Marketing teams are still not utilising IT as they should. But Clive
Couldwell finds that some firms have put applications to good use
Is marketing software really useful, or is the IT department pulling the
wool over our eyes? The short answers are ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’, but it’s
worth a gamble.
Not so long ago, a Gallup/PCL poll of senior marketing management,
questioned within 100 randomly selected companies from The Sunday Times
Top 1000, believed that information technology was still under-used in
their sales and marketing activities.
In 1996, there’s no doubt that the techno-junkies are getting off on a
wide range of buzz words from ‘data warehousing’ and something called
‘OLAP’ to ‘data mining’ and ‘geographic visualisation’, but software
used by marketers now has a new set of sophisticated clothes and they’re
being worn by a growing number of users.
Even at the basic-but-necessary level, contact-management programmes -
software geared to individuals and groups who need to keep in regular
contact with customers, prospects, suppliers and colleagues - are making
a real difference to the way companies do business.
Media First, a high-profile media and communications training company,
has a client base of 2000 companies and generates 64% of its revenue
from repeat business. The company has been using Tracker Software’s
Tracker 2 system for the past nine months.
‘As we have no technical IT person, it was paramount that we bought a
user-friendly contact management system which could be tailored to our
needs, especially our terminology,’ recalls Media First’s managing
director Helen Ward.
Tracker 2, a Windows-based system, accommodates a full contact database,
history, time management, electronic mail and word processing. After
discussing and deciding with Media First’s staff just what they wanted
the software to provide, Tracker Software then went ahead and customised
the system with three databases linked to each other for clients,
training and resources. Media First has to keep detailed records and
notes on each of its clients, and be able to communicate easily with
‘At all times, we have to ensure that our efficiency matches their
requirements,’ says Ward. ‘The system has made this attainable.’
Financial software house Intuit is using another Windows-based package -
the OfficeTalk contact and workgroup manager - developed by Sareen
Software. The product took two-and-a-half years to develop and has been
consistently used across a wide range of companies since July 1994.
OfficeTalk manages personal and group diaries and organises time,
workload and meetings. It administers all types of contact information,
plans and tracks projects, and it supposedly keeps everyone in the
picture all of the time.
Certainly where OfficeTalk scores is in the way users can switch from
one activity to another seamlessly, making logical links between almost
every piece of information. Single mouse clicks move you instantly
between function screens, and although the functions are comprehensively
featured they’re very simple to use, with clear, uncluttered screens and
‘drag-and-drop’ management. ‘As a marketing-led organisation, the system
is invaluable to Intuit in a number of ways,’ says Ian Yarlott, managing
director of Intuit UK.
‘It facilitates management by objectives, allowing me to view my teams’
to-do lists and so agree priorities. Another boon is the ability to
organise meetings with product managers or business management personnel
automatically. OfficeTalk interrogates their diaries and sets the time.
Any software that can get 12 managers in the same room without me having
to pick up the phone is an asset.’
At the other end of the power scale, software that handles decision
support and analysis has become flavour of the decade. Executive
information systems (EIS) show key performance data about each section
of a company and automatically build a rolling, up-to-date profile of a
business. The main advantage is that they reduce huge amounts of
information to essential facts. They also help any sales and marketing
manager look beyond summaries to obtain the finest level of detail about
a particular product, department, or customer.
Take DIY retailer Do-It-All. The company has used its Windows EIS to
create a ‘balanced scorecard’, a kind of measurement that looks at cause
and effect. The scorecard approach was first suggested by management
thinker David Norton, who said that any EIS should match your
organisational structure and become a ‘learning’ mechanism.
A balanced scorecard - so-called because of the way you display and
measure qualitative and quantitative information - not only measures
performance in key areas of the business, but also shows how these
measures are related to the way the organisation is working.
Do-It-All’s senior management team is relying on Planning Sciences’
Gentia EIS to help it spot where the company isn’t making money. It’s
currently trying to chop 60 of the most unprofitable stores in the chain
and make those it retains more profitable.
Gentia is therefore analysing five main areas of performance which it
presents on-screen as a series of application modules: traded
performance, marketplace information, financial measurements, internal
development and customer satisfaction measurements.
