Thursday, January 03, 2013

RedPoint Offers Broad, Deep B2C Marketing Automation

On days when I have nothing else to be cranky about, I sometimes fuss at how business-to-business software vendors hijacked the term “marketing automation” despite its long and relatively honorable history describing systems for consumer marketing. Oracle’s recent agreement to purchase Eloqua reinflamed that wound, since much of the commentary ignored Oracle’s extensive existing suite of consumer marketing systems.

More productively, the deal also shifted discussion from components within a marketing suite to where marketing systems fit within the larger world of unified customer management. This perspective has always been part of consumer marketing, where the classic description of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) was “marketing, sales and service”. That formula fell out of favor when the most prominent CRM system became B2B-oriented, whose very name reflects its origins in B2B sales automation.

One reason that B2B perspectives have dominated the recent discussion of marketing automation is that the major B2C marketing automation products have receded from view after being absorbed by larger corporate platforms: Unica is part of IBM, Aprimo is owned by Teradata, Portrait Software is owned by Pitney Bowes, Epiphany is owned by Infor (which last month acquired marketing resource management leader Orbis Global, a bit of news I'd missed), Alterian is owned by SDL, and SAS is owned by, well, SAS. This diminishes most products’ independent profiles (Aprimo is the exception), although they are still selling nicely. Even some of the less prominent B2C products have been acquired recently: Conversen by Experian and Entiera by FICO, although neither of these are enterprise software vendors.

The net result of all this harvesting by big buyers has been to clear the ground for the next crop of B2C marketing automation systems. These fill a demand for powerful but moderately-priced options by both marketing services providers and mid-sized companies. Those buyers often find that systems from big enterprise software vendors become too expensive or require too many ancillary components from their corporate parents.

One vendor taking advantage of this opening is RedPoint. Founded in 2006 by veteran CRM consultants and technologists from Accenture, the firm has created an exceptionally extensive marketing automation product including not just campaigns and content management, but also database maintenance, which isn't usually part of marketing automation.  Although IBM, SAS, and Pitney Bowes provide a similar scope, RedPoint is unique in having built all those components itself and keeping them tightly integrated.

The data features are especially impressive. RedPoint offers a rich set of standard data management features including loads from files, databases, and semi-structured formats like XML and EDI; transformations including regular expressions, file splits, and table joins; batch and on-demand process flows.  There's also a novel option to use Web service calls for on-demand data appending, a particularly noteworthy concept.  Beyond those, the system provides specialized functions to manage customer data including name/address parsing, standardization, and matching. Users can apply the system's built-in rules for these or modify the rules to meet their own preferences. All data functions are managed with a sophisticated workflow engine that allows fast development of new marketing databases -- often in a matter of weeks, not months.  This removes (or at least shrinks) the single greatest obstacle facing many new marketing systems.

The system was also designed to scale.  It can work with standard files and SQL databases, with native connectors for SQL Server, Netezza, Oracle, and Teradata. Support for Hadoop, Hbase, PIG, Hive, Cassandra, GreenPlum and other “big data” technologies is due early this year. Clustering is available at all application service layers and the system supports true multi-tenancy (multiple instances running on the same installation).

Campaign management features are equally deep although less unusual.  A drag-and-drop flow builder allows complex, rule-based branches and can react to behaviors during the campaign. Users can define audiences with batch selections, scheduled processes, and “subscription groups” of anonymous individuals (such as Web site visitors) who match specified behavior profiles. Splits can be based on logical conditions, random selections, or auto-generated cells with all possible combinations of specified variables. The auto-generation feature, which can easily produce segmentations with hundreds or thousands of cells, is a hallmark of sophisticated B2C marketing automation systems. It is used for segmentations such as RFM (recency, frequency, monetary value) cells, age/gender/cluster cells, branch or dealer assignments, and product splits.

RedPoint also provides self-training predictive models.  These are currently used within the data management functions and matching algorithms. They will be soon applied to select offers for Web personalization.

Content management includes an editor to create outputs for email, Web, SMS, Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, LinkedIn and other formats. Users can build shared templates that are later modified for individual projects. Objects can contain Web forms and dynamic content blocks driven by selection rules or mapped to audience segments. The system can generate Web tags to capture user behaviors and can react to those behaviors in real time. It manages approval workflows, version tracking, and precise control over which users can access different objects and functions.

Pricing for RedPoint is based on a combination of deployment services, software licenses, and hosting fees. A minimum system starts around $60,000 per year. There are more than 100 installations, about half sold directly and half through partners such as marketing service providers. The system can be hosted by RedPoint, by a service partner, or by the client.

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