Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dynamic Yield Offers Flexible Omni-Channel Personalization

There are dozens of Web personalization tools available. All do roughly the same thing: look at data about a visitor, pick messages based on that data, and deploy those messages. So how do you tell them apart?

The differences fall along several dimensions. These include what data is available, how messages are chosen, which channels are supported, and how the system is implemented. Let’s look at how Dynamic Yield stacks up.

Data: Dynamic Yield can install its own Javascript tag to identify visitors and gather their information, or it can accept an API call with a visitor ID. It can also build profiles by ingesting data from email, CRM, mobile apps, or third party sources. It will stitch data together when the same personal identifier is used in different source systems, but it doesn’t do fuzzy or probabilistic cross-device matching. Data is ingested in real time, allowing the system to react to customer behaviors as they happen.

Message selection: this is probably where personalization systems vary the most. Dynamic Yield largely relies on users to define selection rules. Specifically, users create “experiences” that usually relate to a single position on a Web page or single message in another channel.  Each experience has a list of associated promotions and each promotion has its own target audience, content, and related settings. When a visitor engages with an experience, the system finds the first promotion audience the visitor matches and delivers the related content.

This is a pretty basic approach and doesn’t necessarily deliver the best message to visitors who qualify for several audiences. But dynamic content rules, machine-learning, and automated recommendations can improve results by tailoring the final message to each individual. In addition, the system can test different messages within each promotion and optimize the results against a user-specified goal.  This lets it send different messages to different segments within the audience.

Product recommendations are especially powerful.  Dynamic Yield supports multiple recommendation rules, including similarity, bought together, most popular, user affinity, and recently viewed.  One experience can return multiple products, with different products selected by different rules.  In other words, the system present a combination of recommendations including some that are similar to the current product, some that are often purchased with it, and some that are most popular over all. 

Channels: this is a particular strength for Dynamic Yield, which can personalize Web pages, emails, landing pages, mobile apps, mobile push, display ads, and offline channels. Most personalization options are available in most channels, although there are some exceptions: you can’t do multi-product recommendations within a display ad and system-hosted landing pages can’t include dynamic content.

Implementation: this also varies by channel. Web site personalization is especially flexible: the Javascript tag can read an existing Web page and either replace it entirely or create a version with a Dynamic Yield object inserted, without changing the page code itself. Users who do control the page code can insert a call the Dynamic Yield API.  Email personalization can also be done by inserting an API call, which lets Dynamic Yield reselect the message each time the email is rendered. The system has direct integration with major ad servers and networks, letting it send targeting rules with different ad versions for each target.

Dynamic Yield’s multi-channel scope and easy deployment options will be appealing to many marketers. The company has more than 100 customers, primarily in ecommerce and media. Pricing is based on the number of unique user profiles managed and on system components. A small client might pay as little as $25,000 per year, although larger companies can pay much more.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Will Privacy Regulations Favor Internet Giants?

Last week’s MarTech Conference in San Francisco came and went in the usual blur of excellent presentations, interesting vendors, and private conversations. I’m sure each attendee had their own experience based on their particular interests. The two themes that appeared the most in my own world were:

- data activation. This reflects recognition that customer data delivers most of its value when it is used to personalize customer treatments. In other words, it’s not enough to simply assemble a complete customer view and use it for analytics.  “Activation” means taking the next step of making the data available to use during customer interactions, ideally in real time and across all channels. It’s one of the advantages of a Customer Data Platform, which by definition makes unified customer data available to other systems. This is a big differentiator compared with conventional data warehouses, which are designed primarily to support analytical projects through batch updates and extracts.  Conventional data warehouse architectures load data into a separate structure called an “operational data store” when real-time access is needed. Many CDP systems use a similar technical approach but it’s part of the core design rather than an afterthought. This is part of the CDPs’ advantage of providing a packaged system rather than a set of components that users assemble for themselves. CDP vendors exhibiting at the show included Treasure Data, Tealium, and Lytics.

- orchestration. This is creating a unified customer experience by coordinating contacts across all channels. It’s not a new goal but is standing out more clearly from approaches that manage just one channel. More precisely, orchestration requires a decision system that uses activated customer data to find best messages and then distributes them to customer-facing systems for delivery. Some Customer Data Platforms include orchestration features and others don’t; conversely, some orchestration systems are Customer Data Platforms and some are not. (Only orchestration systems that assemble a unified customer view and expose it to other systems qualify as CDPs.) Current frontiers for orchestration systems are journey orchestration, which is managing the entire customer experience as a single journey (rather than disconnected campaigns), and adaptive orchestration, which is using automated processes to find and deliver the optimal message content, timing, and channels for each customer. Orchestration vendors at the show included UserMind, Pointillist, Thunderhead, and Amplero.

Of course, it wouldn’t be MarTech if the conference didn’t also provoke Deeper Thoughts. For me, the conference highlighted three long-term trends:

- continued martech growth. The highlight of the opening keynote was unveiling of martech Uber-guru Scott Brinker’s latest industry landscape, which clocked in at 5,300 products compared with 3,500 the year before. You can read Brinker’s in-depth analysis here, so I’ll just say that industry growth shows no signs of slowing down.

