Sunday, January 31, 2010

Aprimo Marketing Studio Supports Sophisticated Business Marketers

Summary: Aprimo Marketing Studio offers powerful features in an on-demand system for sophisticated business and consumer marketers. You know who you are.

When I wrote about Aprimo Marketing Studio in a post last August, I was impressed by the scope of the product but reserved judgment because it hadn’t yet been launched. I took a look at the actual product last week. Bottom line: Aprimo delivered what they promised.

Like Aprimo itself, Marketing Studio is a bit of an oddity because it serves both business and consumer marketers. The needs of these two groups don’t necessarily conflict, but they do diverge. This means that a system for both will include several features needed by only one group or the other. Placing them all in the same product adds cost and complexity, which are not a software developer’s friends.

Aprimo has not found a magical solution to this dilemma. Rather, it has conceded the lower tiers of business marketing to simpler systems and aimed Marketing Studio at marketers who need greater sophistication and will accept higher cost and complexity to get it. (For more on vendor classifications, see my list of demand generation vendors from last November.)

In other words, Marketing Studio competes with high-end demand generation systems like Eloqua, Market2Lead and Neolane. Neolane may be the most similar, since it also straddles the business and consumer marketing worlds.

(Small digression: most business marketing systems are designed around data from a sales automation system such as But consumer marketers also need inputs from transaction systems. Marketing Studio and Neolane don't have a problem because they can support any data structure. Eloqua and Market2Lead are based on sales automation data, but can incorporate external tables. Other business marketing systems generally cannot.)

As I mentioned earlier, what originally most impressed me about Aprimo Marketing Studio was its scope. This starts with the core functions of any business marketing system: outbound and multi-step email campaigns, landing pages, Web behavior tracking , lead scoring, integration, reporting and content management.

The system then draws on Aprimo’s heritage in marketing management to add detailed cost tracking, project management, asset workflow including annotation and commenting on PDFs, and a flexible campaign calendar. These are handled crudely, or not at all, in many business marketing products. In Marketing Studio, they are well-implemented with advanced features and an attractive, intuitive interface.

Project management is especially powerful. Project plans include specific tasks assigned to individuals and linked with dependencies. Plans can automatically modify themselves in response to events: for example, if a piece of copy is rejected, the system can add a new set of review and revision steps. This is done by creating the project as a branching flow chart, with rules to determine what takes place at junction. These rules can insert a predefined subflow, such as the review and revision process, which itself is shared across multiple projects. Good stuff.

System scope also extends to inbound marketing. Marketing Studio offers a blog engine tailored to corporate needs: managers can review and approve posts; the system can automatically notify Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook of new post; and each blog topic is assigned a different URL, which helps with search engine rank. Another module lets marketers create Adobe Flash-based Web ads, while an offer manager module tracks the user of offers across promotions. Paid search campaigns are supported through integration with Omniture SearchCenter.

Of course, the bells and whistles wouldn’t matter if the core features were poor. But Marketing Studio handles these quite nicely as well.

Email campaigns can execute as batch projects or trigger dialogs. The system treats these separately, although they are built with the same drag-and-drop flowchart interface. Batch campaigns include powerful segmentation supported by a sophisticated query builder, splits and merges. Batch flows can also update data attributes, calculate lead scores, create personalized URLs, add and remove names from groups, send email and generate output lists for other media.

Trigger dialogs have most of the same capabilities except for the advanced segmentation. In addition, they support wait periods and can send leads and alerts to the sales system. Unlike many demand generation products, Marketing Studio supports circular and merging flows, which can simplify design of complicated programs.

People enter a campaign by being added to a group. This can happen when a list is imported from an external file or the sales automation system, when people submit a Web form or click on an email or page link, or as a step within a campaign flow. External systems can also add names through the Marketing Studio API. Because either type of campaign flow can itself add a name to a group, the possibilities for controlling campaign entry and movement across campaigns are basically unlimited. Trigger campaigns execute immediately when a new lead is added to their group, allowing real-time interactions.

