No genius pill, just creative help

EVERY marketing manager is proud of his creativity and original ideas. However, the majority of his work can and in some cases even must be supported by modern software tools.
Such software does not make marketing specialists any less creative. On the contrary, thanks to such tools they find they have more time for thinking up ideas and putting them into practice.

EVERY marketing manager is proud of his creativity and original ideas. However, the majority of his work can and in some cases even must be supported by modern software tools.

Such software does not make marketing specialists any less creative. On the contrary, thanks to such tools they find they have more time for thinking up ideas and putting them into practice.

Uses of special software

Special marketing software can support almost all marketing activities: campaign planning, media buying planning, market analysis, analysis of campaign results, predicting customer buying behaviour, optimising communications mixes, budgeting and so on.

The software selected depends on what individual customer segment the marketer is trying to target. There are special software programmes for telecom firms, banks, manufacturers, energy distributors and others.

With such a wide range of marketing software available, clients may find it difficult to select the right one to address their needs. Clients also need to decide the extent of software support they need for their marketing activities and the amount of money they are prepared to invest in the software.

However, marketers must keep one thing in mind - no software exists that can turn them into geniuses.

Campaigns made easy

Let's take the example of a firm that decides to use a specific marketing strategy for its best customers. This may look like a simple idea, but it can be difficult to implement.

For starters, we must define who the best customers are. Is it the long-term customers, or the customers that represented our largest deals last year? The customers who generate the highest sales, or those who account for the highest profits? Or the customers that do not use costly distribution channels?

Whether the answer is any one of these possibilities or a combination of them, we will need a unified source of current and historical customer data with a whole range of criteria. The solution here is data storage with software enabling data selection and data viewing.

With the list of customers now in data storage, we need campaign management software to allow us to plan an exact timetable of activities, prepare a budget, determine distribution channels, set campaign communications content, measure the success of the campaign, and divide up the work within the marketing team.

In the campaign planning phase we will also need software for data mining. This software is usually connected with the unified customer data and data storage source. Data mining software serves to model final customer behaviour. The goal of a campaign, for example, may be a cross sale such as offering credit cards to bank clients who already have debit cards. Data mining software enables us to see future customer responses to campaigns based on analyses of customer behaviour in the past.

In the execution stage of the campaign we will have to return to the campaign management software and use it until the next phase, which is collecting data on the results of the campaign.

Data collection is another tricky marketing task. In the case of the bank clients, it would involve data on the newly issued credit cards. The information should appear in data storage and should be matched to data about all the customers contacted.

Further analysis of the results is possible thanks to data selection and viewing, including OLAP data storage (data arranged in a multidimensional structure). Data mining will then help us confirm the original hypothesis and use the results in future campaigns.

Waiting for results

Putting such systems to work means solving a wide range of problems, including the issue of access rights, and the ability to administer the system and fill it with data.

Let's take another example, this time of a telecom company. The marketing automation process at this company lasted two years. The project included building data storage and consolidating data information, access tools, OLAP data storage, campaign management, and data mining - each from a different supplier.

The most difficult and time consuming aspect was data consolidation - ridding the data of duplicities and faulty information, and building a basic infrastructure.

It was a year and a half before the project brought real results for the marketing and analyses departments. After the project was completed, the users still had to learn several software tools with different user logics and user environments. Understandably, this frustrated users as well as the sponsors of the project.

However, if the system is built as an integrated whole, it early becomes a part of the business and its IT structure. In the majority of cases, such systems can show a positive return on investment (ROI) after one to three years.

Data compatibility is the key

Data on customers reach companies through many channels, in many forms, and with various levels of reliability. We have probably all tried at one time or another to match the data in an Excel table; we all know how time-consuming and difficult this can be. Just imagine this exercise involving data on millions of customers, and you get an idea of the real complexity of the data compatibility problem.

This is why the data storage project is crucial. Unfortunately, it is very often underestimated. Everyone knows the marketing project will not work without it, but almost everyone tries to avoid it.

Happy endings

There are many positive outcomes to the above situation. In the case of the telecom company, even though it had implementation problems, it was able to define its marketing segments, including dynamically generated sub-segments, on a daily basis.

These sub-segments were then targeted by small, quick campaigns. Instead of several campaigns, as conducted in the past, the company led 100 precisely targeted mini campaigns a month. The effectiveness of its marketing increased tenfold. Customers were not bombarded by a single large advertisement, but instead received offers tailored to their needs.

As a result, the company succeeded in increasing the number of products sold per customer. The ROI on the project was 200 percent in two years.

Ondrej Tomas is a manager with Oracle

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