Ad man brings vision to tech

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Robert Thompson is a rare bird. As chairman-CEO of QueryObject Systems Corp., Thompson is one of few advertising industry executives heading up a technology company. And the 52-year-old is engineering a turnaround to boot.

Thompson’s company is using tried-and-true advertising strategies to gain a larger share of the data mart industry, a growing niche that focuses on business intelligence and analytics. Data marts are networks of databases tailored to contain customer information that is accessible by marketing executives at multiple locations.

Thompson joined the Roslyn, N.Y.-based company as VP-marketing in 1997. Prior to that, he worked in marketing and corporate communications at Cognos Inc., a business intelligence software company that QueryObject both competes against and partners with today. Before that, he was a principal at the Toronto and Ottawa, Canada-based ad agency Interact Communications.

He said his advertising industry background colors everything he does at the small but growing publicly traded company he now heads up. "Given my marketing communications-advertising background, I tend to equate shareholder value strongly with a brand presence and brand equity," Thompson said. "For an early-stage company, we have a focus more on brand presence and brand equity than other early-stage companies built solely by technologists."

A growing industry

Marketing and communications may be key, as the data mart industry is poised for growth, said Brent Williams, research analyst with McDonald Investments. Newfangled data marts are important to customer relationship management systems because older databases simply aren’t equipped to handle all customer touch points at once, Williams said.

"People are going to need better ways of dredging information out of databases they’ve accumulated, as well as new databases being deployed," he said.

Though QueryObject has three different businesses—a CRM system, an Internet CRM system and an exchange that allows businesses to sell information to other businesses—it has opted to deliver a unified message to its business prospects, Thompson said.

Through work with advertising agency Siegelgale, QueryObject launched in 1998 with the message, "More data, more detail, more quickly." In 1999, it added "over the Internet" to its tagline. And most recently, as technical analysts began to cover data marts, it changed to "Data mart for the Internet economy." Underneath every message, including a Web site developed by Siegelgale, QueryObject has added the promise "Speed, scope and scale."

"It has been a calculated evolution," Williams said. "We’ve looked for the appropriately elegant ways to state who we are and what we do. We’ve taken the view that messaging is the most important thing we can do. … As CEO, the one thing I never delegate is the messaging. I consider it extremely important."

When Williams took the reins of QueryObject, it was an outfit that had a strong engineering team and strong products but almost no vision, said Bob Moran, VP-research and managing director of decision support research for Aberdeen Group Inc.

"I don’t care where Robert Thompson comes from because he’s evidenced leadership, business acumen and vision, which was sorely lacking from QueryObject," Moran said. "He is doing a tremendous job surfacing the company in the right venues where they can be observed and witnessed."

Most of QueryObject’s employees are in the engineering department, not marketing and advertising. Thompson has made a special effort to win their support. After he became CEO, he spent time in one-on-one meetings with the engineers and placed a pingpong table in the middle of the corporate office to allow them to blow off steam and brainstorm.

The idea of a marketing executive winning support from techies wasn’t as difficult as it may seem, Thompson said. "Our core engineering group believed they’d built the neatest thing possible, and couldn’t believe the company was stumbling with it," he said. "My job was to assure them that our vision was as big, strong and viable as the technology they were building.

"My personal goal is to posture our business at least twice as big as the actual business. If we can continue to create an image of a company that is appropriate and larger than life, we will grow into it. And it’s not smoke and mirrors. It’s the leadership style of getting people to think big."

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