Monday, July 15, 2013

Vocus Marketing Suite: Still Mostly Social But Marketing Automation is On the Way

If you’ve heard of Vocus at all, it’s probably as vendor serving public relations professionals. Its core offerings include a huge database of media contacts; media monitoring and social listening; and press release distribution. But since late 2011 the company has also offered a suite aimed at marketers, which now has more than 4,000 paid clients.

Even in the small business sector, that count would make Vocus one of the largest marketing automation systems.  But Vocus doesn’t quite match the profile of standard marketing automation products.  It lacks the Salesforce.com integration of B2B systems (due early next year), the lightweight CRM of micro-business systems, and the lead scoring and distribution of both. On the other hand, it does offer email and landing pages, two marketing automation basics, as well as several features borrowed from Vocus PR software.  So it's best to treat Vocus Marketing Suite as a class unto itself.


The product's two most intriguing features draw on Vocus’ monitoring of social media and news outlets. “Recommendations” finds conversations on client-specified topics across 130,000 online outlets, 10,000 print outlets, 35 million blogs, and posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites. It presents these to Vocus clients with an interface that suggests a reaction but lets users decide how to reply or repost across several social channels. Clients can have Vocus add new topics, a process that takes a couple of weeks to allow testing and fine-tuning of the selection mechanism. “Recommendations” will also identify influencers for a selected topic, based on actual influence (number of reposts or references) rather than the number of followers.

“Buying Signals” draws on Twitter only. It identifies Tweets with a dozen or so purposes related to a client’s product, such as fact checking, asking for recommendations, shopping, or reporting that something has been lost or broken. As with Recommendations, users are presented with a list of messages they can review and reply to individually as appropriate.



Other features include press release posting via Vocus’ PRWeb subsidiary; Facebook promotions such as sign-up pages, sweepstakes, and fan offers; a central image library; and management of local directory listings. I’ve already mentioned email, which is reasonably powerful, and landing pages. The email engine will be enhanced with multi-step campaigns by the end of this year. Other traditional marketing automation features will be added as well.

User rights are organized around “profiles”, which might relate to a company, brand, or product line. Users are either assigned to a profile or not; there are no finer divisions of rights for specific features. This approach makes sense for small businesses – the bulk of the system's current client base – and for marketing agencies who manage separate profiles for each client.

Pricing is defined in tiers ranging from $3,000 to $30,000 per year, based on the number of profiles, amount of content monitoring, email volume, press release formats, and other variables.

As both the pricing variables and features suggest, Marketing Suite is still mostly a social media monitoring and public relations tool. This will change as Vocus adds conventional marketing automation features. But until those features mature, companies who want to do much beyond email will find they need a separate marketing automation product as well.

4 comments:

Joseph Rizzo said...

David,

Remember PeopleSoft? Their strategy: establish a presence in HR and move out from there. Apple? Establish a presense with designers and move out from there. Vocus? Establish a presence with PR and move out from there. I like Vocus...a lot...and their strategy makes significant sense as PR and Content slowly blur together. I was a bit disappointed with their last rev, but if they continue to build out competitively and add predictive, and market from PR, they will be a force.

David Raab said...

Thanks Joseph. Vocus describes their approach as moving from top of funnel (inbound, social) to mid-funnel (marketing automation). But viewing is as expanding from PR to other areas also makes sense.

I quite agree that Vocus has potential to be a major industry force: 16,000 contracted clients and 120,000 transactional clients means they have access to a huge number of marketers once they have something to offer them. The trick will be making the initial purchase and deployment as easy as possible. I'm guessing the key thing is to replace the incumbent email provider with Vocus email (iContact) and then help clients use other marketing functions. That should work because it's relatively easy to change email providers but much harder to switch marketing automation providers: so clients can easily enter but not easily leave. There's a blog post in here somewhere.

Steve Garson said...

As a small B2B IT marketer, I am considering Vocus. But nervous about committing to the one year contract and cost. I don't view social media the right medium for B2B marketing. With limited discretionary money, Google adwords seems the better investment. What are your thought?

Steve G.
Boston, MA

David Raab said...

Hi Steve. The press and social media monitoring is probably the most unique feature of Vocus Marketing Suite. So if you don't find that interesting, it's probably not the right tool for you. Adwords is a certainly a good way to gather new leads. An alternative I've written about recently is the set of vendors who develop prospect lists from public signals -- Leadspace, InsideView, Mintigo, etc. If you already do a good job of finding new prospects and are more interested in scoring and nurturing them, then the "conventional" B2B marketing automtion vendors would be the place to look -- Pardot, Act-On, Net-Results, etc. would be cost-effective options.