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Honing a Sharper Image

Honing a Sharper Image

Electronic marketing efforts help identify low-hanging fruit.

The sharp two-edged sword of the Internet age: You can now stay razor-close to your customers electronically, either through your Web site or e-mail. But what you may think of as a product announcement could be interpreted by your customers as spam.

Still, the payoff is obvious. The Internet lets you deliver specific, targeted messages to customers and prospects efficiently. It even has a built-in feedback mechanism. But each group's needs are different, and targeting the right information to the right group takes more than guesswork on the behalf of your marketing team.

Keeping track of what boils down to everybody's likes and dislikes is no small challenge. A new niche of software, dubbed marketing automation tools, is evolving out of sales-force automation tools to offer better ways of tracking the results of Web advertising, e-mail campaigns and even the administrative details of traditional ad campaigns. These tools are variously designed to manage electronic marketing campaigns and measure the success of those campaigns, as well as electronically organise marketing materials such as brochures and presentations so that they are readily available via the corporate intranet. Some of these marketing automation tools can even be configured to keep tabs on the competition by using intelligent agents to crawl competitors' Web sites.

Though they vary by the scope of the jobs they tackle, these tools work similarly in that they operate as front-office components, integrating with corporate Web servers, e-mail servers and databases to collect and disperse customer data. Typically, the tools run as Unix or Microsoft Windows NT application servers, with Windows or Java running on client desktops. For CIOs interested in aiding their companies' marketing efforts, they're a worthwhile topic of discussion at this early stage of the market.

A Super Market

Today marketing departments work much the same as they always have: Direct-mail campaigns are planned and designed by teams of marketing and sales staff, then sent to the printer and, finally, the post office. Weeks or months later, a marketing assistant may amass enough data to report on the success of a campaign. Sales leads, too, are handled individually, either being passed along via e-mail or physically handed to sales reps.

Marketing automation tools aim to modernise existing marketing methods by applying business rules to govern the way these and other tasks are carried out (see "Improving The Odds," CIO Section 2, Nov. 15, 1998). By slicing and dicing the customer database, the tools automatically segment the campaign's target audience based on parameters marketing professionals select. Once the campaign is designed and executed - via either direct mail, Web banners or e-mail - marketing folks can measure results by recording and tracking responses to the campaign. The software lets you track responses not just according to volume but also by demographics and other criteria.

Focus of the Group

Naturally, each marketing automation tool has its own strengths. San Mateo, Calif.-based Rubric Inc. and Los Altos, Calif.-based Annuncio Software Inc., for instance, say their tool suites let marketing professionals define and execute campaigns from their desktops so that IS doesn't have to write e-mail scripts for electronic campaigns (which isn't to say there aren't integration challenges, which are discussed below). Rubric's tool uses a graphical program editor to lead marketing professionals through the task of defining media channels, creating special offers and promotions, managing customer lists and generating instruction lists for service bureaus, such as printing houses.

One marketing company that looked at Annuncio Live - due for commercial release at the end of this quarter - is Miller/Huber Relationship Marketing in San Francisco. The agency needs real-time campaign analysis to help its clients determine the best combination and frequency of Web-based marketing campaigns.

"Our goal is to help clients test several different [marketing] models to determine the most effective model," explains former Miller/Huber associate Matt Ridings. "[The client] might have six different banners posted on six different Web sites and find that the majority of traffic is really coming from just one or two of those banners." By adjusting the campaign to run the most viewed banners more frequently, for example, clients get a bigger return on their ad dollars, Ridings reasons.

Managing sales leads is another task these tools aim to automate. "Because sales leads come from so many sources, you can't always rely on a human to follow through," says Susan Habernigg, former director of sales development for Vantive Corp., which is currently beta testing Annuncio Live. Vantive makes its own sales-force automation software, but the Santa Clara, Calif., developer is specifically interested in integrating Annuncio's tool for its lead tracking capabilities.

Typically, leads have to be collected from a number of sources, such as corporate Web sites, trade shows, phone calls and salespeople themselves. These leads must then be distributed to the appropriate salesperson, who in turn must follow up on them until they become sales or dead ends. Lead management is the primary focus for Lexington, Mass.-based MarketSoft Corp., which expects to deliver its first product by June.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Magnifi Inc., on the other hand, targets the sane organisation of marketing materials, another task ripe for automation. The 2-year-old company started out as a document management company, offering software for storing audio and video as well as text (see "In Search of Multimedia," CIO Section 1, Oct. 1, 1998). "Unlike other parts of an organisation, marketing deals primarily with unstructured data, such as white papers, brochures, logos, commercials, business presentations and Web advertisements. Companies need a way to manage all this creative content to deliver a consistent brand message," says David Dubbs, senior marketing director at Magnifi. Future versions of its software will incorporate more workflow and campaign automation, he adds.

