of Infusionsoft’s self-help is the Campaign Launchpad, which is worth a look no matter where you work. Launchpad leads users from general questions about their marketing goals to specific instructions and materials for predesigned Infusionsoft campaigns. It won't replace a real marketing consultant, since it can’t analyze whether you’ve made sound decisions. But it’s an excellent resource for people who need help in getting started. The Launchpad is open to everyone, not just Infusionsoft users.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Analytical database vendor Vertica yesterday announced its 3.5 release. The main feature is a new architecture called "Flexstore", which can combine several data elements into a single column. This is done for columns that are commonly used together in the same query, such as the “bid” and “asked” price on a stock transaction or the dimension tables in a star schema (to use the company’s examples).
I was skeptical of this notion when Vertica briefed me two weeks ago, and still am today. Storing multiple elements together is what a row-oriented database does, so it seems fundamentally at odds with Vertica’s column-based model. More concretely, a columnar database scans all entries for each column during a query, so its speed is basically determined by the amount of data. Whether it scans two columns that are one terabyte each or one combined column of two terabytes, it’s still scanning the same two terabytes.
Vertica offered two responses to my doubts. One is that it can better compress the data when the two columns are combined, for example by using delta encoding (storing only the change from one value to the next). I’ll buy that, although I suspect the gains won’t be very large.
The other explanation was that data for each column typically ends in one partially-filled data block, leaving a small amount of empty space that must still be read. It’s something like storing 3 ½ cups of water in 1-cup containers – you need four cups, of which three are completely filled and one holds the remainder. (Vertica confirmed that it generally fills each block except the “last” one for any column.) Combining the columns therefore reduces the number of partly-empty blocks.
But the saving is just one partially-filled block per column. It's a bit more for small columns like dimension lists, several of which might fit into a single block if combined. I can’t see how a few partially-empty data blocks would have much impact on performance when a good size database fills thousands of blocks. (The typical block size, per Vertica, is 1 MB). And if you don’t have a good size database, performance won’t be an issue in the first place.
I was willing to be convinced that I was missing something, but Vertica told me they didn’t have any formal test results available. The best they could offer was that they sometimes saw up to 10% improvement when large tables are involved, mostly from compression. For a system that promises to deliver “query results 50 to 200 times faster than other databases”, a 10% change is immaterial.
The other major component of the Vertica announcement is what it calls “MapReduce integration”, which should definitely not be confused with actually implementing MapReduce within Vertica. (Indeed, the footnotes to Wikipedia’s article on MapReduce show that Vertica CTO Michael Stonebreaker has been publicly skeptical of MapReduce, although the nuances are complicated.)
What Vertica has added is a JDBC connector that makes it relatively easy to move data between separate servers running Vertica and Hadoop (the open source version of MapReduce). Since SQL databases like Vertica are good at different things than MapReduce, this generally makes sense. Still, it's worth noting that other analytical database vendors including Greenplum and Aster Data run MapReduce and SQL on the same hardware.
The 3.5 version of Vertica is scheduled for release this October.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Their latest contribution is The Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing, a 38-page workbook that may not quite live up to its ambitious title but certainly gives a good overview of the subject. In particular, it provides details on how to build several types of lead nurturing campaigns (incoming lead processing, stay in touch, accelerator and lead lifecycle) and provides worksheets for matching content to buyer needs and for calculating ROI.
The workbook also includes a half dozen “How Marketo Does It” sidebars that reveal more than you might expect about Marketo’s own programs. I was surprised to see them share so many details, but suspect Marketo would say their competitors all subscribe to those programs anyway, so they have no secrets to begin with. Whatever the reason, it’s a refreshing and laudably mature approach.
In the interest of fairness, I should also point out that other vendors undertake their own market education programs. Nearly every one of them has a “resources” section on their Web site with a collection of useful papers; they also have blogs with helpful advice. Of these, I’d say Eloqua’s Digital Body Language stands out as an especially good source of information. Indeed, it so happens that today’s post on Auditing Your Content Assets covers some of the same ground as the Marketo paper, including a quite similar worksheet for matching content to buyers.
For that matter, Raab Associates itself has what we consider very useful materials on the Raab Guide Web site. We recently made that all available without user registration, although I'm reconsidering that decision – it doesn’t seem to have increased traffic significantly, and we capture many fewer visitor names. Looking at how Marketo does it, they provide some materials without registration but require your name in exchange for premium content. That sounds like a reasonable approach.
Monday, August 03, 2009
Youcalc is fundamentally different from other on-demand analytics vendors like Birst, Cloud9 Analytics, Gooddata and Pivotlink: while those vendors all query data stored in their system, youcalc queries the source data directly. That is, youcalc provides analytical applications that read from an existing system, typically a Software-as-a-Service vendor like Salesforce.com or Google AdWords.
