1996 Dec 01
Prime Response Vantage
Brann Software Ltd Viper

David M. Raab
DM News
December, 1996

More than tea has been brewing in England. The United Kingdom is home to two extremely interesting recent marketing database systems. Both are built to work on a master database created elsewhere–an increasingly common characteristic in a world where many companies already have a marketing database or a corporate data warehouse. In most other ways, though, these two systems could not be more different.

Vantage (Prime Response; 44-181-400-3000 [UK], 303-382-4380 [US], www.prime-response.com) uses standard relational databases and provides the tools to execute multi-channel, multi-step marketing campaigns. The system includes sophisticated segmentation and campaign definition capabilities plus a powerful job scheduler to support close integration of marketing and daily operations. A typical automated process might query a transaction database stored outside of the system, classify customers with a complex segmentation tree, and generate separate outputs to direct mail, call center and field sales systems. These outputs could be data files or direct updates to a table such as a telemarketing system calling queue.

Vantage selections are defined in a multi-level, hierarchical tree, with independent queries controlling how the file is subdivided at each level. Segments can be split using Nth samples or percentages or by assigning a maximum quantity. The user can also specify an amount of time to elapse between different steps on the segmentation tree. The system stores segment costs, keycodes, output formats, predicted response and other information, including online images of the actual promotion materials if desired.

Selections are limited to one per individual or one per household–so one tree cannot prepare multiple promotions to the same individual or select a maximum of, say, three names per business site. The system automatically stores the list of promoted customers and lets users define a “response” with a standard query. The response count is displayed with other campaign data on system screens, although other response analysis requires custom reports.

Vantage can build a conventional stand-alone marketing database by extracting, transforming and consolidating data from source systems. However, the system can also read data directly from the source systems or work with an existing marketing database or data warehouse. It adapts automatically to the structure of the underlying database and creates its own standard tables to store communications history, user-defined calculated fields, model scores and campaign information. The system includes a limited cross tab report writer but relies primarily on third-party reporting tools.

The system runs on Unix servers and graphical terminals or PCs running terminal emulation software. Initial installations run on the Oracle and DB2/PE relational databases. Other databases and server platforms, including a PC version, are planned. Pricing in the United Kingdom is based on a one-time license of about $900,000 plus 15% annual maintenance. Integration with an existing marketing database or developing of a new database might cost $100,000 to $250,000. The system was introduced in 1995 and currently has twelve installations. Prime Response is making arrangements for distribution by partners in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Viper (Brann Software Ltd, 44-117-9277-790; www.smartfocus.co.uk) is a PC-based segmentation, selection and reporting tool built on a proprietary database called Chimera. Chimera uses an inverted structure–that is, each data element is stored independently–with different compression mechanisms for different types of data. Elements with relatively few values are stored as bitmaps. The engine allows up to 1,023 data elements spread among up to seven hierarchical data levels, and is limited to 128 million records. Chimera is astoundingly fast: a 55 million record query runs in about 4 seconds, more than ten times the speed of other PC-based inverted engines. Users confirm that the system really does deliver this performance. The engine stores all types of data, including names and addresses, and in fact automatically displays an on-screen list of the selected records when a query is run. It can create “virtual” fields, such as calculation results, which act like data elements but are not physically stored on the database. Users cannot edit the database directly, although they can append new records incrementally. Records load at a rate of one to three million per hour, depending on the contents.

Viper is typically used by extracting data from a larger marketing database. Data must be loaded from a single flat file, which can be prepared from a relational database by Brann’s Asp transformation utility. Analysis, segmentation and selections are done within Viper, whose output files are used as mailing lists and to update promotion histories. Viper itself can store the list of records included in a selection.

The system has a highly graphical user interface, which lets users select records by building a query statement or by pointing at sections of graphs, maps, or cross tabs. The system has a proprietary query language with operators not found in the standard Structured Query Language (SQL) used for relational databases. Queries can also include user-defined calculations and data grouped into ranges. Independent queries can be merged by highlighting regions on diagrams of up to three intersecting circles. Specified records can be exported as a flat file containing any combination of data elements. The system does not provide multi-segment selection hierarchies, although users can append different keycodes to each cell in a cross tab and extract these simultaneously. Users can also specify a maximum quantity or Nth select for names to be selected.

Reports include a multi-level cross tab that lets the user assign separate queries or ranges to each column. Each cell contains a single value, which can be a record count or summary statistic, such as the sum of a user-defined data element. The vendor is working on a more advanced report writer and a separate multidimensional reporting tool.

Viper runs on any version of Microsoft Windows but is limited to Intel processors. The initial license for a five-user system ranges from $42,000 for under 8 million customers to $125,000 for 16 million or more. Training and any database development are additional. Annual maintenance costs 15% of the initial price. The system was introduced in 1995 and has about 35 installations. The Brann Software’s parent company, Brann Ltd., is the second largest database marketing agency in the United Kingdom. The firm is setting up arrangements with distributors in the U.S.

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David M. Raab is a Principal at Raab Associates Inc., a consultancy specializing in marketing technology and analytics. He can be reached at draab@raabassociates.com.

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