Monday, March 02, 2015

Reborn AutoPilot Aims to Simplify Multi-Channel Marketing

Autopilot*, formerly AutopilotHQ and Bislr before that, relaunched itself today. I wrote about Bislr in November 2013.  Back then, they positioned themselves as a “marketing operating system” that provided core functions but would ultimately let users connect with third party apps. The latest incarnation describes itself as “software for multi-channel marketing” but still provides core functions and connects with third party apps.  So what has changed?

The difference is in the details. AutoPilot has spent much of the past 18 months making the system easier to use and now has handful of actual integrations available. These include for CRM, InsideView and FullContact for data enhancement, Twilio for text messaging, Lob for postcards, Segment for event tracking, and GoodData for reporting. Email and landing pages are still native to the product but the vendor has added tools to import, edit, and reuse HTML from external Web sites and email systems. This allows marketers to adopt Autopilot without discarding their current tools, easing the transition.

If there’s a substantive difference between the earlier Autopilot vision and the latest edition, it’s that the vendor spoke in 2013 of making it easy to build custom apps for Autopilot, while today they speak of integrating with existing best-of-breed systems. The current approach makes Autopilot easier to adopt although it also reduces the difference between Autopilot and other “marketing platforms” that have their own app stores.

But from Autopilot’s own perspective, its real differentiator is simplicity. It sees itself as filling the gap between simple email systems and enterprise marketing automation products. That space is plenty crowded, although Autopilot may be a bit easier to use than most of its competitors. The drag-and-drop campaign builder is attractive; more important, actions in external apps appear as icons, making them as accessible the vendor's own features.  Autopilot also provides a library of prebuilt campaign “guidebooks” that give new users an easy way to get started. The library is expected to grow as Autopilot users contribute their own guidebooks to the list.

The company’s other differentiator is a seriously aggressive pricing model.  This starts at $4 per month (you read that right) for up to 500 names in the database. A more realistic 10,000 contacts is still just $160 per month including unlimited email.  In comparison, mid-market stalwart Act-On charges $1,150 per month for 10,000 names. The vendor expects to survive at such low prices by minimizing sales and support costs, allowing almost total self-service in both areas. (There’s no phone support although users can submit questions by email during West Coast business or look in the community forums and knowledgebase.)  Whether this can satisfy new small business users remains to be seen.

I know you're wondering by now whether I’ll classify AutoPilot as a Customer Data Platform. (Rumor has it, there’s a drinking game that involves reading my blog posts aloud and taking a shot every time the phrase comes up. Get a life, people.) In fact, I do not: AutoPilot doesn’t do the complex data management a CDP requires. But the system does integrate with Segment, an expanded tag management system that qualifies as a CDP quite nicely. So you might consider AutoPilot as part of a complete CDP package.

AutoPilot was founded in 2011 and introduced the first version of its system in 2013. The company has accrued more than 100 clients, Most are small businesses but some are bigger.

* The Web site is The domain belongs to a firm selling salt chlorine generators. So far as I know, there’s no connection.

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