- primacy of data. Only a few presentations or vendors at the conference were devoted specifically to data, but nearly everything there depends on customer data in one way or another. And, as you know from my last blog post, the main story in customer data today is the increasing control exerted by Google and Facebook, and to a lesser degree Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft. If those firms succeed in monopolizing access to customer information, then many martech systems won’t have the inputs they need to work their magic. That could be the pin that bursts the martech bubble.

- new privacy regulations. As Doc Searles (co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto) pointed out in the second-day keynote , new privacy regulations also threaten to cut off the data supply of marketing and advertising systems, creating an “extinction level event”. Searles announced a “customer commons” that lets consumers share data on their own terms . It’s an interesting concept but I suspect few consumers will put that much work into personal data management.

My initial inclination was to agree with Searles about the implications of new privacy rules, but I’ve since adjusted my view.  It’s just inconceivable that an economic force as powerful as Internet marketing will let regulations put it out of business. It's much more likely that companies like Google and Facebook will learn to work within the new regulations, which after all don’t ban personal data collection but merely require consumer consent. Surely firms with products that are literally addictive can gain consumer consent in ways that will satisfy even the most determined regulators. More broadly, big companies in general should be able to make the investments needed to comply with privacy regulations with minimal harm to their business.

Small businesses are another matter.  Many will lack the resources needed to understand and comply with new privacy regulations.  In other words, privacy regulations will have the unintended consequence of favoring big businesses – which can afford to find ways to comply – over small businesses – which won’t.   Google and Facebook will spend whatever they must to protect their businesses, in the same way that auto manufacturers found ways to comply with safety and pollution regulations. Indeed, as the auto industry illustrates, the actual cost of compliance is likely to be slight and may even result in better, more profitable products. The impact on small businesses will be to push them to use packaged software – yes, including Customer Data Platforms – that have regulatory compliance built in by experts. The analogy here is with financial and human resources packaged software, which similarly provides built-in compliance with government and industry standards.

Of course, if Google, Facebook, and a handful of others take near-total control over access to customers, there won’t be much data for anyone else to manage. But it seems likely that companies will find ways around those toll booths, especially when dealing with customers who have already purchased their products. Ironically, this would return marketers to the situation that existed before the Internet, when data on prospects was limited but customers could be reached directly. That might put a small crimp in martech growth but would still leave plenty of room for innovation.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Martech Vendors Can't Avoid Ad Audience Battles

It’s been said that sports are soap operas for men. You can see business news the same way: a drama with heroes, villains, intertwining story lines, and endless plot twists. One of the most interesting stories playing out right now is online advertising, where the walled gardens of Google, Facebook, and other audience aggregators are under assault by insurgent advertisers who, like most rebels, aspire as much to replace their overlords as destroy their power. What they’re really fighting over is control of the serfs – oops, I meant consumers – who create the empires' wealth.

Recent complaints about ad measurement. audience transparency, and even placement near objectionable Web content are all tactics in the assault, aimed both at winning concessions and weakening their opponents. More strategically, support for letting broadband suppliers resell consumer data is an attempt create alternative suppliers who will strengthen the insurgents’ bargaining position.

Yet another front opened up last week with an announcement from a consortium of adtech vendors, including AppNexus, LiveRamp, MediaMath, Index Exchange, LiveIntent, OpenX, and Rocket Fuel, that they had created a standard identity framework to support personal targeting of programmatic ads. The goal was to strengthen programmatic’s position as an alternative to the aggregators by making programmatic audiences larger, more targetable, and more unified across devices.

The consortium was quite explicit on this goal. To quote the press release:

"Today, 48 percent of all digital advertising dollars accrue to just two companies – Facebook and Google," said Brian O'Kelley, CEO of AppNexus. "That dynamic has placed considerable strain on the open internet companies that generate great journalism, film, music, social networking, and information. This consortium enables precision advertising comparable to that of Google and Facebook, and does so in a privacy-conscious manner. That means better outcomes for marketers, greater monetization for publishers, and more engaging content for consumers."

But behind the rallying cry, the alliance between advertisers and programmatic ad suppliers is uneasy at best. After all, programmatic threatens the core ad buying business of the agencies and faces its own problems of measurement and objectionable ad placement. How the two groups cooperate against a common enemy will be a story worth watching.

Martech vendors have so far remained pretty much neutral in the ad wars, feeding audiences to both sides with the pragmatic indifference of merchants throughout history. But the new ad tech consortium brings the battle closer, since it involves the personal identities that have been the martech vendors’ stock in trade. In particular, LiveRamp (which links anonymous cookies to known identities) belonging to the consortium creates a connection that will likely pull in other martech players. Of course, the convergence between adtech and martech has long been predicted – it's more than two years since I oh-so-cutely christened it “madtech”  and the big marketing clouds started to  purchase data management platforms and other adtech components even earlier.  The merger is probably inevitable as programmatic advertising looks more like personalized marketing every day.  Martech vendors have growing reason to side with the programmatic alliance as it becomes clear that audience aggregators could threaten their own kingdoms by cutting off access to personal data and taking control of contact opportunities.

In short, what seems like a remote, and remotely entertaining, conflict in adland is more closely connected to the central martech story than you may think. So it’s worth watching closely and deciding what role your business will play when they call your cue
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