Tools for automating marketing aren't new. Software exists that helps marketers manage lists or analyze databases of customer information. Marketing departments use a variety of collaborative tools, from Microsoft Project software to Lotus Notes to keep projects on track. Plenty of companies offer software to manage customer relationships via the Internet-so-called CRM software.
The new twist is the ability to manage all these tasks, and more, with a single sofware package. 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," says Joe Meyer, VP-product marketing at Aprimo, an MRM company. "Marketing has sort of survived as this last great unautomated frontier."
Earlier this month, Dentsu 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, 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. (see story, opposite page).
Aprimo says its marketing suite, launched in January, offers an "integrated marketing management platform" for everything from campaign management to planning, execution and a marketing knowledge base. Another company, KickFire, 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, 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 Hunter Hastings, Emmperative's CEO.
The big question is whether anyone in marketing cares whether his 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. So what happens when I come in with a tool that allows for disciplined workflow?" asks Harry Watkins, research director with the Aberdeen Group. "I've got a big disconnect. I've walked this Jaguar into a company that is using bicycles."
One vendor, Impresse Corp., tried unsuccessfully to remake itself as an MRM company. Launched in 1997 as an Internet-based printing procurement company, Impresse unveiled an MRM product in January, 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," says Jordan Harris, CEO of Notara. At this point in the development of the business, "it's clearly evangelism, it's clearly the early adopters first."
Even the early adopters have yet to test the full range of capabilities of MRM software. Ernst & Young, for example, in 1999 began using Aprimo to manage its marketing programs to clients.
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 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 of 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 says. "People's acceptance of computer technology and willingness to learn new tools ... has been a big challenge."
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.
Mr. Hastings of Emmperative says automating marketing will provide a better return on investment, cut out waste and duplication and increase companies' speed to market.
Already, he says, marketers can use Emmperative 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," says Mr. Shadick of Ernst & Young. "What a marketing infrastructure can do is help us respond and know more about our clients, and treat our clients more holistically."