IT and logistics director Ron Furniss says: ‘We can even look at the
performance of a product group in a refitted store and compare it with
the same group in a store that hasn’t yet had a refit. This type of
flexibility means we can get a really good picture of the business at
any one time, as well as being able to forecast and plan accurately.’
NatWest UK has invested over pounds 100,000 in a powerful desktop data
mining tool, Brann Viper (from Brann Software), which provides its
marketing departments with easier access to their database of 50 million
The company has recently divided into six key business units: card,
retail banking, insurance, life & investment, mortgage, and corporate
business services. To gain maximum benefit from the commonly held data
in its customer-information system, NatWest was looking for software
that would give easy access to its customer information and help users
analyse the data in a way that fitted their working style.
‘We could see that we had significant opportunities for utilising our
data,’ says NatWest UK’s national marketing manager Nigel Gatehouse. ‘We
have huge numbers of established customers, millions of customer
contacts, and a unique picture of the financial affairs of millions of
people,’ he says. ‘Our marketing professionals needed a desktop data-
analysis tool that would kick-start their thinking and then help to
build a ‘train-of-thought’ analysis process.’
Brann Viper can handle large volumes of data and provides NatWest with
the performance that in the past you would expect only to have seen on a
sizeable mainframe computer. Initially, the product has been set up on
workstations in nine offices.
Sixteen people - campaign, brand strategy and business development
managers - have been trained to use the system. They are currently
checking the quality of the data held and learning about what the data
holds and how to manipulate and visualise it.
Banks and financial services have a lot to gain from using IT in
marketing. Holding vast quantities of customer data, they are in an
ideal position to analyse and predict the behaviour of their customers.
But, because a lot of this data is transactional, recording deposits
withdrawals and the like, it is not easy to analyse behavioural
This is where high-powered data-mining packages like Viper and Rapidus
come into their own. The debate over the relative merits of using PC-
based systems like this compared with mainframe Massive Parallel
Processing solutions comes down to whether desktop systems can provide
the same penetration for a much lower cost. It is doubtful whether they
can pack as much punch as the biggest MPP systems, but for most
marketing purposes, they are powerful enough.
Case study: Comshare
Six weeks. That’s how long it took the finance department to respond to
a product manager’s request for guidance on how a proposed promotion
would affect profitability. By then, the promotion had been rolled out,
and the next one well down the planning road.
That particular example comes from the US, but points to a more
widespread problem. Finance, marketing, sales and production departments
commonly have their own software packages which are not compatible.
This can both slow down the planning process and involve many people in
a stack of unproductive work as they battle to transpose data into forms
which will be understandable to other departments.
The US-based company Comshare has just launched its software program,
Boost, in the UK market, to tackle this kind of problem.
Boost is described as a sales and margin planning tool for fmcg
companies. It’s an off-the-shelf package which has been developed from
tailor-made programmes designed for the likes of companies such as Pepsi
and Kraft, and has been taken by Seagram North America and Bacardi-
It’s also a big company package, with a guideline price of pounds
250,000 for 50 users - though a ‘non-crossfunctional version’ for a
single department is available with a price tag of pounds 60,000 for 20
people, according to Comshare’s London-based director Luke Alvarez.
So what is a typical application for Boost? Take the familiar situation
of planning for the annual budget: the word comes down from finance that
it is looking for an all-round revenue increase of 10%.
This is picked up on-screen by the product managers, and probably shows
initially a uniform increase in sales of 10% across every product,
variant, pack size and geographical area the department is responsible
With detailed knowledge of the sector involved, the marketers may be
very dubious about the prospects of getting any sales gains out of
certain products, but may be brimming with confidence on some others.
They can play with the figures, getting instantaneous feedback on how
the total picture is affected by downgrading the volume forecasts on
some lines and boosting them on others, or testing the impact of price
‘It sounds like a powerful package,’ one UK brand manager told
Marketing. ‘However, we work the other way round. We put forward our
forecast product by product, the finance department tells us we are
nearly there, and then we haggle over the last couple of percent.’
Alvarez responds: ‘We very much support both the bottom-up and top-down
approach. Boost can work either way - it’s about making it happen more
smoothly, in a more integrated way, and shortening the cycle.’
The big annual planning exercise aside, the package can draw on
historical results to forecast the impact on volumes, margins and
profitability of advertising bursts and sales promotions.
Six weeks to say how a promotion will affect the bottom line? Six
minutes would be dawdling.