Steve would like to thank Greg Hennessy, Quaero senior marketing consultant, for contributing this month's column.

The demands on marketing departments to deliver increasing numbers of customers, leads, and orders with ever tightening budgets and shorter deadlines is the motivation behind the movement for high performance marketing. The appropriate application of technology is necessary to significantly improve marketing performance and marketing automation (MA) software is a central element of marketing departments wanting to incorporate technology. How do you know if your marketing department is ready to benefit from MA software? What are the issues to consider?

Define the Data. An MA application cannot help your organization if your data is not in a defined structure. This sounds obvious, but some organizations have moved too fast to adopt MA applications without having their data in order. This impatience causes implementation delays, project false starts as well as user adoption issues.

Organize the Data. Some MA applications can query and aggregate multiple data sources and data types from mainframe flat files and Excel spreadsheets to various databases. Using too many diverse data sources to generate marketing programs is impractical because of poor query performance and difficult data management issues. A consistent view of marketing data from only a few sources will streamline segmentation and selection and increase MA user satisfaction and adoption.

Qualify the Data. Quality data starts with having proper people in place charged with improving data quality. Necessary analysis of each data source will determine the fitness of the data through: 1) Address standardization and correction, 2) Change of address processing, and 3) Integrated valid value filters and anomaly reports during data load. Steps to make the data more reliable will not only increase user adoption of MA tools, but also reduce mistakes, costs and increase response rates.

Enhance the Data. Data richness or usefulness is also an important criterion to determine if your company is ready for MA. If all your customer data is currently in one or two marketing files or tables, an MA application may not be what you need at this time. This is not because of user adoption issues or implementation issues. Instead, it is about maturity of the marketing organization and getting the greatest benefit from MA. Before you select an MA tool, enhance your data and incorporate additional data including: orders, contacts, service calls, field visits, demographics, firmographics and survey data.

Append External Data. Part of the requirements to append external data is to have in place a name and address consolidation system to perform house holding or individual matching. For business-to-business or consumer marketers, the marketing system should determine if a customer or prospect responded to a certain offer or promotion. The system should also determine if a Web registration matches with an existing customer or household. If your organization cannot perform the above matching, address this issue before you implement MA.

Create Supportive Systems. MA applications do not require an elaborate technical infrastructure. These systems usually require an MA application server, Web server (for thin client applications) and a database server with the marketing mart and application meta data. The MA client interface is usually Web based, though there are still some thick client applications in the marketplace. The supported platforms can be Windows or UNIX based. Windows platforms are now an option as they have become much more powerful. The supported databases usually include almost all databases via ODBC with a number of databases supported natively. Native database support is important in MA tools for improved segmentation performance. Most organizations can support the above technical architecture easily. The most important element is to have technical personnel available, especially strong database administrator support for database tuning.

Incorporate the Right People. The human element is the most critical factor for a successful MA rollout. The targeted users of MA often are marketing managers or marketing analysts. This can be a problem, since marketers may not have intimate knowledge of the data and may not be adept at developing queries. Concepts such as greater than >, less than or equal to <=, nulls, IN, or Not IN can be daunting to a marketing user. If the target users are marketers unfamiliar with working directly with data, then your organization is probably not yet ready to roll out MA.

The other MA user is commonly very technical. Though technical users can pick up MA applications quickly, these resources often are not comfortable as the primary user. These users are modelers or programmers, currently writing code or developing their own SQL queries. The structured segmentation processes, the graphical user interface, the hidden logic and the specific data access methods of MA tools can confuse and slow down a technical user accustomed to developing and executing their own code.

The optimum configuration of the user community is a combination of non-technical and technical marketers.

Develop Supportive Process. Besides having the data, systems and people in place, there are a number of core marketing processes necessary for any marketing system. These processes must be migrated to the MA system. There are business processes to define offers, creative packages, necessary tracking codes, segments for output, auditing and rules for applying standard and departmental suppressions. These suppressions include "do not call," "do not mail," "in default" and other important rules to eliminate contacts that cannot or should not be promoted. Contact management rules must be defined and applied to manage the number of times an individual can be contacted through various channels: e-mail, direct mail or telemarketing. MA applications can easily generate segments and lists, but people and processes are still required to encode them, check the lists, and approve and clear them. If your organization does not have these and other processes in place, be prepared to put them in place with the new MA application.

Three Typical Environments for MA Implementations

It is unlikely that you are considering acquiring a MA application without having some marketing system in place currently. Most likely, your organization is moving from one of the following three existing marketing systems. Each environment has a different level of readiness for the move to MA.

  • Existing System with Mainframe ComputingThe form-based legacy marketing system is the most challenging environment to replace with a MA system. The data has to be modeled and migrated often from flat files to a data mart with business rules hidden in legacy programs and code that must be extracted from the underlying code and put into templates, functions, or other objects for the new MA system. The user community, familiar with working in a form-based system, will have to advance their knowledge and skill level to better understand their data and to use basic query logic. The cost savings incurred from these migrations can be significant; the pain can be as well. These migrations require significant system build, configuration and template development as well as the addition of technical marketers.

  • IT Marketing Analyst-Driven SystemThe IT or technical marketing analyst driven system is the second most difficult system from which to migrate. Technical analyst environments are driven by the skill and knowledge of the individual analyst. Technical analysts often loosely follow standards or follow them according to the individual analyst's interpretation and tend to store datasets everywhere for their programs. This combination of the proliferation of data, hidden business rules, and lack of controls in the technical analyst environment makes migrations to MA challenging. These environments require a flexible MA tool that can accommodate this variability until the data, business rules and processes are standardized.

  • Adapted Marketing SystemThe adapted marketing system is the most straightforward environment to migrate to a MA application. The data is centralized in a marketing data mart or in a few data sources. The marketers run their own segmentation schemes so they are familiar with their data and with defining or at least executing queries, typically with a custom application or a query and reporting tool with predefined filters over an underlying marketing database. The marketer accesses the customer data directly and produces segments, cells and output lists. The migration of the adapted marketing system is a matter of moving the existing rules to the new MA system and pointing to the existing database.

If you do not have the data, systems, people or processes in place, it does not mean you can never benefit from MA. MA implementations not only support high performance marketing and improved marketing efficiency but are great impetus for organizational and departmental change. There are professional consulting agencies that can help map out the data, technology, processes and organizational changes required for integrating MA and other marketing technologies to enhance marketing performance. Your marketing department may not be ready for MA today, but that can change quickly when a supportive environment is put in place.

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