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Managing Marketing Departments With Aprimo: Interview With Michael Emerson

Looking back over the times when I’ve been managing a marketing department, I am struck by how much of my time was spent in financial budgeting and vendor management. When you think of marketing, most people think brand messaging or TV commercials. Those tactics are definitely a part of marketing, but when it comes to managing a marketing department; marketing has less to do with creative and more to do with planning and implementation.

That’s why I was pleased when I had the chance to interview Michael Emerson from Aprimo; his company develops, sells and installs software that automates the core functions of marketing. Aprimo software automates marketing processes in some of the same way ERP systems automates the financial systems within a company.

Aprimo’s software has four main areas of functionality.

· Financial management
· Creative assets management
· Production management
· Campaign/lead management

I asked Mike to describe what each module of their software can do for a marketing manager.

Mike: The first pillar of the Aprimo software is financial management, and it enables marketing managers to set up budgeting. Managers can build budgets and plans and also collect extensive information on an ongoing basis. This allows marketing managers to track if their budgets are running according to plan. Many of Aprimo’s clients are large public companies and it’s very important for them to be able to be transparent in their financial reporting to stakeholders inside and outside of the company. The CFO of a large company particularly needs access to such financial management data from a marketing department, to determine if marketing is spending according to plan. The Aprimo financial management module also allows a company to reconcile marketing budgets against other corporate financial systems of record.

John: How are does Aprimo integrate with other online applications that provide marketing data?

Mike: Our application is all XML based, a company can put data into their software by XML. A lot of our clients will build software systems that allow data to automatically flow into the Aprimo software continuously. By far the most common integration is with SAP. However, we have a lot of flexibility and will work with Excel.

Many of our customers integrate Aprimo into their vendors software systems, including a creative agency. Often a large portion of marketing’s budget is consumed by agencies. Aprimo has integrated software and data flow many times between an agency and a client. We integrate a company’s purchase order system, automatically linking with a PO number. This integration is one reason many of our customers work with us, their strategy is one of commitment to automating the marketing budgeting management process and following through on oversight. A lot of public companies need tighter scrutiny today; they need to be able to document spending, and needed to understand how such marketing is spent from a corporate compliance state.

The second pillar of management that Aprimo’s software provides is creative asset management, including digital assets. The Aprimo system enables a company to manage all of its creative assets across many divisions and with outside vendors. Asset management includes managing all photo related materials, sales materials, and anything a marketing director would use.

The third pillar of Aprimo management is production management. Here marketing departments can manage projects such as managing a creative process. Companies have the ability to manage the review and approval process for creative projects with multiple parties in and outside their company. From the point of producing content, right the way through to final approval. We work with a number of health and pharmaceutical companies, where tracking and documenting is an extra dynamic because of regulated authorities such as the FDA. There’s a huge need for tracking and auditing clients’ projects. They really need to be able to track and document any marketing project in case regulatory authorities need to audit the process. Aprimo provides a means for documenting how a marketing project management process occurred.

John: Mike, a lot of my time as a marketing manager was spent managing vendors. I’ve also been on the vendor side and experienced dealing with marketing managers, they always seemed so stressed. Having been on the client side I can say the vendors were part of that stress, but also, sometimes managing a number of vendors was a highly complex process. I know you deal with larger companies, and therefore a great deal of complexity, how does Aprimo help with the vendor management process?

Mike: When it comes to providing marketing managers with help for selecting or managing vendors Aprimo’s production management module provides a lot of support. It deals with vendor selection, RFP processes. The module gives you a specific set of steps to follow, and even allows you to set up your own rules and processes within the software. We even have a module on preferred vendor relationships. Companies can set up preferred pricing plans; we help with enforcement, to discourage the use of a local supplier, rather than a preferred vendor.

The vendor management process highlights an important underlying capability of the Aprimo software, we have a workflow engine, its one of our core technologies that gives marketers the capability to put together a workflow project successfully. What’s interesting about Aprimo software is that we looked at the marketing management process from the marketing manager’s perspective. Technology people, using very rigid processes, put most existing workflow software together, and that did not reflect the dynamic of the marketing operations management process, we see marketing as being much more dynamic, more random even. Marketing managers want to set up their own workflow for their campaigns and program, in the way that works for them. Marketing managers need to be able to include outside resources in their processes. Aprimo allows them to set up a workflow to include inside and outside resources, it includes deadlines, key deliveries, and the resources needed. The software sends alerts when appropriate to a marketing manager, and that information is automatically delivered to staff and agencies responsible for running a project. When vendors accept any requirements, the marketing manager will receive key notifications back informing them of the vendor’s acceptance. The marketing workflow process is an important aspect of the marketing operations management process to consider, and something we’ve worked hard to model within our system. Different issues always arise in marketing; marketing managers need to make adjustments based on things that happen. If a vendor is not able to meet their commitments on time, and it becomes an issue, the software will let you easily adjust the schedule. In fact workflow management is the fastest growing area of our company. Marketing managers it seems really need help with automation of complex marketing processes.

Lastly the fourth pillar of the Aprimo software system is campaign /lead management. Where marketing departments create campaigns, and our software will route any leads to sales people within a company from a marketing campaign. Aprimo integrates with many of the CRM systems out there. We really try to differentiate ourselves from CRM vendors. We focus on the marketing process squarely, print ads and advertising etc.

John: I was wondering if you could explain in detail how Aprimo integrates with advertising vehicles like Google Adwords? And for that matter do you have any clients using the system for this?

Mike: Many of clients to use Aprimo to integrate and give overall management of their Google Adwords advertising network. In fact we are doing work with the worlds largest online auction place. That company uses the software to manage their Google Adwords marketing. There are two issues with online marketing, one is the financial aspect, and the other is the brand consistency. For online marketing, companies want to ensure there is brand consistency in their keywords across all of the multiple channels that are now possible on the web. In addition the Aprimo system allows marketing managers to manage traditional definition of colors and size, and what is the brand message. We are also talking with many of the companies that have developed keyword management automated software tools. And we are looking at integrating with several companies so that data from their systems will pass automatically into Aprimo.

However, we don’t just focus on online marketing, as a company, our focus is more on cross channel marketing, the integrated viewpoint. We are less interested in the tactical reporting, and much more interested in helping marketing managers assess the value of different advertising investments such as keyword and email campaigns. Aprimo software provides the hub that gives marketing managers the marketing execution and insight they need to run their marketing departments successfully.

Another big part of Aprimo is helping to ensure everyone is keeping to the same protocols, a client, one of the world's largest consumer packaged goods companies has divisions in thirty five countries and we are currently launching a fifteen thousand user implementation within that company. So it’s very important that management can ensure brand consistency across the entire enterprise. The company is so large the roll out will take three years, starting in Mexico, Venezuela and Chile.

John: Lastly, what solutions are you providing for social media marketing and word of mouth marketing?

Mike: We’ve added functionality for viral marketing this year. A client can set up call forwarding to friends; and keep track of that of email forward. Many companies have expressed a lot of interest in this area. I definitely think that there are new emerging channels of marketing such as WOM and viral marketing. This is one tactic that enables a company to get through to customers who are otherwise very hard to reach; it’s a key emerging trend.

John: One last comment, Mike and I were chatting at the end of the interview and he described how his software really provided support to the core of the marketing function in an interesting way, Mike said, “Even with all of the new ways to market today. We develop technology for all of the things marketing has always had to do.”