Although this sounds like a subtle difference, the implications are huge. It means that youcalc doesn’t need the infrastructure to build and store client databases, thereby reducing its costs dramatically.
It also means that youcalc can to give each new client immediate access to standard applications, since there is no need to adjust for differences in their data. Although this is possible with prebuilt applications at other on-demand analytics vendors, youcalc has made it more central to their business model. In fact, youcalc extends this to related community concepts such as user-contributed enhancements, forums, tagging and rating of popular applications.
I’m intrigued by the youcalc approach but do see some disadvantages. One is that data integration capabilities are limited: the current version of the system can only combine data sources that already share common keys or are linked with an existing cross reference table. I suppose it’s technically possible to allow more sophisticated data matching, but any processing will still be limited by the need to repeat it each time the data is read from its sources and loaded into memory.
A second, more fundamental limitation is that the system can’t access historical data, such as point-in-time snapshots of information which is not retained in operational systems. At best, youcalc could point to an externally-built data warehouse as a source – but now you’re back doing all the database development that youcalc is supposed to avoid. No free lunch here, folks.
Still, there are those cost savings. Youcalc is priced at an astonishingly low $19.95 per user per month, which gives access to 130+ prebuilt applications for products including Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, Google AdWords, Google Analytics, MailChimp and 37Signals’ BaseCamp (project management) and Highrise (contact management). There’s also a free version that is excludes some of the more powerful applications. The full set is available for a 30 day free trial.
Unfortunately, these prices may not last. CEO Rasmus Madsen told me the company plans eventually to charge higher fees for applications linked to higher priced source systems.
None of this would matter if the youcalc applications and underlying technology weren't worth having. But I found them quite impressive.
Applications can contain multiple objects such as charts and lists. They can also contain drop-down selection boxes to filter components and select alternative chart dimensions. A single application can have multiple pages linked by menus. Users can embed images, text notes and external URLs, and have control over style details such as type fonts and background colors. Although the presentation is nowhere near as advanced as products like Tableau or TIBCO Spotfire, it is competitive with other on-demand analytics systems.
Most current youcalc applications display a single chart from a single data source, such as “Time-Day Distribution for Google Analyzer”. But users can change the contents by selecting different dimensions (e.g., date range) and metrics (e.g. visits, new visitors, bounces, etc.). Some applications combine multiple data sources, such as the “AdWords Campaign ROI Overview for Salesforce.com” that compares cost from Google AdWords with revenue from Salesforce.com.
Users can modify these applications or create their own from scratch (although all the existing applications were built by youcalc). Development is done with Java-based desktop software that runs on Windows, Mac or Linux PCs. The interface involves dragging different components onto a whiteboard and then configuring and connecting them. There are two different whiteboards, one to show the actual application and another to display the flows used to construct each object. These flows begin with connection to an external data source and then send the data through functions to apply formulas, convert formats, create summaries, and perform other tasks. Parameters of each function can be edited during the set-up or connected to objects like drop-down menus for end-user interaction. A completed application can be saved as a stand-alone Web page, a mobile phone Web page, embedded within an external page, or deployed as a widget on an iGoogle home page.
None of this requires actual programming, and basic tasks should be easy enough for a skilled spreadsheet jockey. More demanding activities, such as connecting to an in-house data source, take considerable technical understanding. (The system doesn’t query in-house resources directly; rather, it sends a message to a “listener” on the in-house system, which runs the specified query and transmits the results back as an XML data stream.) Connections for standard sources such as Salesforce.com are very simple since they’re prebuilt: users just enter their log-in credentials and the system does the rest.
If youcalc has an Achilles heel, it will turn out to be data volume. The system accesses standard sources (Salesforce.com, AdWords, etc.) through their APIs, which often limit the number of records that can be pulled at once. Youcalc connectors can submit new calls until all the data has been read, but this is still awkward and will probably be slow for large volumes.
In addition, the data must be loaded into system memory during each user session. This also imposes some practical limits—we’re probably talking in the multi-gigabyte range—even though youcalc runs in the Amazon data cloud, which gives it access to very large servers. Madsen says the largest current installation works with data for 150 Salesforce.com users.
Youcalc was launched in its current form at the end of 2008, although the company has been working on its core technologies since 2003. Madsen said that 4,000 accounts were created in the first six months since launch, and there are currently more than 7,000 application sessions per week. Most are from small businesses, which makes sense for any number of reasons including price, functionality and ease of deployment. The company hopes eventually to attract larger firms as well.