Arguably the most valuable aspect of marketing automation tools, however, is their reporting and analysis capabilities. "Everybody cares about results, but getting to those results has always been a challenge," says Monica Nester, Annuncio's senior vice president of marketing. "After a campaign is finished, there's the usual scurry to see how many and what kind of responses came in." A component of the Annuncio Live suite is designed to let marketing professionals check ongoing metrics by querying the system while campaigns are still in progress. Similarly, Mountain View, Calif.-based MarketFirst's product, which started shipping last year, has been updated to include pre-fab reports for measuring survey responses and summarising customer profiles and campaign results.

Finally, there's also the acknowledgment that companies need to market themselves because of competition. Several tools, including Magnifi's Marketbase and MarketSoft's forthcoming software, can be set up to deploy intelligent agents using keywords to scan the Web for media coverage, competitors' press releases and industry news.

Knowledge Doesn't Come Cheap

Even with all these advantages, there are still obstacles to deploying marketing automation tools. For one thing, they aren't cheap. Annuncio's product will start at $US 100,000 for a base system and for software, according to the company. Likewise, MarketFirst's product ranges in price from $US 150,000 to $US 250,000, depending on which modules are purchased.

"Cost is definitely a downside. There's no way a 200-person company is going to be able to justify this software," says Dara Pond, Internet marketing manager for BEA Systems Inc., a middleware developer in San Jose, Calif. A former programmer who used to write her own scripts for generating mass e-mail campaigns, Pond is currently in the process of evaluating several marketing suites.

Sticker shock isn't the only factor that may keep CIOs cautious about investing in these tools. There are also time and complexity. Because the tools require tight integration with databases, Web servers and e-mail servers, getting them installed and running and then training IS staff and marketing professionals on how to support and use these systems can become a time-consuming challenge. Aside from adding to the IS workload, marketing automation tools require marketing teams to do a substantial amount of homework before they're able to get good use out of them. Depending on the application, marketers will need to compile customers' purchasing preferences and enter them into a database. Likewise, they'll need to define business rules to govern how they'll track responses from direct mail faxes, phone calls, e-mails and Web pages before meaningful reports on campaign results can be tabulated.

"These tools are probably a little too sophisticated for most companies right now," says Michael Bernstein, research analyst with GartnerGroup Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "Companies can use [the tools] tactically as a way to keep track of customers and promotions, but most companies haven't gathered enough customer data to use these tools strategically." It's also still difficult to identify the multiple relationships you might have with a customer. Few companies are able to confirm that customers who respond to marketing online and customers who physically buy products through retail outlets might be the same people, for example. "Not many companies know that Joe who visited the company Web site is the same Joe who visited the store and bought goods at point-of-sale," Bernstein says. "For the tools to be really effective, companies need to look at customer data from all perspectives." Finally, there's the bugaboo of any computerisation project - making sure your initial data is correct so that you avoid garbage in, garbage out.

"Without the right data to analyse," notes Bernstein, "marketers could wind up automating a bad campaign."Claudia Graziano is a San Francisco-based freelance writer who covers the Internet and technology. She can be reached at cgraziano@earthlink.net.

INSTANT NETWORKING

Sun Wishes, Network Dreams

Plug in, turn on and go

With networks rapidly becoming the nerve centre of an organisation, the work environment of the future will have to support more employees who telecommute, are stationed remotely or in satellite offices and who increasingly use handheld devices. In this situation, CIOs will have to be genies - folding their arms, nodding their heads and blinking their eyes - to keep up with the wishes of their CEOs and everyone else in the company when it comes to increasing the power and expanding the capabilities of their networks - not to mention maintaining their simplicity and useability. Sun Microsystems Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., has developed a technology, aptly named Jini, that greatly enhances and simplifies the network.

The power of Sun's Jini is manifold. It links software applications and hardware devices (including disk drives, file servers, peripherals, digital cameras and cell phones) that are preprogrammed to let users add them to or remove them from the network.

For example, a device can be connected to a TCP/IP-based Ethernet by plugging it into a traditional jack; it will instantly register itself on the network and announce its services. Users can locate and access whatever devices are on the network via Jini's lookup service, which Sun describes as an electronic bulletin board. "Remote method invocation" technology provides the means for Jini to call up remote interfaces so that the devices can communicate and work together. Sun says Jini does not require a new network interface and runs on whatever network infrastructure or protocol already exists in an organisation.

"Jini is intended to address the environment of mobility and myriad new devices that have to interact dynamically," says Mike Clary, Sun's Jini general manager located in Aspen, Colo. According to Clary, Jini simplifies today's complex operating systems and computing environments by removing the need for driver installation and configuration. This translates to greater productivity, cost savings and ease of use.

