Previsionware Delivers Strong Inhouse System

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Sales fell sharply for marketing software vendors last year, as marketers reacted to tough economic conditions by avoiding large investments in new systems. But service bureaus and marketing agencies, blessed with recurring revenue from current clients, remained relatively strong.

So perhaps it is not surprising that the past year also saw a burst of software developed by bureaus for their own use. Still, this reverses the trend of service bureaus relying on purchased software on the theory that specialist developers with a broad customer base could produce more sophisticated products than the bureaus could afford to build for themselves.

Previsionware (PreVision LLC, 781/259-5292, is perhaps the most sophisticated inhouse product introduced last year. The system implements marketing techniques employed by PreVision, a marketing strategy agency founded in 1993. The ability to create a product that embodies the preferred approach of an organization is one of the key advantages of building a system inhouse.

With Previsionware, the melding of method and system is so complete that the product actually makes automated marketing strategy recommendations based on its standard data analysis reports. These recommendations suggest the types of marketing programs that are most likely to be effective given the relative strength of acquisition, retention, cross-sell and similar metrics. They are based primarily on standard PreVision approaches but can be modified as appropriate for a particular installation. Technically, they are embedded in rules built into the analysis portion of the software.

The PreVision-specific approach of the software extends to the promotion selection features, which provide alternatives reflecting different methods used by PreVision marketers. The system provides a point-and-shoot query builder, which lets marketers define segments using the traditional method of specifying collections of data elements, relationships and values. This is easier than writing Structured Query Language statements, which the software also permits, but still unfamiliar to many marketers.

So Previsionware offers two more intuitive methods: a diagram of cells containing selections on individual variables, and a grid that lets users select cells within a two- or three-way cross-tab. These methods will meet most marketing needs, but some complicated queries will require pre-processing to generate calculated variables.

Customer groups defined by any selection method can be saved in a query library to use in marketing campaigns. The library contains the query logic, rather than lists of specific customers. These lists are generated at the time of campaign execution.

Campaigns are set up on another grid, starting with customer segments and splitting these as necessary for multiple promotions, waves and drops. The grid looks similar to the graphical segmentation trees used in many campaign management systems -- which would be unremarkable except that it is difficult to do in a Web-based system like Previsionware. Most Web-based systems use a tabular layout, which is technically easier but more awkward for the users.

Once the campaign structure is defined, users can open each cell to assign detailed specifications including costs, quantities, scheduled dates, offers and promotion materials. Previsionware maintains independent lists of offers and promotion materials, which lets users track and analyze performance across multiple campaigns. Cells can be assigned specific offers or users can define criteria that determine which offers are sent to individuals based on customer attributes. This lets the system make the best choice when customers in the same cell are eligible for multiple offers.

Like many inhouse systems, Previsionware is tightly linked with campaign execution. Users can set up an execution schedule, define the layout of the output file, generate file specifications, build key codes from data elements, generate random selections or samples and assign seed names. Once the output is generated they can review the file contents for accuracy. The system does not generate e-mail directly, though its output files can feed external e-mail systems.

The system also provides related administrative functions. Users can define the list of tasks associated with a campaign, assign these to individuals, track their completion and report on any that are overdue. Users can maintain a list of personal contacts, such as vendors, to help with project management.

Accounting functions can track planned and actual expenses at the campaign, promotion and cell levels. A planning calendar can show campaign activities in a Gantt chart format (a set of horizontal bars that represent the start and end dates for tasks on a project plan). A tabular display will list all campaigns with details on the quantities by offer, creative package, promotion cell and other elements.

The system also includes a wizard to lead users through the campaign setup. This is important because the comprehensive scope of Previsionware means that many functions are dependent on the preceding tasks being complete. Users who attempt to perform tasks out of the expected sequence may receive a frustrating set of error messages.

Previsionware includes both standard reports and a multidimensional report generator. Standard reports include conventional response analysis, cost analyses and test versus control comparisons as well as measures of business health based on PreVision marketing concepts. The report generator lets users select a data variable and measures to evaluate; users can drill down to examine data for specific values in more detail. Results can be displayed on graphs and extracted to Excel spreadsheets for additional manipulations. A mapping module can display customer data linked with geographic information.

Previsionware databases are maintained by PreVision using standard relational databases. A metadata layer lets PreVision map the system to each implementation without changing the software itself. The system itself runs on a standard Web server and is accessed via a Web browser. System security can limit different users to different functions.

Previsionware is offered as part of PreVision's service to its marketing clients and on a hosted basis. Pricing is based on the complexity of the database and the specific functions provided. A midsize database might cost from $10,000 to $30,000 per month. The system has five current installations.

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