Other core features are similarly powerful. Users can build HTML emails, Web pages and multi-page microsites. Emails and Web pages can dynamically select content blocks based on rules that read the attributes of each recipient. Web forms and surveys are also content blocks, so the same rule-based selections can manage branching surveys and progressive profiling (i.e., asking different questions based on what is already known about an individual). The same rule-building interface is used for content selection rules, segmentation queries, and lead scoring. This reduces the amount of user training.

Lead scoring supports multiple scores per person, which is typical in high-end demand generation systems. More impressively, Marketing Studio can also apply multiple rule-sets to the same score calculation. For example, it could use different rules for leads from different geographic regions.

The system can capture Web visitor behavior directly or integrate with Omniture SiteCatalyst. One advantage of using Aprimo’s own Web tracking is that results are available in immediately, compared to nightly with Omniture. Marketing Studio can identify the company of anonymous visitors based on their IP address and retain the history of anonymous visitors when they identify themselves by filling out a form.

Salespeole working with can see a list of their leads with priority ratings. They can then click on a name to see a digital activity profile (emails sent, links clicked, forms completed, Web site visits). This profile can include activity captured within Marketing Studio or imported to the Marketing Studio database from other systems. Users can drill further into each profile to see the underlying details of each activity. Still within the interface, salespeople can send an email through Marketing Studio, add a lead to a Marketing Studio campaign, and edit, convert, clone, dedupe or remove the lead record. If the administrator chooses, users can also open a Marketing Studio portal to see the marketing calendar, assets, lead lists, activity requests, content reviews, project tasks and reports.

Speaking of reports: the system includes 150 standard reports, which users can customize or supplement by creating their own with a basic report writer.

Pricing of Marketing Studio is competitive with other high-end business marketing systems. Fees are based on a combination of database size, email activity, number of users and modules deployed. The starting level is about $4,000 per month, which includes the core marketing features for ten users and up to 100,000 contacts or 250,000 emails. Fees including hosting and email execution. The marketing operations module adds $2,500 per month and other modules such as social media, banner ads, Web analytics and Web alerts add $1,500 each.

Aprimo was founded in 1998 and has more than 200 clients on its original marketing system, which offers modules for marketing automation and marketing resource management. Marketing Studio was launched in September 2009 and at this writing has 22 clients, including a mix of business and consumer marketers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kynetx Lets Marketers Customize User Experience Across Web Sites

Summary: Kynetx lets marketers enhance and coordinate user experience across multiple Web sites. It’s so different from site-based Web personalization that the possibilities can be hard to grasp. But I think they’re substantial.

The classic view of online anonymity is the 1993 New Yorker cartoon, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Today, we realize that our online identities are not as private as they then seemed. But from a marketer’s viewpoint, it’s still maddeningly difficult to recognize online visitors and interact with them as individuals.

The challenge is usually focused on the marketer’s own Web site: when people visit, how can I identify them? But, ideally, marketers would track their customers across all Web sites and interject themselves when appropriate. Ad networks already do this to some extent, using third party cookies to coordinate the messages shown to each individual on different sites. But this doesn’t help marketers who want an active role in managing the user’s experience.

Kynetx offers a more powerful alternative. It installs a browser extension that can send data to an externally-hosted rules engine which returns JavaScript snippets that enhance the current Web page. The data describes the rules to execute and the current context, such as the Web page being viewed. It could potentially include personal information the user has chosen to share, although current Kynetx applications do not.

A concrete example would surely help. One Kynetx application is downloaded by members of the AAA automobile club. When users do a search on Google or other major sites, the application calls the Kynetx rules engine which checks a list of vendors who offer AAA discounts and flags them within the search results. No personal data is shared, yet AAA’s marketers deliver a customized experience that reminds members of their benefits and supports AAA’s partners.

Kynetx applications can also move data from one Web site to another, for example by capturing data and using it fill in a form or execute an API call.

The underlying technology for most Kynetx applications includes “Information Cards”, an open standard for digital identity management supported by Microsoft, Oracle, Google, PayPal and others. The general idea is that people can have different “cards” with different information for different purposes, allowing them to control (and, presumably, minimize) the amount of information they provide in each context. See the Information Card Foundation Web site for details.

