Oracle advances online marketing

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Companies, especially big ones, can take months to bring their direct marketing management online. Oracle Corp. is promising to do it for companies in less than 30 business days.

In one of its most significant marketing services rollouts ever, Oracle is introducing a platform that will allow companies to bring direct and other marketing programs into an Internet-based setting. FastForward Marketing Online is intended to let clients work on all aspects of direct marketing campaigns, from development to effectiveness monitoring, in a collaborative Internet environment.

FastForward consists of software, consulting, support and implementation services. It allows any user operating on an Oracle network—and 96% of Fortune 500 companies, as the company’s advertising points out, do just that—to collaborate on every aspect of a direct marketing program, from planning, to targeted promotions, to campaign monitoring, to budgeting and creative. All this in real-time.

Oracle’s launch underscores the trend toward using enterprise marketing management systems in developing direct marketing campaigns. Smaller vendors, such as Notara, have long been developing them, and big companies, such as Coca-Cola Co., are starting to use them.

Indeed, Procter & Gamble Co. recently introduced Project EMM, a platform similar to Oracle’s. Lisa Arthur, Oracle’s VP-CRM product marketing, declined to comment on P&G’s initiative. Certainly, though, the companies will be competing. What remains to be seen is whether clients will entrust a technology or consumer products kingpin with their online direct marketing programs.

Direct marketing advantage

One certain advantage of FastForward is its particular usefulness to direct marketers. Much of this is because of Oracle’s experience. The company has been developing databases and Internet technologies geared to direct marketing for years.

"It’s targeted toward [direct] marketers," Arthur said. "Users can develop and track e-mail campaigns with built-in intelligence to track how campaigns are doing."

Usually, when executives trot out the word "intelligence" while describing a software platform’s functionality, it gives one reason to be skeptical. But in Arthur’s case it rings true. FastForward can let a client know, for example, whether an e-mail direct marketing, sponsorship or traditional ad campaign is appropriate, based on economic and logistics factors.

Another advantage is that it is built with international direct marketing in mind. Oracle itself has used FastForward since October to better organize its global marketing. Specifically, it allows company marketers outside the U.S. to tailor direct and other campaigns emanating from the company’s Redwood Shores, Calif., headquarters, to local markets. "The field marketing teams can take a look at my marketing components," Arthur said. "The U.K. might take my entire campaign, but Lithuania might only take two components because they don’t need the whole marketing mix."

Marketing machine

Oracle has no plans to advertise its platform, Arthur said. But the ubiquity of its Internet networks gives FastForward a good head start in terms of marketing, she said. "If a company has our e-business suite, it plugs right in," she said.

Harry Watkins, research director at Boston-based research firm Aberdeen Group Inc., said, "Clearly, Oracle provides an extended data infrastructure that makes it relatively easy to deliver on the promise of enterprise marketing management."

Another selling point is FastForward’s relatively cheap price. The average implementation costs about $230,000. The economic slowdown was in Oracle’s executives’ minds when they chose a price tag. "Economic pressures are pressuring everyone to look closely at their marketing budget," Arthur said.

For all of FastForward’s promise, it has significant hurdles to overcome. Some are beyond Oracle’s control. Enterprise marketing management software’s promise has, so far, exceeded its use.

Plus, direct marketing is as much a creative venture as a numbers-driven one. Even more uncertain is whether direct marketers will want to plug their whole marketing process into an Internet technology.

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