Software Review: Meeting Needs of Marketing DepartmentsLike a family that just won the lottery, business marketers are suddenly surrounded by software vendors eager to help them, for a fee.
The most common offerings focus on execution - creating e-mail and Web pages, delivering sequences of messages and managing leads. Some products extend past execution to administrative tasks like maintaining promotion calendars, tracking costs against budgets and managing program development.
The vendors' goal is to give marketers a single system for all their everyday tasks, saving them effort and crowding out potential competitors. Since integrated packages have beaten single-function alternatives in every market - from office automation suites to enterprise resource planning - why shouldn't this work in marketing departments?
Actually, there are a couple of possible reasons. Ironically, these do not include the inherently unstructured nature of the marketing task itself: For all the creativity that marketers hopefully bring to their job, the day-to-day activities of a marketing organization are just as routine as anyone else's. Large ad agencies, for example, have administrative systems that are every bit as structured as those of an insurance claims processor. In fact, you could argue that with today's emphasis on flexibility and fast change, other departments are becoming less rigid and, therefore, more like marketing than marketing is becoming like them.
No, the challenge facing integrated marketing systems is that marketing departments are no longer an island. They must interact with other internal systems and with external systems of suppliers, dealers and customers. Many of these systems will be tightly integrated and, therefore, not very open to external interfaces. So, even a task as simple as sending requests for copy approval may now interact with both internal and external work flow, groupware and e-mail systems.
Attune Marketing (Attune Inc., 317/705-5300; www.attuneinc.com) offers perhaps the most comprehensive attempt so far at a system that meets all of a marketing department's needs. The system maintains an extensive database of resources, including internal staff, external suppliers, customers and prospects, physical and electronic marketing materials and facilities like restaurants or conference rooms. These can be tied together in specific projects using a structured process that begins with corporate objectives and extends through final result analysis.
Administrative capabilities at Attune include tracking new project proposals, notifying reviewers and capturing their approval, linking project costs to departmental budgets, managing invoices, reporting on expenditures by supplier, defining measures that will be used to evaluate a project, assigning execution tasks, tracking task completion and maintaining a promotion calendar.
The functions are remarkably sophisticated for a new product. For example, the project review process distinguishes between people who review the concept of a project and those who approve the actual investment. Reviewers are notified by e-mail when a review is needed. When they open the message, they can automatically link to Web pages displaying the project information. The system will report which reviewers have accepted or rejected a project or have not yet looked at it. The system is highly integrated internally - each piece of information is entered once and then reused wherever it is needed. Integration with external systems is limited to e-mail and batch data exchanges, however.
Audience information is loaded into the Attune database with the system's data import tools. These include reasonably powerful deduplication functions to match against existing customer or prospect records. The database structure includes a set of standard fields and allows separate levels for individual and business records. Users can add data elements to the structure without involving a database technician. But Attune generally cannot read an external database without custom programming.
A promotion can be directed against the entire audience or a profile. Fairly complex segments can be created by combining multiple rules in a single profile definition or by writing structured query language directly.
The promotions themselves can follow complicated interaction paths, defined with a graphical flow-chart interface. The flow chart can split an audience based on logical conditions or random samples. Each split can be assigned different marketing materials or treatments. These can be e-mail, Web pages, faxes, personalized letters or other materials which are all stored in the Attune component database.
Attune provides tools to create HTML forms that capture survey answers and post them directly to the database. These forms can be sent as e-mail or used in a Web page, and can include embedded if/then logic to present different messages to different individuals. The system can also generate a unique ID or Web address that is captured with a response to identify the individual responding to a promotion. Users can substitute their own Web page or e-mail creation tools if they prefer.
One flow chart can include multiple cycles of outbound messages and customer replies. Execution is controlled by a scheduler which allows the system to respond to customer actions quickly, though not interactively.
Attune provides standard reports on promotion results, based on measures defined by the user and drawing on the cost information entered during the promotion setup. Information, such as revenues, can be incorporated if it is imported from external systems. In addition, the system can display correlations between activities that are not directly linked - such as a chart showing television ads vs. Web responses received by day. Users are provided with the Crystal Info reporting tool to do additional analysis, although any SQL-based query product would work. Data is stored in either the Oracle or SQL Server relational database.
The Attune system runs on a Windows NT server. Large installations could use separate servers for the application, data objects and database. Users access the software through any standard Web browser, which is especially important to allow suppliers, agencies and other partners to participate in marketing processes.
Pricing is based on $5,000 per named user, although users who only need to review and approve projects can be registered for a $1,000 license. People can receive e-mail notifications of tasks and respond with status updates without any license at all. E-mail lists must be entered directly into the Attune database which cannot currently use existing corporate directories.
The product was launched in October, 1999. It had six pilot installations at that time and has sold another half-dozen since then.
David M. Raab is a consultant specializing in the evaluation and selection of marketing systems. He is based near Philadelphia. His e-mail address is email@example.com.