In the case of Kynetx, Information Cards also minimize user effort, since the Kynetx browser extension must be installed only once, and then new applications can be added simply by loading a new Information Card. All the heavy lifting is done by the Kynetx rules engine, which resides on a central server accessed over the Internet. In addition to reducing the burden on the user’s computer, this makes updates easy since any changes are made on the server and go into effect without being deployed to user systems.

Development effort is further reduced because each Kynetx application runs on major browsers and operating systems without customization. Rules are written in a Kynetx-developed language with special features for context management. I was particularly pleased to see support for A/B tests, including facilities to randomly select different actions, capture success or failure, and report on results. Applications can run on personal computers, smartphones, or any other Web-enabled device.

Marketers who don’t want to use Information Cards can distribute applications through other “endpoints” including browser toolbars, cookies, wireless proxy servers (for example, in a coffee shop), or bookmarklets . All that’s required is something that can identify a user, capture permissions, and call the Kynetx server.

Kynetx was founded in 2007 and currently is used in more than 700 applications from about 250 developers. Although the company does some application development, its primary business is selling execution on its platform, at rates from $.24 to $1.60 per thousand ruleset evaluations.

I’m frankly intrigued by the possibilities of Kynetx, which seems to open a direct channel onto users’ desktops, bypassing traditional Web advertising. It does require a preexisting relationship with the user, but gaining user permission is fast becoming a condition for most online interactions. Kynetx makes it easier to gain this permission by offering something of value in return. Even more important, it should help marketers to strengthen existing relationships by repeatedly demonstrating value after an application is installed.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Autonomy Promises to Automate Delivery of Tailored Marketing Messages

Summary: Autonomy is a leader in enterprise search and content management (it owns Interwoven). Its concept of "Meaning Based Marketing" comes quite close to my idea of "content grazing" as a way to reduce marketing complexity while delivering the right content to each customer or prospect.

In my last post, I proposed the (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) term of “content grazing” to describe automatically extracting small bits of information from company documents and feeding them to prospects and customers. The notion had been on my mind for some time, prompted by a sense that traditional approaches to content creation and distribution are fundamentally too expensive to deploy in full. That is, tailoring large content streams for buyer segments and funnel stages is just too much work for both marketers (who can't afford to create the content and campaigns) and buyers (who don’t have time to read the results).

The good folks at Autonomy apparently had similar thoughts. Back in July 2009 they published a paper Meaning Based Marketing that describes using a collection of Autonomy technologies “to truly understand your customers—drawing on everything from transaction history to cross-channel interactions, user generated content, customer and community behavior, as well as third party content—and act on that knowledge to deliver the best performing, most accurate, and relevant content to each individual visitor. Automatically.” That pretty much says it all.

The Autonomy brief has a slightly different scope from my own concept, perhaps because it’s tailored to fit the Autonomy product portfolio. For example, it includes Web content archiving, which I wouldn’t have considered, and excludes creating content from relevant pieces within a larger document. I do consider the latter quite important, because it’s a key to reducing the content creation cost and in making the information more digestible for customers. But the core components of meaning extraction and self-adjusting content selection are certainly present in Autonomy's description.

Specifically, the paper outlines a fully automated process of:

- analyzing unstructured content to infer the views, needs and preferences of customers who create or read it

- generating customer profiles based on the contents and associated behaviors

- uncovering customer segments within the data

- delivering a tailored customer experience (that is, content recommendations) based on its understanding of both the customer and the contents

- optimizing interactions through real-time multivariate testing

The list also includes market analysis, based on sentiments and trends, as well as the previously-mentioned content archiving. Both are useful additions to the vision.

The paper doesn’t go into much technical detail beyong mentioning that Autonomy unifies the data through its “Intelligent Data Operating Layer” (IDOL). But I suspect you could find much more information elsewhere on their site: Autonomy itself doesn’t seem to be conserving its content-creation budget.