Because Jini is Java-based, it is compatible with any Java platform. Sun says that users can create their own systems with Jini by customising both their software and hardware configurations in order to meet specific requirements instead of having to rely on a general-purpose system. In this manner, Jini can react quicker to end users' needs, in contrast to today's networks.

Code for Jini is available free on the Internet now. By 2000, when compatible products are expected, life on the network could be as intuitive as invoking a genie.

- Meridith Levinson

LEADING EDGE

Adding Notes to Files

Granted, the requisition order for software utilities usually doesn't go as far as the CIO for approval. And it's rare that a utility grabs our attention. But JAM Software's FileNotes sounds like a winner. It's kind of like digital Post-it notes - it integrates into Microsoft Windows 95 or 98 and lets users attach notes to any file that can be seen using Windows Explorer. Notes stay with the file anytime it's moved, copied or renamed. With FileNotes, users can tag a file with information about what's in the file so it doesn't have to be opened (useful for those who never remember what's inside a document) or they can add information that they don't want to put within the file itself.

FileNotes provides three views: Within Explorer, files that have attached notes will be indicated in red. Clicking on a highlighted object will bring up the associated note for editing. Within FileNotes itself, a list of all files with associated notes appears. Orphaned notes (that is, notes that were attached to a file on a floppy disk that's no longer in the drive) are indicated as well. There's also a Search View for entering key words. FileNotes costs $US 22, whether on a floppy or downloaded from the Web. For more information, call 817 427-2319 or visit www.flash.net/~jmosier.

Look Ma, No Hands

We have hands-free phones - why not hands-free computers? Xybernaut Corp.'s Mobile Assistant IV computer hangs on a user's belt, while a colour VGA display is attached to a helmet. When worn on a belt, the VGA monitor can be used for notetaking. Also included is a one-pound battery pack and voice-recognition software, enabling users to work hands-free in industries such as discrete and process manufacturing, aircraft and heavy equipment maintenance, inventory management, insurance claims adjustment and telecommunications. As an alternative, a flat-panel VGA display can also be worn on the forearm.

The Mobile Assistant includes a 233MHz Intel processor, up to 128MB of RAM and a 4.3GB hard drive, two PC Card slots, standard ports and a built-in mouse.

It measures 7.5 inches by 4.6 inches by 2.5 inches and weighs about two pounds.

Microsoft Windows 98 is included, but the Windows NT or SCO Unix operating systems are also available. Pricing starts at $US 4,995. For more information, call 703 631-6925 or visit www.xybernaut.com.

Three-Way PC

For your road warriors who use a pc any number of ways - for presentations, for data input or for writing - Sharp Electronics Corp.'s Mobilon TriPad PC strives to adjust to all users in all situations. Running the Microsoft Windows CE operating system, the 3.2-pound device can be used in three modes: "easel," "slate" (like a pad of paper) or "clamshell" (traditional), depending on the situation. It features a 9.4-inch colour screen and a keyboard that is 87 percent the size of traditional keyboards.

Bundled applications include PC File Viewer (for opening desktop PC files and e-mail attachments), Citrix ICA Client (thin-client software for linking to corporate networks), an image editor for optimising the viewing of graphics and backup software that lets users save data onto flash memory cards. The TriPad also runs all of Microsoft's Pocket line of applications (from PowerPoint to Internet Explorer); custom applications can also be created for the device.

Measuring 11.4 inches by 8.9 inches by 0.96 inches, the TriPad also includes a 33.6Kbps fax-modem. Sharp claims the battery will live for 12 to 16 hours. Retail pricing is $US 999. For more information, call 800 237-4277 or visit www.sharp-usa.com.

Digging into Databases

Does your data warehouse resemble the last scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Citizen Kane? It's great to have all that information but not if you can't get at it. Digital Archaeology Corp. (great name, even if it's an oxymoron) has created a database for what it calls "knowledge discovery." The Discovery Suite is designed to allow fast, ad hoc database exploration across multiple data sources and data types and is used for building data marts and prototyping enterprisewide data warehouses.

Users create what DA calls "virtual information warehouses" using the components of the suite: the server (where operational, legacy data or data from other sources can be loaded), Digital Explorer (a query and mining tool) and Digital Excavator (a rapid prototyping tool). By using facets of artificial intelligence, users can quickly create queries for information. New information can be added easily because of the dynamic facets of the suite. And according to DA, the database can restructure itself to optimise performance and disk usage, thus reducing the need for a full-time database administrator and, ultimately, maintenance costs.

The server operates on Windows NT. The Digital Explorer client can run on Windows 95, 98 or NT. Pricing starts at $ US 20,000 for a single-user system and $ US 50,000 for five concurrent users. For more information, call 913 438-9444 or visit www.digarch.com.

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