Thursday, January 28, 2016

Real Magnet Offers Complex Campaigns Without the Flow Charts

I recently saw a useful distinction between AI – artificial intelligence, which is machines replacing people – and IA – intelligent assistance, which is machines helping people. Real Magnet, an email service provider turned marketing automation vendor with over 1,000 clients, doesn’t position itself as either. But its flagship feature is letting marketers create sophisticated, multi-step campaigns by answering handful of questions in a template. The remaining work to implement the marketers’ choices is done by the system. That sounds like Intelligent Assistance to me.

This piques my interest because I’ve long argued that the chief roadblock to wider use of marketing automation is the difficulty of setting up campaigns, and have offered Artificial Intelligence as the solution. That is, I have been looking for systems that automatically design campaigns (or deliver optimal customer treatments without campaigns), thereby removing the roadblock by doing the work on the marketers' behalf. This has always felt a bit optimistic, but, then, so do self-driving cars. An Intelligence Assistance approach seems like a more plausible near-term alternative – analogous to the “driver assist” features already finding their way into automobiles.

Of course, many marketing automation systems use templates as part of their campaign set-up. What sets Real Magnet apart is the entire set-up is done through the templates. The system does offer a conventional workflow builder (which is quite nice, in fact) but it's not needed for campaigns that fit the standard templates.  Users do have the ability to convert template campaigns to the workflow format for customization. .
Campaign Steps

To make things a bit more concrete: the Real Magnet campaign picker starts out by asking the user to select their industry from a list. The system then presents a choice of industry-appropriate campaign types such as subscription renewals, webinar promotions, birthday and anniversary messages, and welcome kits. Once a campaign is chosen, the system presents three or four steps with a few questions per step: for example, steps for a standard email campaign are select the audience, select the messages and intervals, and schedule the execution. Most of these selections are themselves made by picking from predefined options or templates, with the ability for users to set up new options as needed.  Real Magnet support staff is also available to set up options when clients need help.

Campaign Workflow
Campaign templates can include multiple steps and branching flows, such as follow-up messages to people don’t complete a registration process. Campaign steps can include many types of actions, from sending messages to assigning group membership, setting field values, managing point totals, suppressing further communications, or directing the flow to another branch or block within a branch. Over-all, these options make Real Magnet a very powerful system.

Campaigns can also run processes such as a/b tests, lead scoring, landing pages, segmentation, or suppression lists. In other words, pretty much any task that would ordinarily require complex set-up can be created through a template. Not surprisingly, Real Magnet reports its users – typically small marketing departments with limited resources – find this very appealing. Those are exactly the kinds of users who struggle to deploy advanced features in most marketing automation systems.

Real Magnet also provides several levels of campaign reporting, from a dashboard with summary statistics to performance by individual messages within a campaign to lists of campaign participants. Reports vary based on the campaign details.  They often include engagement rates and achievement of user-specified goals. Reports can also consolidate results for groups of campaigns.

The Real Magnet database is largely limited to a single record per customer, although the system does track promotion history and related events such as form files and survey completions. Users can add custom fields to the customer record but not custom tables. The system integrates with major CRM and association management systems, and can access their contents to some degree. It also stores social media handles for Facebook and Twitter, can send messages through those systems, and can create scores based on social media behaviors such as retweets and likes.

Real Magnet started business in 2000 as an email service provider. More than half of the company's 1000-plus clients are trade and professional associations, with additional concentrations in education and publishing. Pricing of the Real Magnet system is based on number of emails sent. Packages start around $200 to $300 per month.


Directstein said...

David -- I think you're on an interesting path here that's at least partially about a) where do people add value in the marketing process -- which parts should just be made easier versus b) how should people be adding value to get better returns from their marketing. As you allude, as systems have become overly complex, there's been a rise of technically 'skilled' roles in the marketing organization. Yet this is not solving for needs that are largely upstream such as: Which customers are in need? What content would really help these customers in need? If the right content isn't available it surely can't really matter how easy it is to send. Are you in fact saying that if the task of message delivery is simplified, marketers will have to focus on whether or not their messages are actually helpful?

David Raab said...

Very interesting questions. It's hard to imagine that people will be wholly replaced by machines. It does seem that people will be better than computers at creativity and insights needed to guide marketing programs. I'm not sure that will remain true in the long run but those will probably be the last places where computers catch up.