Nor, come to think of it, did I notice any particular personalization or intelligent targeting on my own return visits to their Web site. Either they’re very good at this stuff – and know I’m not a real sales prospect – or they haven’t quite gotten around to deploying these services for themselves. Either way, the concept remains valid and it’s good to see that someone is working to make it happen.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

2010 Will Bring New Features to Demand Generation Systems

Summary: the demand generation market will continue to grow in 2010, and it may attract some new, big competitors from outside the industry. But the real excitement will be features that expand the scope of demand generation products to support inbound marketing, better measurement, and more efficient content creation.

2009 was a year of tremendous growth for demand generation systems (a.k.a. business-to-business marketing automation. By some measures, it's looking more mature: buyers are appearing outside the initial niche of software and technology companies; core functionality is well understood and largely consistent across products; vendors are expanding scope to include new users at existing accounts (in particular, sales departments); pricing is under pressure; and companies are starting to specialize in different customer segments.

On the other hand, there are still plenty of new entrants; few pioneering vendors have failed or consolidated; and related software vendors (in this case, CRM, email and Web site management systems) haven’t yet introduced me-too products. Perhaps most important, many potential buyers still don’t understand the value provided by these systems—although vendors are working very hard to educate them. So, on balance, I'd say the industry is still in a fairly early stage: late adolescence, if you will.

What will 2010 bring? Continued sales growth, for sure: that’s easy enough when you’re starting with a small base. We can also be confident that the feature trends I described in my review of 2009 will continue: better support for social media, greater access for sales departments, and more flexible reporting. I do expect vendors to converge on more standard social media features. These will probably combine the content-sharing and activity-tracking capabilities that different vendors now deliver separately.

There’s also a reasonable chance – although this prediction is less certain – that sales access features will blossom into deeper cooperation between marketing and sales in managing prospect relationships. There's no question in my mind that such cooperation will appear: it's inevitable as marketing’s role expands beyond lead generation to long-term relationship management. What I don’t know is how quickly this will happen or whether the sales access tools will be the connection point. One reason they might not is that sales access tools are used by individual sales people, while broad marketing and sales integration is likely to be controlled by senior sales management.

So much for the rear view mirror. Here are some predictions that are larger departures from the immediate past.

- me-too products. It's just a matter of time before CRM vendors (yes, I mean and Web content management vendors decide to compete seriously for marketing automation business. Frankly, this is so obvious that I'm almost embarrassed to mention it. But I wouldn't want anyone to say I failed to see it coming.

- inbound marketing. The work of generating Web traffic through search engine optimization, paid Web ads and expanded Web content has so far been performed outside of most demand generation systems. These are important marketing activities and they are a natural extension of demand generation systems, even though they require closer integration with (or replacement of ) Web content management and Web analytics. Note that Webinars and social media, which are also inbound marketing devices, are already being added to marketing automation products.

This type of extension—supporting new tasks for current users—is typical of maturing products once the core functions widely available. It also implies that vendors specializing in these areas will add their own marketing automation features to compete. HubSpot particularly comes to mind, which is a testament to their own marketing skills.

- external data. Many demand generation systems already make it easy to look up data about prospects from sources like Hoovers or JigSaw and to infer the location and company of anonymous visitors from their IP address. Certainly those features will continue to grow. But there’s another trend that's very pronounced in the consumer marketing space, which is using consumer panels and surveys to measure responses that aren’t captured within the company’s own systems. I haven’t seen much analogous activity among business marketers, but think that will change as the technique becomes more common and as business marketers accept that internal data will never provide all the answers they really need for effective marketing measurement. The task for the marketing automation vendors is making it easier to integrate such data and, in cases such as ad-embedded surveys, to generate it.

- content grazing. I'll explain that label in a moment. The idea is to squeeze the most value from existing marketing content, rather than creating new content for each project and situation. This implies two complementary tasks: being able to extract and classify nuggets of information from existing marketing documents, and being able to deliver exactly the right nugget in each situation.

The underlying insight is that there’s so much information available today that people don’t have time to digest large blocks of it. Rather, they want be fed bite-sized chunks that meet their immediate needs. Hence, the term "content grazing": it's like eating appetizers instead of a full meal.

