Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Acxiom Digital Buys Kefta for Web Page Personalization

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to foresee continuing consolidation among online marketing systems vendors. Today, email specialist Acxiom Digital announced it is purchasing Web targeting specialist Kefta. In February, the news was Web analytics vendor Omniture buying behavioral targeting vendor TouchClarity .

The Acxiom Digital / Kefta match up is somewhat more interesting because it combines email and Web channels. Omniture and TouchClarity were both primarily Web specialists. Of course, marketers are increasingly interested in synchronizing efforts in both online spheres, so we can expect more cross-channel acquisitions as vendors seek to meet this demand.

The Kefta acquisition is also interesting because Kefta targets with user-specified rules, rather than the self-adjusting statistical models used by TouchClarity, [X+1] and Certona . This suggests that what Acxiom Digital found really appealing was Kefta’s ability to render personalized Web pages, rather than its particular targeting technology. Much as I personally am fascinated by automated targeting solutions—and much as I suspect they can bring higher ROI than rules-based approaches—this probably reflects an accurate assessment that most marketers prefer the clarity of a rules-based approach to the mysteries of a self-adjusting model. Certainly the rules-based approach is closer to the targeting methods used in Acxiom Digital’s e-mail personalization system. So the two vendors are philosophically compatible, regardless of what it will take to integrate their technology.

Note that, if I’m correct that the real appeal of Kefta is in its page personalization technology, this supports my thesis about the value of Web testing vendors (see Are Multi-Variate Testing Systems Under-Priced?)

From a user’s viewpoint, the important question about the Kefta acquisition is how much easier it will make it for marketers to tightly integrate cross-channel customer experiences. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect much change any time soon. Judging by the results of other mergers, it will take quite a bit of effort—perhaps even a complete rewrite—to run both delivery systems from a common campaign manager. Moreover, the real challenge with integrating Web and email campaigns is identifying when a particular Web visitor is the same person as a known email account. This linking is done outside of the Web and email delivery systems, so merging two delivery systems into one won’t really make it any easier.

And let’s not forget that Web and email are not the only online channels. A truly integrated online marketing system must also include mobile. That consolidation has yet to begin.

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