1997 Dec 01

Persimmon IT TargIT
Intelligent Interactions dbCommerce
Engage Technologies Engage.Journal

David M. Raab
DM News
December, 1997

It’s easy to forget how immature the Internet really is. One jarring reminder is the amount of software that performs only one function among the many needed to conduct serious marketing. While some vendors offer integrated solutions, these single-function products show that other developers still believe there are major problems that no one else has solved.

Here are three products that each support a different facet of Web-based marketing.

TargIT (Persimmon IT, 800-546-7242; www.persimmon.com) bills itself as making possible “real” online direct marketing–complete with advanced segmentation, test/control experiments, and detailed response analysis. In practice, this means the vendor has linked a conventional campaign manager to a tool that generates personalized Web pages. The connection is not quite seamless, but does coordinate the two.

The first step is to use the campaign manager against a traditional marketing database, assigning customers or prospects to segments within campaigns. TargIT’s campaign manager uses a tree-based interface that allows complex queries, test/control splits, selections based on model scores, and automatic deduplication across multi-level segmentations. Each segment is assigned a specific communication, which could be a product offer or promotion piece. TargIT’s campaign manager is the Customer Portfolio Manager system developed by Customer Management Services, a database marketing and consulting firm that is now part of KnowledgeBase Marketing.

The next step is to define how the campaigns will be executed on the Web. TargIT does this in a system called Web Communications Suite (WCS), which reads the campaign manager’s list of campaigns, segments and communications. WCS lets the user define a block of HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) code for each communication. (HTML is the combination of text, graphics and formatting commands that determines what is actually displayed on the Web.) If the communication is simply an image, users can specify the .gif file and have TargIT generate the HTML code; otherwise, users must write the HTML themselves. Eventually, Persimmon expects to generate HTML for additional types of communications.

The final step is linking the communications to actual Web site. This is done by inserting special HTML extensions called “place holders” at appropriate places in the site page definitions. These place holders are roughly analogous to personalization variables such as {first name} which are inserted into a mail merge letter. The user builds a list in WCS of the communications to be displayed when each place holder is encountered. This list may specify different communications for viewers from different campaign segments. Because the place holders only point to the WCS database, marketers can add new communications, segments and campaigns without changing the Web site itself.

When a campaign is running, WCS looks viewers up in a “population database” as they enter the Web site. This database holds a list of viewer IDs and the segments each was assigned by the campaign manager. Since the assignments are created in the campaign manager, they do not change as online transactions occur. The vendor is exploring methods to allow real-time resegmentation.

WCS can also return segment assignments for individuals who are not found in the database, for viewers who enter a promotion or response code, or for anonymous viewers whose behavior has been captured on a “cookie” tracking device. The system can also pass specific variables–say, a customer name for personalization–from the underlying marketing database.

TargIT also lets users create HTML tags that capture events such as selection of a particular Web page or choice of a menu option. This allows the system to build “session” databases that are more concise than the standard Web logs, which record every action taken on a site. These databases can be used for response analysis or fed to the main marketing database for segmentation and other applications.

TargIT was introduced by Persimmon in September 1997. The system has no existing installations. It is priced at $95,000 for the software plus $25,000 to $100,000 based on the number of unique customer IDs in the underlying database. The current version requires the Netscape Internet Server and Oracle relational database, although it can talk to any Web browser.

dbCommerce (Intelligent Interactions, 703-706-9500, www.dbcommerce.com) focuses on precise control of the products shown to different customers on custom catalog pages. Instead of campaigns that define how to treat a customer segment, marketers create rules that control display of individual products. These rules, which can be different for different segments, include the priority assigned to each product, start and end dates for product display, control on the total number of times each product is displayed, the number of times a product can be shown to any viewer, and the maximum and minimum interval in days, hours and minutes between showings. When a viewer enters a Web site, the system ranks all the available products according to the rules and sends instructions to display the highest-priority items. The actual display is handled outside the system by software with dynamic page creation, such as Open Market or iCat.

Viewers are assigned to segments based on another set of rules that can reference data loaded from an external marketing database. Segments are assigned in a batch process, so they do not change as Web interactions occur.

dbCommerce was introduced in September 1997 and is just signing up its initial users. It is priced at about $30,000 and may also be offered on a service bureau basis.

Engage.Journal (Engage Technologies, 978-684-3884; www.engagetech.com) helps Web site owners capture and share data on user interactions. The system lets marketers assign interest categories to individual web pages and then develop a profile of individual users by tracking the pages they view over multiple sessions. The vendor provides a standard set of interest categories, to allow sharing of profiles among site operators and advertisers. The system was introduced in early 1997 and has 3 customers. Engage.Journal costs about $35,000 for a single server and single domain name. It is part of a suite of tools that support different aspects of Web user information capture, tracking and analysis.

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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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