Monday, December 16, 2013

4 Marketing Tech Trends To Watch in 2014

I'm not a big fan of year-end summaries and forecasts, mostly because I produce summaries and forecasts all year round.  But I pulled together a few thoughts last week in response to a request, only to discover I had misunderstood what was wanted.  Rather than let my precious wisdom go to waste*, I'll share below what I think will be most important marketing technology trends of 2014. 

Customer Data Platforms mature.  Marketers will have an increasing number of ways to build consolidated, multi-source customer databases without waiting for help from their IT departments. Systems that build such databases for specialized purposes such as lead enhancement, cross-channel campaign management, retention programs, and advertising audience management will increasingly provide more value to their clients by exposing the databases to other execution systems. As a result, the distinction between the customer database and execution systems will become more evident and companies will be able to succeed by offering either data or execution exclusively.

Digital advertising and customer marketing converge.  Data management platforms, which store semi-anonymous cookies for online ad networks, will converge with conventional customer databases, which store profiles tied to actual identities. The advantage will be marketing programs that span both channels, delivering personally targeted information via display advertising and simplifying personalized marketing on mobile platforms that don’t support conventional cookies. The unification of these previously separate data sets will allow more careful orchestration of customer treatments across all channels, increasing the effectiveness of all marketing contacts.

Predictive analytics finally take center stage.  More accessible customer data and broader opportunities to deliver personalized messages will support the long-expected mass deployment of automated predictive analytics tools. These will be part of a centralized customer management architecture that uses them to deliver the best message to each customer during each interaction in every channel where a customer can be recognized. Increasingly automated testing will allow incremental optimization despite constant changes in customer interests, product availability, creative executions, and offers.

The privacy dog won’t bark. Consumers will continue to allow marketers to track their behaviors, even if they become slightly more discreet about the personal information they post directly on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Efforts to limit such tracking through government regulations will not result in significant limitations, at least in the United States.

*Yes, that's a Dr. Strangelove reference.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Webinar, December 18: How Marketers Can (Finally) Get Good Customer Data

Let’s face it: no real work will get done next week, what with all the holiday parties and caroling and so forth. So you might as well set aside 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, December 18 and register for the Webinar I’m co-presenting with RedPoint Global on Customer Data Platforms.

In addition to uncovering the secret relationship between cuneiform and Justin Bieber,

you’ll learn about our latest discovery: a new species of Customer Data Platform, bringing the known total to four. We’ll even provide a handy field guide to identifying which is which. Join us, and gain enough new information to fuel your party conversations for the rest of the holiday season!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Woopra Grows from Web Analytics to Multi-Source Customer Data, Insights and Actions

I stumbled over Woopra in their tiny booth during last month’s Dreamforce conference, where I was intrigued enough to let them scan my badge and promptly forgot why.  Fortunately, a diligent sales rep followed up by email and I remembered it was worth a closer look. If you’ve been reading my recent posts, you won’t be surprised that I’ve decided they are yet another Customer Data Platform.

In fact, the people most surprised by this news will probably be the folks at Woopra itself, which positions itself as “an insight company” and has deep roots in traditional Web analytics. On the other hand, Woopra does distinguish itself from conventional Web analytics vendors by stressing the fact that it tracks individuals, not Web pages. In fact, one of its tag lines is “easily track, analyze, and take action on live customer data”, which is a pretty decent statement of the CDP value proposition.

Tag lines notwithstanding, Woopra wouldn’t qualify as a CDP if it only tracked Web behavior. But Woopra offers the core CDP function of building a multi-source database.  It does this by directly capturing behaviors from Web site visits and mobile app interactions (via Javascript tags and API calls from iOS or Android) and by loading operational data such as purchases and customer service interactions. As its Dreamforce presence suggests, Woopra can integrate with to both import CRM data and to display the information it has consolidated from multiple sources.  The system can combine data with different identifiers, such as a cookie ID, mobile device ID, and Web session ID, although – like many CDPs – it relies on the client to figure out which identifiers belong to the same person.

Woopra stores its data as a combination of customer attributes and time-stamped individual events. The event data lets it report on individual movement through funnel stages, performance of start-date cohorts, and paths through a Web site or app, in addition to the usual profile reports. It stores the information using proprietary technology that allows continuous real-time updates and ad hoc segmentations, so users can run any report against a subset of the customer universe. Users can also design their own custom reports.

