Partnering Is the Name of the Game at Summer NCDM

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SEATTLE--If there is one word to describe the theme at this year's National Center for Database Marketing's 21st National Conference & Exhibition here it's partnerships.

While last year's show highlighted the early partnerships that stemmed from the open relational marketing database trend, this year's show, July 29-31, highlighted even more relationships between database marketing companies, software vendors and list companies.

Indeed, virtually every major database company -- including NCR, DynaMark, Epsilon, KnowledgeBase Marketing and Paragren Technologies -- announced a partnership at the show. Some told of partnerships with one or two utility tool vendors. Others suggested total solutions, including those which were Web enabled. Each solution offered a different mix of software vendors and applications with a different amount of functionality and related price tags. But all companies had the same goal: to offer customers a one-stop shop for database marketing tools.

Database marketing experts roaming the show floor, however, said it will be difficult to turn these partnerships into seamlessly integrated solutions. Back-end systems, used by information technology departments, may not completely merge with the front-end marketing tools. Or campaign managers may not integrate easily into data-mining tools or online analytical processing (OLAP) tools.

"Generally, the mergers are in name only. They have totally disparate systems --

and seamless integration is unlikely, if not impossible," said Robert McKim, partner, strategic marketing, M/S Database Marketing, Los Angeles, a database marketing consulting firm.

Analysts say these partnerships are too rosy.

"There is a lot of partnering going on," said Melinda Nykamp, president of Nykamp Consulting Group, Lombard, IL, a database marketing consulting firm, "but I think the biggest shortcoming of most of the solutions out there today is that they aren't truly integrated."

Scott Nelson, an analyst with the Gartner Group, Stamford, CT, who didn't attend the show, said there are a few tightly integrated vendor solutions emerging but it will take some time for them to become truly integrated.

"Customers are looking for a total, open, end-to-end solution, so the vendors have to find a way to give them what they want," he said. "Unfortunately, not all of the solutions are fully compatible right now, and, unfortunately, customers have to sort through a lot of vendor PR to find the ones that are."

In fact, vendors agree with the notion.

"Integration is never seamless," said Martin Muoto, vice president of strategic alliances at Prime Response, Denver, a campaign management vendor that announced a partnering deal with DynaMark at NCDM. "A lot of vendors explain integration as a painless thing. It never is, but we believe our company offers tools that make integration less painless."

Muoto said it's important for companies to offer system integration services as part of their packages or at least recommend that companies use them. In addition, integration is a little easier if organizations, on a tactical level, plan better.

"Before we work with companies, we also try to tell them to plan ahead of time and be sure all of their integration points -- including the marketing department, call centers and the IT department -- are all thinking along the same lines in terms of integration," he said.

And there is more integration help on the horizon. Exchange Applications, Boston, for example, is reportedly in the process of releasing a new version of its campaign manager, Valex, which will integrate more readily with most OLAP and other reporting tools.

Many of the more than 2,000 NCDM attendees were interested in end-to-end solutions, but most were there because they wanted to learn more about database marketing and how to improve the solutions they already have. The industries represented were numerous -- retail, utility, finance, health care, publishing, hi-tech and insurance companies -- all sent database marketing directors and vice presidents to the show. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers were represented there.

Tom Sweet, director of database marketing at Jenny Craig International, La Jolla, CA, was looking to find some tools to update his company's data warehouse, which is 15 to 20 years old.

"I'm here to learn, to hear some success stories and to find some tools to help improve our data," he said, "which will enable us to learn more about our customers."

Vendors even were roaming the show floor, looking to partner with other vendors. Pitney Bowes Software Systems, Lisle, IL, for example, a data quality software provider was seeking out partnership opportunities.

"Data quality and data hygiene are huge issues for data warehouse solutions," said Terri Villarreal, senior product manager at Pitney Bowes, "and we believe they should be a strategic part of the total database solutions that companies are offering now and marketers are looking for."

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