INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: Tapping into the data revolution

Marketing teams are still not utilising IT as they should. But Clive Couldwell finds that some firms have put applications to good use

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

them.



‘At all times, we have to ensure that our efficiency matches their

requirements,’ says Ward. ‘The system has made this attainable.’



Personnel organiser



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

records.



Easy access



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.’



Power performer



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

patterns.



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-

Martini.



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

for.



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

changes.



Haggling strategy



‘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.



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