Today’s marketing best practice is the opposite of content grazing: it’s to develop many different campaigns that deliver large volumes of content for different situations. This is expensive and it's exactly what prospects don't want. The alternative is automated systems that extract and classify content from existing materials, including many such as blog posts that would be created for other purposes. Other automated systems would can select and deliver the correct content during each interaction.

Basically this is the challenge of simulating a human conversation. It’s possible that some solutions will be based on automated customer service agents already used for other interactions. I haven’t seen this applied in a marketing automation context, but suspect it’s a path that marketers will be forced to explore as they recognize the full cost of conventional content-heavy approaches, and that buyers don't want them anyway.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Marketing Automation System Trends: What We Found in the Raab Guide

Summary: Social media and access for sales people were the two big trends among demand generation vendors last year. But enhanced reporting was the most common improvement of all. Could marketers finally be ready to spend on measurement?

I’m pleased to report that the 2010 edition of the Raab Guide to Demand Generation Systems is officially available today, with updated entries on all vendors (alphabetically: Eloqua, Manticore Technology, Market2Lead, Marketbright, Marketo, Neolane and Silverpop Engage B2B).

Preparing the updates gave me a good review of where developers focused their efforts last year. Even though this is limited to the vendors in the Guide, it's a pretty representative sample of the industry as a whole. Here’s a quick look at what I found.

- Social media. At least three vendors (Eloqua, Marketo and Silverpop) introduced new features aimed at improving marketers’ ability to use social media. What’s most interesting is that no standard approach has yet emerged. Eloqua focused on making it easier to embed sharable links within conventional marketing assets. Marketo added features to capture Twitter posts and Helpstream customer support interactions within a lead’s activity history. Silverpop made it easier to add social media handles to lead records so these could be used to send messages.

- Sales access. The same three vendors also added new tools to give salespeople better access to information the marketing automation system has captured about their leads. But in contrast to social media applications, the sales access modules were remarkably similar. All aimed at showing the activities of selected leads, typically by showing overviews and trends, and then letting users drill into details. The vendors also charged additional per-user fees for these modules. This contrasts with traditional demand generation pricing on database size and/or activity volume, but is the way sales automation systems like are usually sold. These modules open up a major new revenue stream for the demand generation systems while simultaneously giving sales departments a greater reason to support marketing's purchase of the systems. Even though the modules clearly trespasses on the CRM vendors turf – inviting a potentially devastating counter-invasion – the opportunity seems irresistible.

- Upgraded reporting. You already knew that vendors were adding features for social media and sales access, but did you realize that nearly everyone (five of my seven vendors: Eloqua, Market2Lead, Marketo, Manticore Technology and Marketbright) also made substantial improvements in their business intelligence and reporting capabilities? Popular new features included user-customizable dashboards, better user-defined reports and more extensive standard reports. I take this as evidence that marketers are demanding more sophisticated reporting from their vendors, and suspect further improvements are on the way.

- New user interfaces. Market2Lead, Manticore Technology and Silverpop all introduced major interface upgrades. The focus was less on adding new capabilities than on making existing functions more accessible. I don’t need to remind you that usability is a critical point of competition among industry vendors. But as older vendors revamp their interfaces, it will become harder for buyers to differentiate along those lines. This might lead vendors to highlight the structural differences in their campaign engines, which are ultimately more important for usability than the visual interface. But, the structural issues are much harder for buyers to grasp, so this might not be an effective marketing approach. Could this lead vendors to compete on other grounds entirely?

- Anonymous user look-up and data enhancement. At least three vendors added or enhanced features to use IP address to identify the company of anonymous Web visitors, and/or to look up prospect names and other data about those companies in directories such as Jigsaw and Hoovers. I won’t name those three because the other vendors may have similar capabilities. In fact, anonymous visitor identification and enhancement have become pretty much standard features: today, it would be an exceptional vendor who did NOT make them available. These features also tie into both social media and sales access modules. They illustrate how the role of marketing has changed from simply gathering leads and handing them to sales, to building and managing prospect relationships.

So much for 2009. Many of these trends will surely continue in 2010, but I think we can expect some new directions as well. I'll talk about those in my next post.