2007 Nov 01
Internet Systems Compete for Marketers’ Dollars
David M. Raab
DM Review
November 2007

The world of enterprise marketing software has been pretty stable recently. A handful of specialist vendors have survived the market consolidation of the past six years—Unica, shop Aprimo, diagnosis SAS, there and Teradata are pretty much the only ones left with major market presence. In addition, enterprise software vendors Siebel/Oracle, SAP and Infor have strong offerings tightly integrated with their larger product suites. The only additional contenders are Alterian and SmartFocus, which both use specialized analytical database engines to gain major advantages in price, performance and ease of use. Yet even Alterian and SmartFocus are far from new: both share technical roots dating to the 1990’s.

Of course, these vendors continue to compete strenuously and to enhance their products. But much of their focus is on richer functionality for the marketers who are their traditional customers. This leads to improvements in areas like analytics, campaign administration and usability. These are valuable but not fundamentally different from what the systems did before.

But marketers looking for something new need not despair. Vendors from outside the traditional categories are also competing for their software dollars. These vendors provide services dedicated primarily to Internet marketing. They fall into three major categories:

– email providers like Responsys and Silverpop, plus divisions of traditional marketing services providers including Acxiom, Experian, Harte-Hanks, Epsilon and Merkle. Their primary business is mass outbound email campaigns but they increasingly provide one-to-one customer services like order confirmations and reminder notices.

– Web analytics systems like Omniture, CoreMetrics and Visual Sciences/WebSideStory. These track the behavior of Web visitors. They are moving beyond analysis of past events into active customer management features such as ad targeting and site personalization.

– Customer management applications like RightNow, NetSuite, Salesforece.com and Entellium, plus more specialized demand generation systems like Eloqua, Vtrenz and Manticore. These mimic traditional Customer Relationship Management software but with a primary focus on Web and email interactions.

Nearly all of these systems are offered as hosted services rather than conventional on-premise software. But this is no longer a very important distinction. The hosted model is increasingly accepted and most traditional marketing software is also available today in some hosted format.

A more important distinction is that the Internet systems are based on a fundamentally broader view of the customer life cycle. Traditional marketing systems were originally built to generate mailing lists for outbound promotions. By contrast, Internet systems have always dealt with one-on-one customer interactions in addition to outbound promotions. This is simply the result of the Internet itself: customers visit a Web site to place orders and receive post-sales support, not simply to research product information. Similarly, they expect email confirmations and email replies to their email inquiries, even if all the company really wants to do is send them email promotions. So Internet systems have always needed to support individual interactions.

Generating promotion lists is a batch process that requires complex segmentation of large files. This has led the traditional marketing systems to develop technology optimized for analytical processing. Dealing with customer interactions requires a more transaction-oriented approach: real-time or near-real-time response; normalized rather than analytical data structures; and rigorous standards for uptime, latency, error handling, data integrity, and other service level considerations.

Managing interactions also requires more efficient administrative functions. When a system runs a dozen or two marketing campaigns each year, each campaign can be a hand-crafted custom project. But a system that manages thousands or millions of personalized interactions needs highly automated business rules, content distribution, change management, performance monitoring, and results reporting. These ensure that the cost of personalizing each customer treatment is acceptable and that changes can be made quickly as necessary to adapt to new conditions and emerging customer behaviors.

Naturally, the Internet systems vary widely in how well they meet these requirements. Some are limited to fairly simple customer treatments, while others are quite sophisticated. The Internet vendors also tend to be weaker at predictive analytics than traditional marketing systems. This is the disadvantage of having a fundamentally operational rather than analytical architecture. The strongest Internet vendors recognize this and are aggressively working to improve their capabilities. In fact, most of major acquisitions by Internet marketing software vendors during 2007 were related to targeting and customer analysis (Omniture/TouchClarity, Acxiom Digital/Kefta, Experian/Hitwise, Responsys/Loyalty Matrix, Silverpop/Vtrenz).

The strengths of the Internet vendors by no means guarantee them success at expanding into enterprise marketing domain. The traditional marketing vendors remain fierce competitors and continue to expand their own Internet marketing capabilities. The major traditional vendors all now provide significant email solutions, including in most cases hosted delivery services. Most also offer some flavor of real-time interaction management, although the details (and number of live implementations) vary considerably by vendor. Streamlining campaign set-up and providing more robust administrative features were major priorities even before the Internet systems entered the competitive mix.

As always, the right solution for your company will depend on your particular circumstances. What’s important is to recognize that the choices in marketing systems extend beyond the traditional enterprise marketing automation vendors to include these other sets of products. Since the Internet plays an increasingly important role in nearly every company’s marketing activities, it’s worth looking closely at systems that were originally built to meet its unique requirements.

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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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