Woopra provides an API that lets external systems access its database, although it places some limits on volume to avoid performance issues. This access meets the minimum requirement for a CDP.  The system can also continuously scan for user-specified events or conditions and execute user-specified actions when these occur. The actions can run Javascript on the client Web site, add tags to a customer record, send an email or push notification, or a call an external system via a Webhook. This allows marketers to manage some basic customer treatments within Woopra itself. But the system doesn’t have any predictive modeling or recommendation engines, so more advanced approaches would require external assistance.

Woopra was founded six years ago and relaunched in 2012. It has more than 3,000 paying customers in a wide range of industries, including many small businesses and several large ones. The system is offered in three editions with different sets of features, including a free version for simple visitor tracking. Pricing is based on activity volume and starts at $80 per month for the mid-level edition.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Optimove Helps Optimize Customer Retention (And, Yes, It's a Customer Data Platform)

As I wrote last week, it sometimes seems that every system I look at these days is a Customer Data Platform. Of course, this is partly because I’m choosing to look at that type of system, and partly because CDP vendors are reaching out to me. But I do believe another reason is that CDPs are an idea whose time has come: I’ve recently seen at least three CDPs that are just emerging from stealth or beta mode. All were developed because someone else recognized the huge unmet need for getting  better customer data to marketers.

One of the vendors that contacted me was Optimove, a Tel Aviv-based firm that calls itself a “retention automation platform” but definitely fits the CDP criteria. This means that Optimove is a marketer-controlled system that loads data from multiple source systems, puts it in a marketing-friendly format, and makes it available to external marketing execution systems.

Like many CPDs, Optimove also includes a campaign engine that pushes specific marketing actions to the external systems. Optimove’s approach is unusual in basing its campaign interface on a calendar that lays out the campaign schedule for each user-defined customer segment. This makes it easier for marketers to build a comprehensive contact strategy from multiple campaigns.

The campaigns themselves each have their own schedule, allowing them to run once, daily, weekly, or monthly. Users can also limit the number of messages sent to each customer by assigning an exclusion period to each campaign. Other campaigns can be instructed to respect or ignore these exclusion periods, ensuring that high priority messages are delivered in all circumstances. Each campaign triggers a single action, which can be directed to email, banner ads, direct mail, Facebook custom audiences, in-app pop-ups, SMS, app message boards, call centers, or other channels. The connections may be through file transfers or APIs.

Optimove's campaign interface is unusual, but the system is even more unusual in taking performance measurement very seriously. Its standard campaign setup requires users to assign a success measure and to either set aside a control group or set up a multi-way split of alternative treatments. This enables standard reports, including the campaign calendar itself, to show the incremental value provided by each campaign – the critical information needed for long-term optimization. By contrast, most marketing systems make success targets and testing optional if they support them at all. Users can also see a history of all campaign results for a given segment, making it even easier to identify the most productive programs.

The campaign segments themselves, which Optimove calls target groups, are built by accessing data that Optimove has loaded from the client’s data warehouse and operational systems. Optimove has standard data models for different industries, reflecting its current customer base: online gaming (bingo, casinos, poker, sports betting, etc.), foreign exchange trading, and ecommerce. The system assumes the data has already been coded with customer IDs, which something that makes reasonable sense given the focus on retention rather than acquisition. 

Data is typically loaded daily or weekly. After each load, customers are assigned to life stages (typically, new customers, active customers, and churned customers) and to multiple segments based on behaviors and attributes, such as location, product preferences, and spending levels. The system then uses the life stages and segment attributes to assign customers to "microsegments" that cluster analysis has found will behave similarly. It’s important to understand microsegments represent a current customer state that will change over time: that is, each customer belongs to different microsegments at different stages in her life cycle.

Optimove calculates the probability of moving from one microsegment to the next and uses this to predict how a given group of customers will behave in the future.  This is the basis for its lifetime value and churn predictions – key metrics in system reports. This type of forecasting is something else that really should be done by every marketing system, but rarely is. Optimove also provides cohort analysis reports, comparing performance of customers who joined during different time periods. This is yet another important type of information that is not always available.

Optimove does have some limitations. I was surprised there are no standard reports to highlight attributes that separate responders from non-responders within a promotion audience: this is pretty common information that helps marketers to refine their segmentations and better understand what is driving results. Nor does the system current recommend the best action to take with individual or a group. Both features are being worked on for future release.

Optimove was founded in 2009 and currently has about 70 clients, mostly in Europe. It has a few U.S. customers and is looking to expand in this market. Pricing is usually based on the number of customers and begins around $2,500 per month.