Marketing administration, marketing resource management, enterprise marketing management, marketing operations management - whatever you call it, the notion of specialized software to help run marketing departments is increasingly popular. However, as typically happens with a new software category, the actual functions are unclear to many people. Vendors, of course, push for definitions that mirror the capabilities of their products, but users too are still trying to decide where to draw the boundaries between marketing management and other, overlapping systems.

Functions

The final answer will vary for different organizations and most likely continue to evolve over time; yet a close look at more than a dozen of the most prominent marketing management products at least gives a picture of what the vendors themselves feel is included in marketing management systems. The functions include five reasonably distinct applications, the first two of which (in rough order of frequency) are described here.

Project Management

Project management is probably the most fundamental feature of marketing management systems. The basic goal, after all, is to help marketers do their jobs more effectively, and most of a marketer's job is driven by projects. Typical capabilities include setting up project teams; defining, assigning and monitoring completion of project tasks; and specifying workflow for reviews and approvals. Most systems also provide collaboration tools such as shared workspaces, document folders, bulletin boards, online conferences and messaging. Some extend to resource definition, vendor management, time and cost tracking. A few include sophisticated scheduling functions such as task dependencies, critical path analysis and automatic adjustment for missed deadlines.

This list of features will sound familiar to anyone who has looked at project management and collaboration systems in general. Indeed, there are scores of such products available, mostly focused on workgroups but some with departmental and enterprise scope. Although marketers do have a few specialized needs in these areas, the project management and collaboration components of marketing management systems are very similar to the features of general-purpose products.

Content, Document and Digital Asset Management

Purists would argue that the categories of content, document and digital asset management are quite distinct. In fact, they do usually refer to somewhat different things. Broadly speaking, content management deals with components that may be assembled and reused in different ways, such as pages within Web sites. Document management mostly relates to complete documents, rather than components, and includes specialized workflow applications to process masses of similar documents such as insurance claims forms. Digital asset management encompasses non-text files such as video and graphics images. It is sometimes focused on specialized applications for controlled distribution of marketing content such as brand logos and advertisements.

However, all of these applications share basic functions to import, store, share, modify, review, approve, distribute and otherwise control the life cycle of digital materials. True, there are some capabilities that make sense in only some contexts. For example, viewing of thumbnails is mostly relevant to images. Conversely, automated extraction of document meaning can only apply to text. Still, these applications have enough in common that the distinctions between the categories are vanishing as vendors extend their products to cover them all. For simplicity, this column will refer to the whole set as content management.

As with project management and collaboration, there is a huge number of content management systems on the market. The count is literally in the hundreds, although most are aimed at Web site development. Marketers do have several specialized needs that make it somewhat easier to distinguish marketing management products from generic systems. In particular, marketers must often combine wide access to materials - among corporate departments, overseas offices, ad agencies, dealers, field agents and others - with precise control over who can see each item and what they can do with it. Marketers also sometimes need specialized applications to automatically create different versions of the same basic materials, such as different size advertisements, using rule-based systems to ensure brand design standards are maintained. Marketers have additional needs for sophisticated document review, revisions, version control, approvals, deployment and expiration, but sophisticated users in other areas have basically the same requirements. Thus, these capabilities are not unique to marketing management systems.

Project management and content management are themselves closely related. Marketing projects nearly always involve creation, review and sharing of multiple documents. In many cases, such as advertising development, the output of the project is itself a piece of "content." Therefore, it's no surprise that nearly all marketing management systems provide both sets of functions and have them tightly integrated with each other. This tight integration is one of the reasons companies might choose to purchase a specialized marketing management system even though they already have general-purpose project and content management systems in place.

Unlike project and content management, the remaining three marketing management applications are found in a minority of marketing management systems. We'll look at those next month.

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