Wednesday, November 28, 2012

[x+1] Origin Digital Marketing Hub Offers Cross-Channel Decision Management

My recent posts on real time decision systems have all described products from vendors of batch-oriented, outbound campaign management systems. Expansion to real time decisions helps those vendors cement their strategic position as a complete solution for marketing departments. But technically the two sets of systems have little in common: outbound systems create lists for direct mail and email, while real time systems generate recommendations for Web sites and call centers. Knowing this, you might suspect there are other real time decision management vendors with roots in Web marketing. You would be correct.

[x+1] Origin Digital Marketing Hub is one example. [x+1] originally began as Poindexter Systems, which offered real-time Web ad optimization based in predictive models and anonymous user profiles. This was an early form of what now called a Data Management Platform (DMP), which one articulate blogger defined as “a very smart, very fast cookie warehouse with analytical firepower to crunch, de-duplicate, and integrate your data with any technology platform you desire.”

You could also see DMPs as a type of marketing database because they have the key characteristic of being organized around individual prospects and customers. It’s true that DMPs identify individuals with cookies, not a conventional name and address. But both types of systems can still perform the basic marketing database functions of sending messages to individuals and tracking their responses.

That original DMP is still the foundation of the [x+1] suite. But the company has also extended into Web ad buying (Origin Media DSP), Web site recommendations (Origin Site), attribution (Origin Analytics), and cross channel marketing (Origin Digital Marketing Hub). Supporting multiple channels and potentially storing names and addresses puts [x+1] Hub into direct competition with other real-time decision management products.

I’ll assess the Hub against my real time decision management framework in a minute. But first let's look at [x+1]’s features that are not found in a typical real time decision manager. These include:

- Web tag management: the system provides Javascript code to tag Web pages and advertisements, drop cookies on visitors’ computers, and then use those cookies to track visitor behaviors. The system also supports server-to-server connections that capture user behavior without relying on cookies. Most real time decision systems rely on external systems to capture this data.

-Web audience management: [x+1] Hub can integrate Web audience data from external compilers such as BlueKai and eXelate, enabling marketers to use that information for decisions and targeting. In theory, any decision manager could access the APIs of those providers, but [x+1] is designed specifically to integrate their data and manage the associated charges. [x+1] can also help sell the client’s own data to external syndicators.

- Web media buying: [x+1] can manage real-time bids and other Web advertising purchases. Users set up campaigns with budgets, cost targets, date ranges and other parameters for the system to execute automatically. The system can also track media purchases made outside of [x+1]. Reports provide detailed information on reach, frequency, pacing, inventory, and other advertising-specific metrics.

- attribution: the system tracks visitors through user-defined funnel stages, as defined by visits to specified Web pages or media exposures.  It then uses regression analysis to estimate the influence of each promotion and promotion attributes, such as ad size and format, on stage movement . This is much more sophisticated than the first touch, last touch, or fractional attribution methods available in standard marketing systems.

These features make clear that [x+1] Hub isn’t directly comparable to conventional real time decision systems. But [x+1] does offer itself for real time decision applications, and the whole point of decision management is to centralize decisions within a single system. This means that [x+1] Hub is inevitably competing with the other products to be the one thing that rules them all.

So, how does [x+1] Hub stack up against my decision management criteria?

- connecting to external systems. Like other real time decision managers, [x+1] Hub can connect to external systems via Web services and batch file imports.  It can also capture Web traffic via the Javascript tags and server-to-server connections. However, displaying the returned messages on a Web site requires code created outside of the system.  [x+1] Hub has existing integrations into call center, search, mobile, SMS, social, and email products.

Visitor profiles are stored permanently within the system and can contain whatever attributes the user chooses. The base set includes visitor behaviors, http header attributes (browser, operating system, location derived from IP address, etc.), information imported from external data vendors, and a history of messages presented to each individual. The system can link cookies from [x+1], the client, and third party vendors once these are identified as the same person. Partners including LiveRamp, i-Behavior and Datalogix can link online and offline identities.

Web behaviors and imported data can trigger actions including as assigning a visitor to a segment, adjusting a counter, exporting data, and sending a message through an external system. The results of these actions are stored in the [x+1] database where they can be inputs to other decision rules.

- making decisions based on rules and predictive models. Decision rules in [x+1] Hub are organized into two layers: the system first tests a visitor against one or more “targeted experience” definitions until it finds a match; then, it tests the visitor against a sequence of “targeting rules” associated with the winning experience. Each rule returns a specified offer or creative treatment. Offers and creatives can also have their own eligibility rules, which apply across all campaigns.

Rules can include if/then logic or predictive models. If the models are used, [x+1] can generate scores for multiple responses and pick the best option based on response probability, expected value, or other formulas. This lets the [x+1] select the best option for each individual even though the system always selects the first rule the visitor matches. There are also default choices in case the visitor fails to meet any other rule.

The models are set up by [x+1] technicians. Scoring formulas can incorporate external data, such as inventory levels or sales goals, so long as these are accessible to [x+1] via data import or API connections. Users can also specify the percentage of responses that will receive each option, allowing the system to deliver a fixed mix of results even if the models would favor some choices less or more often.

The system can return multiple offers in response to a single request. Users can block these from containing duplicate offers. Users can also set up “creative groups” of incompatible offers and have the system return only one offer from each group.

- integration with campaign and content systems. [x+1] Hub is not part of a suite with its own outbound campaign manager, although it can be integrated with other vendors’ campaign management products. Similarly, the system also doesn’t store or render content but can connect with third party content management systems. [x+1] does maintain a registry of content IDs that are sent back to execution systems, which look up and render the related messages.

- deployment model.
The entire [x+1] suite is sold as a subscription. This can include the software only or software plus supplemental services. On-premise deployment is technically possible but no client has yet selected it. Pricing is based on system functions and volumes. It starts around $12,500 per month but can be lower if the client is also buying media through [x+1].

All told, [x+1] Hub seems functionally competitive with stand-alone decision managers. Still, the system’s main appeal will be to marketers who want the DMP, media buying and attribution features. Those marketers should find that [x+1] Hub lets them coordinate real-time customer treatments across all channels without purchasing a separate decision management system.

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