Act-On wants to bring 'the Waze experience' to marketing automation

Sometimes metaphors are a good way of explaining things. Sometimes they're just about looking cool.

data driven marketing
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I get the idea of using metaphors to illustrate a narrative. But there is a difference between that and simply inserting the name of a cool company to make your existing product suddenly feel young and hip. I've had countless pitches of this sort: "We're like Uber, but for dog walkers," "We're the Airbnb of supermarkets," "We're like Netflix, but for wine lovers."

So when I got an email from marketing automation company Act-On telling me that it is "bringing the Waze experience to marketing automation," I bristle a lot. In this case, it is something of a bristle and a chuckle.

You see, Waze is the Israeli startup that was acquired by Google. It built a navigation tool that had a lot of real-time goodness included -- Waze would surface traffic delays, accidents and speed cameras on a user's route. But Waze also never quite succeeded as it wanted to -- it didn't get anything close to global coverage, its UI was (some suggest) clunky and, post-acquisition, it has pretty much been stripped bare and all the cool stuff has been added to Google Maps.

So in this case, Act-On's metaphor might not be a good one.

Marketing narratives aside, however, it is worth taking a look at what the company is doing here. Act-On is introducing an innovation to its core platform that will allow marketing to create adaptive journeys for its buyers and customers. Essentially what this means is that the platform can now recognize behaviors, preferences and interests and use that data to automatically adapt the message, the timing and the delivery channel for more personalized engagements.

This change builds on some core architectural traits that Act-On has had since its inception. It was one of the first companies in the space to embark on a NoSQL database journey, and this decision has opened up the opportunity for the company to build a machine learning layer on top of the core platform.

The idea of this machine learning offering is to, as much as possible, enable automation over the actions that the platform suggests. The company is focused on building a predictive engagement engine on this real-time platform that can automatically adapt buying journeys (timing, channel and message) to an individual's preferences and behaviors.

All of this is about delivering the best possible message, at the right time, through the right channel. Act-On helps its customers tailor what, when and where they communicate with their customers and prospects.

This is a compelling proposition, but, to be honest, it is also one which every company even peripherally involved in the marketing automation space is articulating.

This is by no means a dismissal that this big-data driven, artificially intelligent, machine-learning goodness is not useful for marketing professionals. Clearly it is, evidenced through the huge numbers of organizations peddling the same message. Act-On has a valuable part to play in all this -- I'm just not convinced that it is offering anything massively unique.

Which gets us back to that metaphor. Act-On did, after all, risk my wrath by dropping the Waze thing on me. So what is its justification for such a lofty claim?

Per the briefing materials: "Traditionally, buyers and customers have been forced through a few predefined paths created by marketers. While these paths added a level of personalization to the experience, the method has fallen short for buyers and customers. Similar in how we've seen the evolution of mapping technology like Waze and Google Maps, 'predefined directions' have given way to more fluid recommended paths that take into account individual user behaviors and outside factors in real time. This is similar to the innovation Act-On looks to apply to its Adaptive Journeys -- to consistently deliver more precise, more personalized engagement paths for brands and their buyers."

So I get where the company is coming from, but I'm not buying it. Act-On is a cool company and all, but resorting to a Waze metaphor just seems like a desperate move to me.

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