Thursday, June 02, 2016

Intercom "Smart Campaigns" Replace Decision Trees: Interesting But Not Perfect

I got all excited when I saw this description from messaging vendor Intercom about new "smart campaigns" in marketing automation that automatically send the best message at the best time in the best channel to each person without pre-designed campaign flows.  Their critique of the current process -- essentially that fixed flows are too complicated -- is spot on.

Alas, a deeper look left me a little disappointed.   Here's how Intercom describes the smart campaign process:

  1. First, choose the people you want to message and the goal you want to achieve, e.g. send a series of messages to people who start a trial to get them to become paying customers.
  2. Then decide how often you would like them to receive messages, e.g. you may want to send, at most, a message every two days.
  3. Choose triggers for your messages, based on time, behavior or interaction with other messages.
  4. Then simply rank them by priority, with the most important message listed first.
  5. When people are eligible to receive a new message, Intercom looks at all the messages in the campaign, identifies the ones the customer matches the rules for and sends them the highest priority message.
 My problem is step 4: messages are ranked by priority.  This means that everyone receives basically the same sequence unless there are triggers that interpose specific messages first.  So, the smart campaigns aren't really figuring out the best message to send; they are applying static rules to pick the messages.

This is still pretty impressive but it puts most of the work back on the user to figure out those triggers.  It doesn't automatically adjust the core priority ranking (which drives the default message sequence) based on user attributes or behaviors.  I'm sure that clever trigger design could achieve pretty much any use case I could imagine, but it means all the thought I previously put into building clever campaign flows now goes into building clever triggers (and to predicting the customer experience resulting from interactions among those triggers).  So the Promised Land of fully automated, optimized campaign design still hasn't been reached. 

Note: I haven't spoken with Intercom.  I'll try to find time for that and to write a real review.  But I did want to put this out because it's a good example of people thinking about alternatives to the current marketing automation campaign flows, even if they haven't found a perfect replacement.

Further note: I did subsequently speak with Intercom to learn more about their system.  It turns out that my initial description, presented above, was accurate.  They do make it pretty easy to connect with Web, mobile app, and other data sources and to send messages by email, text, and in-app.  They also let users assign goals to each campaign as a whole and to individual messages, which helps to report on campaign success and to optimize treatments within a campaign.  So they do have some nice features that make effective messaging much easier than standard marketing automation systems.  But fully automated, self-optimizing campaigns, they are not.    

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