1999 May 01
Imparto Imparto Web Marketing Suite
David M. Raab
DM News
May, 1999

The mark of a successful buzzword is that its meaning expands continuously. This happens because vendors in related areas feel it is an attractive label for their products.

So it should be a little worrisome to vendors of “marketing automation” software that the meaning of their chosen term has become clearer rather than more vague over the past year. Despite some promising early confusion, it now seems to be generally understood that marketing automation systems offer three specific functions related to business-to-business lead management: Web-based information capture, automated execution of multi-step contact sequences, and administration of marketing projects.

Far from managing the entire marketing and sales process, this definition does not even cover the entire job of a typical business marketer–for example, there is no help with product development, customer research, or staying awake in meetings. But it does address activities that consume a large portion of many marketers’ time and budgets.

Imparto Web Marketing Suite (Imparto Software, 650-927-1200, www.imparto.com) fits nicely within the modest definition of marketing automation. It further limits itself primarily to Web-based marketing programs.

The foundation of Imparto, and its most notable component, is a Web site builder designed to let marketers manage the contents of their sites without help from the IT staff. This is done through page templates, which make it easy to apply standard formats, enter text, add graphics, and direct navigation within the site.

Users can also create Web forms to capture information from site visitors, such as registrations or survey responses. Entries can be free-form text or predefined choices. Forms can let visitors “subscribe” to specific areas of interest, and then be automatically notified by e-mail when new content related to those interests is added. Alternately, subscribers can be presented with dynamically-generated Web pages pointing to the new content each time they visit the site.

The site builder also provides controls over the publishing process itself. Users can assign publication and expiration dates for content. They can specify who is allowed to modify a piece of content and employ a check out function to make sure only one person at a time makes changes. In addition, users can define an approval workflow with multiple checkpoints and multiple approvals per checkpoint. As content moves through the process, the system sends each approver an e-mail with a pointer to the material in question. The system stores the list of approvers in its own database, although the vendor is working on linking this to corporate e-mail directories. The workflow function is adequate for its purpose, but does not provide the task lists, due dates, dependencies, responsibility assignments, resource measurements and problem alerts of a real project management system.

Imparto page formats are limited compared with those possible in dedicated page building software. Nor can the system produce the personalized pages of a consumer-oriented product like Broadvision. But Imparto lets marketers set up an entire Web site without any knowledge of HTML, CGI or other programming languages. For many, this will be an acceptable trade-off.

Once information about a visitor has been captured by Imparto, it can be reviewed manually or posted directly to the underlying database. Data can also be added from other systems through batch imports. The Imparto database holds information at the company, individual and event levels. Users can add up to 20 custom-defined fields to company and individual records. The system provides some basic tools to merge data from multiple sources, but functions are limited.

Marketers can segment the resulting file using data on any level, although the built-in segmentation tools are limited to basic Boolean logic. Complex queries or calculations could be done using a third-party query builder or report writer.

After a segment is created, it can be used in an outbound marketing campaign. This could involve personalized e-mail, fax, direct mail or telephone messages. Messages are defined using the system’s standard content creation tools and can be stored in text or HTML formats. E-mail can also include attachments as text, HTML, Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat pdf files. The system automatically keeps a history of all files are sent to each customer. Segment definitions can be saved for repeated campaigns to the same group.

A typical e-mail campaign would include a Web form with an embedded reply address, allowing the marketer to track campaign response. The user can store budget and actual expenses at the campaign level, but not track detailed information such as fulfillment cost for different responses. Standard campaign reports list the people who responded to a campaign, the number of replies, and the distribution of responses to any questions asked. This information is updated in real time, although the system does not provide alerts or exception reports to highlight conditions requiring immediate attention. Other analysis would require a third-party report writer.

Campaigns can also include rules for automated follow-up activities. Like the original campaign output, these can be sent by e-mail, fax, telephone or direct mail. Different messages can be sent to different file segments based on information already in the database and on replies to the campaign itself. Unlike some marketing automation products, Imparto does not allow users to define a series of contacts spread out over time: follow-up activities are executed immediately when replies are received.

Data from Imparto can feed other marketing systems via batch exports. The vendor’s professional services group can create more sophisticated interfaces with external systems on a custom basis.

Imparto runs on Unix or Windows NT servers and can work with any standard relational database. Users access the software through any standard Internet browser. Pricing depends on the number of users and configuration, and ranges upward from $50,000. The system was released in May 1998 and currently has about twenty users. The company itself was started in 1995 as Tango Communications, a consultancy specializing in custom marketing systems. Most of its current clients are high-tech business-to-business marketers.

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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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