Friday, November 18, 2011

Marketing Vendor Selection: Trends You'll Need to Support

As I wrote yesterday, no one knows exactly what we’ll want from our marketing automation systems in the future. But it's still worth taking a guess at what looks likely.  Here are some trends I expect will be important.


Social Media. The first wave of marketing automation features for social media is now several years old.  These included making it easier to share emails and Web pages, tracking shares through embedded URLs, and monitoring social media conversations. The second wave is just starting.  It includes more sophisticated features for working within social media platforms, such as delivering forms and personalized ads within Facebook, using social sign-on to capture more data, and building more detailed profiles based on activities, consumption, connections and influence. Beyond the execution technology itself, these features will require substantial increase in analytical horsepower to make sense of the results.

Mobile. Many marketing automation vendors have added mobile interfaces for the marketers and salespeople who work with them.  But the focus is now shifting to marketing campaigns that are delivered by mobile.. The first change is to create standard materials in mobile-friendly formats. But this will soon be followed by more profound adjustments for touch screens, shorter view times, QR codes, special-purpose apps, gamification, social interactions, location awareness, and other mobile-specific possibilities. Third party developers will probably pioneer these capabilities, so look for marketing automation vendors who are good at integrating with outsiders and, eventually, have the money to acquire their technology.

Video. Plenty of video is used already in marketing promotions.  It's particularly useful as a way to generate lots of content at relatively low cost. But marketing automation vendors haven’t built many special features to make video easier to use. One big need is better tagging to make video more search-friendly; others are better upload and content analysis to support user-generated content. This may be another area where marketing automation vendors rely on external developers rather than pioneering for themselves.

Benchmarks. This is a hot topic among vendors, both because clients love benchmarks and because there are now enough clients to supply sufficient data. Benchmarking requires standard definitions to allow comparisons across program types, funnel stages, responses, and industry groups. It also needs ways to present the information so marketers can easily understand it. Eventually, benchmark systems will start making recommendations on what to try next – although I've yet to see that happen.

Testing. Too few marketers have a rigorous testing program, and, perhaps for that reason, most marketing automation vendors have focused their energies elsewhere. This may be changing, as marketers see simple and effective testing in other areas like Web landing pages and paid search. Speaking as someone who trained in traditional direct marketing, where testing is an absolute religion, I can only hope so.

Automation. Let’s face it: most marketing automation today is still pretty darn manual. The automation I'm talking about here is having the system make choices so marketers don’t have to. Think about lead scoring, where the traditional approach is for a team of people to sit around a table and negotiate a set of scoring rules. An automated approach would eliminate that by using techniques like regression analysis to derive the formulas directly from the data. Other automated applications could be matching contents to user behavior and choosing the optimal timing for campaign messages. This type of automation is a way to overcome the skill shortage that has slowed the growth of the automation industry. In that sense, it’s an alternative, or at least a supplement, to better training (creating more skilled people) and easier interfaces (making the few skilled people more productive). Delivering this automation requires major investments in statistical technology, standardized definitions, and process monitoring to avoid the “sorcerer’s apprentice” problem of uncontrolled execution.

External data. Marketing automation systems are increasingly gathering data from external sources like social media, list compilers, and online behavior tracking. They’re also moving past CRM to tap other internal systems like accounting, manufacturing and order processing. This poses a major challenge for some marketing automation vendors, who didn't design their system for sources outside of CRM. It requires more flexible data models, APIs for smooth data exchange, and often a substantial increase in total data volume. More complex data also implies much higher implementation and maintenance costs, making marketing automation tougher to sell.

Pay per Result. This is the ultimate extension of external data: instead of buying information, marketers can just buy qualified leads directly. It's also another way to compensate for the skills shortage. Of course, some pay-per-lead programs have been around for years. But as marketers use them more aggressively, the marketing automation systems will need to get better at merging their inputs, identifying duplicates, estimating the value of new names, and analyzing long-term results.


Analytics. Many marketers claim they want better analysis but few have made the investment. Perhaps this will finally change as data becomes more widely available, CEOs press for clearer return on marketing investments, and the exploding complexity requires better measurement to keep marketing under control. We’re seeing two specific applications: revenue analytics that look beyond marketing to track the entire customer life cycle, and optimization to allocate resources across the many different marketing opportunities. Both require substantial investments in new data structures, reporting tools, visualization, dashboards, information distribution, and user management. Marketers who are serious about analytics need to look closely at which vendors have created the necessary foundations and will continue build on them.

No one vendor will be top of all these trends and neither will any one marketer. My advice is to pick the areas you feel are most important and study what each prospective vendor can do in them today and has planned for the future. Beyond that, take a look at yesterday’s suggestions on finding a future-safe vendor, and pick one you feel reasonably comfortable will adapt to whatever tomorow may bring.

1 comment:

onlinedatafiles said...

Nice post. Another thing to consider is the training involved in getting people to use the new vendor's system.