Monday, June 4, 2012

Social and Mobile Features Head the List of New Marketing Automation Capabilities

I’m getting ready for the next edition of the B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST). This is based on nearly 200 questions to vendors, mostly about product features. The first step in the process is to update the list of questions. This is based on a review of recent vendor announcements plus my own feeling for what’s important. What emerges is an interesting portrait of industry trends in product development.

You won’t be surprised to learn that most of the changes involve social and mobile marketing, today's two hottest areas in marketing in general. We’ll get back to those in a bit. But first, I’d argue the single most important result is just how few changes there really were. B2B marketing automation is far from mature in terms of market penetration, but the mix of product features is pretty well set. Most of vendor announcements I reviewed were about common features that particular vendors had been lacking or were enhancing.  Social and mobile are the exceptions, but both are still very small contributors to most B2B marketing programs. I saw much more activity around features that were new last year, such as dynamic content and integration with Webinar systems and with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

So exactly what new social and mobile features are now on my list? The previous report already included basic social capabilities including sharing marketing content to social media, tracking responses generated from social media, and monitoring social media activity. The new VEST expands that list to include:

- track social media influence: individual-level tracking mechanism that can identify the number of times a recipient has shared a promotion to social media and the number of responses generated the shared promotions. This information is part of the contact profile of the individual.

- create social media posts: deliver messages through social media, such as Twitter posts and Facebook updates. These messages can be created and then scheduled for future delivery.

- create social forms: create forms that are delivered within a third-party social media system such as Facebook.

- create social promotions: create social promotions such as contests, polls, ratings, etc.

- social sign-on and data capture: recipients can register using third-party social credentials, such as their Facebook ID. This gives access to information stored within the third-party social media system and allows communication through that system.

- build social profile: capture information about a specified individual by searching public information across multiple social media systems. This information includes social media handles and social activity such as posts, comments, and questions answered. The information is added to the individual profile and activity history.

The broad range of these features represents both a maturation of B2B social marketing and uncertainty about what will ultimately prove useful. We can expect more social features in the near future, although I suspect some will later be abandoned when it turns out they’re not especially effective in a B2B context.

On to mobile.  My previous list of mobile features was limited to text messaging. I’ve expanded that to add:

- mobile formats: generate Web and email versions in formats tailored to delivery on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

- mobile CRM: salespeople can access the system on mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets.

- mobile reporting: users can access reports on mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets.

- mobile administration: users can set up campaigns and create content on mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets.

Only the first of these, mobile formats, is about delivering marketing messages. The others are all about marketers and salespeople accessing the system on their own mobile devices. That’s clearly the current focus on mobile marketing automation, although it’s safe to expect more mobile marketing in the future – such as location-based promotions, which are notably absent so far.

I also added three entries in other categories. These were:

- app marketplace: the vendor has a formal app marketplace that lets third party applications connect to its product without custom integration.

- real time recommendations: rules and/or predictive models can recommend the best treatment for a customer as an interaction takes place within system-managed content such as a Web page.

- real time interactions: rules and/or predictive models can recommend the best treatment for a customer as an interaction takes place within an external platform such as a call center or Web site. This requires features to collect information about the interaction from the external platform, to match this information against the system's own database of contacts profiles and history, to make recommendation using the available information, and to deliver the recommendation to the external platform. .

These features all expand the scope of B2B marketing automation, mostly be connecting it with other systems. In one sense that's the opposite of the previous new entries, which were about adding features to marketing automation itself.  But both approaches aim to place marketing automation at the center of a company’s customer management infrastructure. Since other products, including CRM and Web sites, are also reaching for that position, we’ll see how widely these features get adopted. My sense is they’ll be more successful at small companies, where the labor savings of a unified system are most important because technology resources are most constrained.

None of the features I’ve added are currently available in more than a handful of systems.  Some may not yet be present in any. Few marketers this year will choose a system primarily because these particular features are present.  But we'll find over time which are really important.

Pejantan Nanggung

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