Marketing automation: Making direct marketing smarter

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How do you gauge the evolving impact of marketing automation on direct marketing efforts? By all accounts, the field is maturing, not unlike where customer relationship management was for sales a decade ago.

And like a decade ago with CRM, marketers are faced with so many marketing automation choices, that making the right choice can be daunting.

“Marketers are trying a whole bunch of options,” said Russell Glass, CEO of business targeting and ad network company Bizo Inc. “Marketers have to try three, four or five new activities to find something that works effectively today. But marketing automation is critical in today's world. You need some platform to scale, compare and contrast.”

The options are plentiful. At the top end are complex solutions from such major marketing automation players as Eloqua and Marketo Inc. Last month, Eloqua introduced its Eloqua10 solution that, courtesy of its revenue analytics engine, helps users predict how marketing and sales decisions drive future revenue.

With a focus on revenue, Eloqua and other vendors say they're offering “revenue performance management” solutions, not just marketing automation. Eloqua claims to have 50,000 users worldwide.

The marketing automation need is so palpable that even the government is getting involved in its development.

VueLogic, a 3-year-old startup in Atlanta, has received about $650,000 in National Science Foundation grants to develop and commercialize solutions for small businesses. VueLogic's technology analyzes databases for smarter segmentation, resulting in more precise marketing actions.

“The National Science Foundation looked to us to solve a unique problem,” said Tom Gordon, CEO at VueLogic. “That was to take multiple data sources and put them together in such a way so marketers can address the right individuals and businesses. We are a tech firm that helps companies earn more revenue from clients they already have.”

The NSF's rationale for its grants dovetail neatly with how the marketing automation industry already represents itself: “The ability ... to identify the consumption preferences of customers and offer those items during an interaction increases the likelihood that a customer will purchase the offered item due to its relevance,” the foundation said on its Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships website.

“Such expansion of customer spending will assist organizations in increasing inventory turnover, improving sales and overall economic health,” NSF concluded.

Forrester Research has estimated that there are about 40 “pure-play” marketing automation vendors offering solutions of varying comprehensiveness. But the landscape can be much simpler. Formerly single-focused vendors are aggregating more capabilities through partnerships or acquisitions.

They include e-mail service providers Silverpop, which has added remarketing, behavioral analytics and lead management tools; e-mail company Responsys Inc., blending in cross-channel marketing and social media capabilities; and communications technology company Cisco Systems, introducing a social monitoring and response product to augment its call-center platform.

Regardless of which approach a marketer chooses, automating the process has become critical.

Business intelligence company QlikTech uses solutions from marketing automation company Marketo to build demand for its own product, called QlikView. “In the past, prospects would respond to an offer, fill out a form and then go into this pool of people who all looked the same,” said Doug Laird, VP-global marketing at QlikTech. “As a result, marketers couldn't really decide which ones to best follow up with. There aren't enough phones in the world to reach out to everyone.”

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