Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SiteCore Adds Analytics and Marketing To Web Content Management

Summary: SiteCore has added extensive analytical and marketing features to its Web content management system. The integrated analytics should save considerable effort for marketers. Channel-specific marketing automation is less appealing but should help to keep marketing automation vendors on their toes.

I commented last month that more Web content management system (CMS) vendors are adding marketing automation features. One of my examples was SiteCore, so I can’t point to them again as further proof of that assertion. But I did have a good talk last week with SiteCore VP Marketing Darren Guarnaccia, who clarified why this is happening and made a strong case for the integrated approach.

For those of you who (like me) are unfamiliar with SiteCore: it is an eight year old provider of Microsoft .NET-based Web content management systems, with over 1,600 mid-to-large sized customers running more than 20,000 dynamic Web sites including Sara Lee, Toshiba, Omni Hotels and Dollar Rent-a-Car/Thrifty. In other words, it is a substantial player in a crowded market.

According to Guarnaccia, the company has seen control over the CMS selection process steadily migrate from IT departments to marketers over the past four years. The trend is most pronounced at mid-sized firms, where IT is generally less powerful than at very large companies. During this time, it’s become clear that marketers need features that go beyond editing Web pages, to helping them do a better job of understanding and reacting to customers. SiteCore describes this as closing an “actionability chasm” between analytics and execution.

The chasm is created by the traditional approach of using analytical systems (often sold as externally hosted services) that are separate from the underlying content management system. Capturing detailed information with such systems involves much more than adding one code snippet to a shared page template. At a minimum, each page must be given its own ID and, more realistically, pages must be given multiple tags to facilitate analysis. Companies running several separate analytical systems may need several sets of tags.

The practical result of such an arrangement is that marketers and their Web teams quickly fall behind in their tagging, and end up with incomplete and unreliable analytics. Building analytics into the CMS allows users to avoid some tags altogether and makes it easier to reuse the rest. Integrated analytics also allow the system to track visitors with first-party cookies, which are less likely to be erased than the third-party cookies used by some stand-alone analytical products.

Integration also makes it easier to coordinate activities such as personalization, behavior-based targeting, and tests. The logic for these potentially overlapping functions can be all managed as part of one Web page definition, rather than separately.

For example, SiteCore supports lead scoring by assigning content scores (for technology, marketing, sales, pricing, tech support, etc.) to each Web page or, potentially, to components within a page. The lead score for each visitor’s interest in each category is the sum of the category scores for all the pages that person has visited. The same information can be used to identify the visitor’s business role or assign a persona.

The advantage of page-based scoring is that the scores adjust automatically to new Web contents. Otherwise, the company must rely on one team of workers to add new content and a separate team to incorporate the new content into the scoring rules.

Guarnaccia offered a Web site marketing maturity model that started with traffic statistics and extended to user experience statistics, content profiling, segmentation, conversion tracking, campaign management, sales enablement (using the IP address to identify visitor location and company), testing and optimization, and real time personalization. He said these are all present at no extra charge within the latest version of SiteCore, which was released at the end of June as the SiteCore Online Marketing Suite. An online demonstration confirmed they are indeed available, and at an impressively high level of sophistication.

SiteCore organizes these features around the individual Web pages. Attributes for each page include interest scores already mentioned, plus goals and other events that are logged to the visitor's history profile when the page is viewed. A page view can also trigger actions including test execution, personalization, data updates, parameter setting, sales alerts, and calls to external scripts. The system also captures the usual Web analytics data such as traffic volume, referring and exit pages, and on-site search terms. It can also use the visitor history to play back the sequence of pages viewed during a Web session.

This page-centric view of the world makes sense for a CMS vendor, but it's a pretty big switch from the campaign-centric view of most marketers and most marketing automation systems. In fact, the biggest objection to CMS-based marketing automation may be that it assumes everything is centered on the Web site.

Guarnaccia didn’t see it that way. He suggested that marketers will use separate systems for each channel. I think that SiteCore’s main goal is to replace stand-alone Web analytics and personalization systems, not to provide cross-channel marketing automation. Still, the company does plan move beyond Web marketing by adding outbound email campaigns in a few weeks. It will also support emails triggered by Web page visits.

My own take is that building analytics into the CMS makes sense, but I doubt marketers want new silos in the form of channel-specific marketing systems. If so, SiteCore’s marketing features will be most appealing to companies that interact with customers primarily through the Web. For those firms, the Web site could reasonably be the core customer management system. Systems for other channels then would connect with the Web database in the same way that auxiliary channels are (sometimes) now integrated with a central Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

The CMS-based model relates to other industry trends: integration between marketing automation and sales systems, and, more broadly, absorption of marketing automation into operational systems. For companies where the Web site is the primarily operational system, these are exactly the same thing. For companies where the Web and CRM are both important independent systems, marketing automation is an ally they may both wish to annex.

For now, though, SiteCore is working to cooperate with CRM rather than replace it. The system can scan IP address registries to identify a visitor’s geographic location and company, and then use the results to route leads, alert sales people, and aggregate data at the company level. SiteCore has built data synchronization for Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics and will add other systems as clients request them. If further integration is needed, other systems can access the SiteCore databases directly.

This access is simplified because SiteCore is traditional on-premise software, not an externally hosted service. Pricing is based on the number of concurrent users and servers. A single server license starts as low as $15,000, although an average installation runs about $90,000. The vendor provides several days of classes, including about two days for marketing users.

The reasons for CMS vendors to add marketing automation functions are clear: to differentiate themselves and to capture budget now spent on analytical and marketing systems. It makes perfect sense for companies selecting a new CMS to prefer integrated analytics, and in some cases to add integrated marketing automation. It’s less likely that companies will discard an otherwise-satisfactory existing CMS just to get these features. But the normal replacement cycle runs three to five years, according to Guarnaccia, so it won't be long before most marketers find themselves with integrated analytical features and new marketing automation options. Even if marketers don't use all of those features, the possibility will encourage stand-alone marketing automation vendors to improve their own products to keep pace.

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