Organizing Campaign Management

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Direct marketing involves tracking innumerable details, from campaign budgets to production schedules to response history on hundreds of list segments. This is usually accomplished through a disconnected jumble of spreadsheets, wall charts and pre-printed checklists. It is ugly, but it works. So most marketing departments have not bothered to look for more sophisticated replacements.

Still, better solutions are possible. A few years ago, marketing automation vendors built systems to organize the Internet marketing process; more recently, conventional campaign management vendors have improved their own budgeting, forecasting and project management functions. But these systems are limited in scope and usually quite expensive. And they are built around customer databases -- making them of limited value for direct marketers who rely primarily on rented lists, broadcast, print advertisements and other nondatabase media.

MarketingPilot (MarketingPilot Software, 847/864-4777, has taken a different approach, offering campaign definition, tracking and reporting down only to the segment level. This lets it focus on administrative functions without regard to the actual promotion methods.

MarketingPilot is organized around three main concepts: campaigns, contacts and markets. Campaigns are promotion efforts; contacts are individuals and vendors working on campaigns; and markets are the audiences receiving campaign messages. Contacts are linked to campaigns through tasks, while markets are linked to campaigns through segments.

Tasks are pretty much what you would expect, but the relation of markets to campaigns takes a bit of explaining. A market is a specific audience - say, Chevy owners. One or more markets can be linked to a medium, which is usually a specific promotion vehicle such as the Popular Mechanics magazine mailing list. Each medium can be divided into segments, such as the Popular Mechanics recent subscriber selection. These segments are used to set up campaigns.

This structure lets users analyze campaign results at the segment level and also evaluates performance of specific media (i.e., lists) and markets over time. It can support non-direct mail channels as well: Users could set up a "radio" medium and assign separate segments to individual stations. But it does not assign different markets to different segments of the same medium -- so if a Chevy owner select was available on multiple lists, MarketingPilot could not easily isolate the combined performance of Chevy owner segments.

What is really impressive about the MarketingPilot system is the amount of direct marketing-specific detail that has been included. Campaigns include not only a large number of general descriptive fields, but also a pool for telephone numbers used to gather responses, a template for project briefs, campaign and media-level templates to build merge/purge instructions from standard components, and tables to store merge/purge results including intralist duplicates, interlist duplicates, unmailable quantity and a suppression list flag. The system can even produce a report to request credit from list owners for intralist duplicates.

Similarly, expense tracking includes such refinements as two levels of approvals, support for separate marketing and general ledger cost categories, and shipping details. It also allows multiple dates per purchase order, which supports common direct marketing practices such as monthly payments against an annual magazine advertising contract. Expenses can be linked to specific tasks within a campaign, as well as vendors, departments and product lines. The vendor connection lets users examine the performance of a given vendor across multiple projects. The system does not track inventory of products or promotion materials, however.

For the promotion segments themselves, the system captures the quantity ordered and received, cost, source code, response telephone number or Web address, and shipping destination for the output file. Because there are so many different ways to measure response, users are given nearly total flexibility: They can define as many response metrics per segment as they like, and assign a type and time period to each metric. Users can enter forecast as well as actual results, though the system does not project final results based on the number of replies received in the early days of a campaign.

Task management is also tailored to direct marketing projects, using a two-level structure that allows users to track the date and nature of specific subtasks while entering higher-level task information only once. The high-level data distinguishes the task owner from the person or vendor the task is assigned to, lets users define personal task categories in addition to company-standard categories, tracks estimated and actual hours and percent complete, and stores status and priority codes. Subtasks, designed to track intermediate steps within the process, are limited to date and type.

The information gathered in the system is available through 30 standard reports plus a custom report builder.

If there is a problem with all this, it is the amount of effort needed to load the data into the system. MarketingPilot uses common databases -- either Borland Interbase for smaller installations or standard relational databases for larger companies. This means it is technically possible to transfer data from external systems without rekeying it. But not all data are available from external systems, and many marketing departments lack the resources to create the necessary interfaces.

In theory, much of the data entry required for MarketingPilot would replace effort now spent updating spreadsheets or project forms, so there would be no net increase in labor. But information such as merge/purge results is often not rekeyed, or is captured in less detail than MarketingPilot expects. Of course, users are free to ignore any portions of the system they find overly burdensome, but such gaps would reduce the value of MarketingPilot's tight integration. Implementation may also be resisted by marketing staff members who are less than thrilled at the loss of autonomy resulting from a highly centralized approach.

Still, many marketing departments should find that the integration and thoroughness of MarketingPilot contributes to better results. The system is operating at a few beta sites and will be formally released this month. It runs on Windows workstations with Windows or Unix database servers. Pricing starts at $25,000 for 10 users.


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