Start-up Speaks Net Marketers' Language

Internet software start-up Personify Inc. last week launched Personify Essentials, a software-and-services package that has created best-customer profiles for at least three online merchants startling enough to convince them to adjust their marketing strategies.

Personify Essentials reportedly finds similarities and differences in Web-site visitor groups and converts them into predictive models. Certainly not a revolutionary marketing concept, but one that's far easier said than done on a medium known for delivering mountains of interesting but mostly useless data for marketers, said Eileen Gittens, CEO of Personify, San Francisco.

“Trying to find pearls of good marketing data in an average click stream is like drinking from a fire hose,” Gittens said. “And if you treat it like a database problem, every time you get a visitor online, you've got to go to your back-end database and do a look-up. That's not practical when you've got a visitor on your site.”

Two weeks ago, push-technology company PointCast, Sunnyvale, CA, dropped a 100,000-piece test mailing in its first-ever direct mail campaign to 16 undisclosed lists that were chosen using information gained from Personify Essentials.

Using a PointCast-supplied list of desirable subscriber attributes (among them longevity and a propensity to respond to advertising), Personify executives sampled 50,000 of PointCast's database of 7 million people. The sample found that PointCast's ideal viewer is older, news-oriented and not technically sophisticated.

“As a result, we did things like choose lists with strong news affinities and some lists of senior citizens, something we may not have thought to test in the past,” said Jaleh Bisharat, PointCast's senior vice president of marketing. PointCast plans to roll out its direct mail campaign shortly after Labor Day.

Kate Delhagen, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, gave Personify high marks for designing a system that lets marketers segment their own Internet audience rather than having to rely on information-systems professionals for Web-site reports.

“One of the challenges that faces any Internet development team is getting the marketing guys and the IT guys to speak the same language,” Delhagen said. “When the marketer drives the segmentation scheme, they can identify their best customers and craft a dynamic site in response. Then the site itself becomes a direct marketing offer just by being more relevant.”

Case in point: Online wine seller Virtual Vineyards found its core audience is far from the aficionados it envisioned. At least half of the most frequent buyers at are novices. As novices spend a disproportionate amount of time on educational, nonselling Web pages that it would be tempting to neglect or remove, the new finding will heavily influence Virtual Vineyards' site design.

“It's a lot of work to put up educational pages and to provide information about the wineries as opposed to the wine itself,” said Cyndy Ainsworth, director of marketing at Virtual Vineyards. “One of the questions is always, 'Is it worth it?' We discovered that if someone looks at a winery page, they are in fact more likely to buy.”

Virtual Vineyards also discovered that people who are interested in German wines are likely to buy Spanish wines and people who are interested in French wines are more likely to consider Italian wines.

“If someone is looking at an Italian wine and I want to choose something to present next time around, I probably ought to choose a French wine as opposed to a German wine. The affinities are different,” Ainsworth said. “Ultimately, we'll be able to tailor the presentation of information at the site in real time based on behavior patterns.”

Another Personify client, online technology bookseller (, discovered that its top customers come in two types: One buys and leaves quickly, the other spends a great deal of time wandering the site and gathering information before making a purchase.

“We learned that people within a segment can behave very differently, and, therefore, you need to provide the options on the [Web] page to accommodate both types of customers,” said Robert Cudd, vice president of marketing at

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