Any marketing manager knows how much time is spent in administrative tasks – as much as two thirds of the working day, by some estimates. Think of the flurry of emails required to get sign-off from all the people involved in a project. Style guidelines are flouted all over the place because no one knows where they’re kept. Purchasing can be a headache, and costly, if it’s not done online. Is there a single marketing department or company-wide calendar showing when all campaigns and events are happening? More likely, each office has its own calendar, uncoordinated with any of the others.
Where is the market research data kept – and who has access to it? Chances are research for different projects is kept in dozens of different formats and hidden away in hundreds of locations on your company’s computer systems, making it hard to find. Do you have a single invoicing system, or do invoices for all the different suppliers you use come in different formats? When you need to check up on the progress of a strategy, can you open up a software application to see a set of tickboxes for each step, or do you have to pick up the phone and chase people?
Most marketing managers use an ad hoc mixture of email, spreadsheets and project management software to do their job. The aim of marketing management software is to bring all of these processes into a single technological infrastructure – just as manufacturing processes today are to be found within a single software system in most companies.
Even the most seemingly simple aspects of marketing can hold hidden inefficiencies. Fred Burt, director at BrandWizard Technologies, which makes marketing technology, gives the example of a food company that needed to resize some of its labels. The resizing had to be done by hand by designers for each product, making it costly to introduce design tweaks. By creating an automated software process that resized all the labels in a single step, the company could cut out this manual process and gain much more flexibility.
Naturally, any technological innovation requires a three-letter acronym (TLA). We have ERP – enterprise resource planning. We have CRM – customer relationship management. But the TLA for marketing software has yet to be decided. Will it be enterprise marketing management? Or how about marketing management software? Better yet, marketing resource management?
We can’t be sure which term will catch on, but the idea behind the concept looks likely to take off. In a recent study of the subject, Gartner Group, a Stamford, Connecticut-based research firm, identified the resource management area as one of the few bright spots in the technology market. While large software companies like Oracle and SAP, which grew fat on CRM during the 1990’s, have yet to seize the opportunity wholeheartedly, a host of their smaller and nimbler rivals are already shaping up with new offerings for the marketing market.
For instance, Objexis, which crafts its software into intranet and web-based portals for marketing departments. Aprimo Marketing, an Indianapolis-based company, chooses the term enterprise marketing management for its products. Its customers include Bank of America, Peugeot, and Pfizer. AskMe seeks to put marketers’ innate knowledge, expressed in their processes, into an electronic form. MarketingPilot Software’s approach is more tailored to information, but it too can be classed as an MRM vendor.
The selling point of these companies is all the same: it’s about costs, stupid. Burt at BrandWizard quotes the examples of one major U.S. car manufacturer saving more than US$ 10m in marketing costs with this sort of software. The manufacturer operated a vast network of dealerships across the U.S., each of which had to be issued with regularly updated marketing materials. Unfortunately, those materials had to be tailored to the individual dealership, to the area of the country, to the special offers involved, and so on. By bringing the materials into a centralized system so that the tweaks required could easily be propagated across the dealership network, and so that a single process governed the sending out of set materials at set times, the manufacturer brought order to what had been a fairly chaotic operation.
The transparency that such a system engenders can also reveal hidden costs. One marketing department found that the company it was using for graphic reproduction was charging a 300 percent mark-up on finding stock pictures from a photo library. By creating an electronic link to the library from its MRM software, the department could eliminate this cost.
Yet there are risks to MRM, given the complexity of marketing processes, and the uptake of MRM software is by no means assured. Look at Emmperative . The company was set up by Procter & Gamble in early 2001 in order to take the company’s internal marketing techniques, wrap them up in software and sell that software to other companies – even, the company boasted, to arch-rival Unilever if possible.
But the company survived only a few months. P&G pulled the plug and the idea of expressing its marketing techniques in a set of software products has been firmly shelved.
If P&G, renowned for its marketing expertise, could not succeed in such a project, who can? Perhaps the failure of Emmperative shows that the idea of turning marketing into software is simply unrealistic. Or perhaps not. “You can argue over who was to blame for Emmperative’s demise. Does it really prove that marketing techniques can’t be put into software? Or was it just that the fall-out from the technology bust gave everybody cold feet? It’s quite likely, really, that P&G just wasn’t the right company to do this. It always looked a bit of a strange move for a company as culturally conservative as P&G, frankly, and you get the feeling there were plenty of P&G people who weren’t sorry to see it fail,” said one person familiar with the company.
Any new category of technology takes years to prove itself, and many iterations of software, each refining the features of the last, are required to make a product suitable for the mass market. More than a decade after the first tentative versions of CRM software, many large companies are still struggling with its complexities. But businesses prepared to take a chance on MRM may find their reward in cost savings – something that will strike a chord with most corporations in these straitened times.