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Tech tool #2: Marketing resource management

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Tools for automating marketing certainly aren’t new. Plenty of software exists to help marketers manage lists or analyze databases of customer information. Departments also use a variety of collaborative tools, from Microsoft Project software to Lotus Notes, to keep projects on track. And then there’s customer relationship management, one of the few technologies companies continue to spend on despite the down market, in an effort to strengthen customer relations on multiple fronts.

However, the new twist is the ability to manage all these tasks, and more, with a single tool. Depending on which vendor is talking, the business is called marketing resource management (MRM), enterprise marketing management (EMM) or marketing project management (MPM).

"The largest discretionary spend in companies is often in marketing, and it’s often the least well managed," said Joe Meyer, VP-product marketing at Aprimo Inc., Indianapolis, an MRM vendor. "Marketing has sort of survived as this last great unautomated frontier."

Competition heats up

Vendors are leaping into the MRM arena. This summer, Dentsu Inc., Tokyo, announced an $11.5 million investment in Harmonic Corp., a San Francisco company. Dentsu will help deploy Harmonic’s marketing management software in Japan. Another vendor, Notara, New York, is expanding its software for managing product licensing to include other marketing tasks. Notara’s software is already used by Levi Strauss & Co., the World Wrestling Federation and other companies.

Aprimo says its marketing suite offers an "integrated marketing management platform" for everything from campaign management to planning, execution and a marketing knowledge base. Another company, KickFire Inc., Saratoga, Calif., delivers Web-based software "modules" for project management, collaboration and integration.

In most cases, marketers buy a license to use the software in-house or pay the vendor to host it. The prices can easily reach six or seven figures. Software and service from Aprimo starts at $100,000 to $150,000; Emmperative Marketing Inc., Los Gatos, Calif., targeting the upper echelon of marketers, charges a base price of $30,000 per month, plus service and support, adding up to $500,000 or more in the first year, according to an Emmperative executive.

Will marketers buy into MRM?

The big question is whether marketing executives care whether their frontier is automated or not. Sure, it sounds great to be able to manage everything in one place, but there’s a reason why marketing hasn’t been technologically enhanced yet: It’s the least technical and most people-intensive part of a company’s business.

"Marketers have tended to do things more or less by the seat of their pants," said Harry Watkins, research director with the Aberdeen Group Inc. "So what happens when I come in with a tool that allows for disciplined workflow? I’ve got a big disconnect. I’ve walked this Jaguar into a company that is using bicycles."

One vendor, Impresse Corp., Pittsburgh, tried unsuccessfully to remake itself as an MRM company. Launched in 1997 as an Internet-based printing procurement company, Impresse unveiled an MRM product at the beginning of this year, but the company was unable to secure additional financing. Impresse folded in April and is now trying to sell its MRM technology.

Clearly, the macroeconomic conditions are right for marketing automation. Product development cycles and product lifecycles are shortening as the number of marketing channels is increasing. At the same time, the current economic climate in the U.S. is forcing companies to make sure all their operations are running as tightly as possible.

But the biggest promise for MRM—whittling out the inefficiencies so marketing can be done better, faster and easier—is also its biggest challenge. Each marketer has its own way of handling marketing procedures, and if a company has taken the technology plunge, it most likely has several pieces of software installed to handle different marketing functions.

Getting companies to buy into just one solution, particularly in difficult economic times, is a hard sell.

It’s a challenge vendors acknowledge. "People have to have the mindset that they are going to do business over the Internet," said Jordan Harris, chairman-CEO of Notara. At this point in the development of the business, "it’s clearly evangelism, it’s clearly the early adopters first," he said.

Still testing the waters

Even the early adopters have yet to test the full range of capabilities of MRM software. Ernst & Young L.L.P., New York, for example, in 1999 began using Aprimo to manage its marketing programs.

In one recent example, Ernst & Young used Aprimo software to manage a direct response ad campaign where people could respond via the Web or by phone. Aprimo’s MRM suite enabled Ernst & Young to tabulate all the responses in one database and then analyze the results—not a particularly high-tech application of the software.

David Shadick, Ernst & Young’s associate director-marketing information systems, sees the promise of MRM but readily acknowledges the difficulty in getting people to use the software.

"We’ve had modest success," he said. "People’s acceptance of computer technology and willingness to learn new tools ... has been a big challenge."

All-in-one for some

It’s too soon to say whether the all-in-one approach will live up to its hype. For some companies, the terms "automation" and "marketing" will never appear in the same sentence. For others, building a marketing infrastructure will make them more efficient.

MRM vendors believe automating marketing will provide a better return on investment, cut out waste and duplication and increase companies’ speed to market. Marketers can use MRM software to develop a product concept, test the idea with online consumers, bring back results and gain interpretive analysis.

"This is truly the direction the marketing space will go,’’ said Ernst & Young’s Shadick. "What a marketing infrastructure can do is help us respond and know more about our clients, and treat our clients more holistically."

This story originally appeared in BtoB’s sister publication Advertising Age.

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