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3 Practical Marketing Tools You Should Know About

By Martin Kihn | September 09, 2014 | 0 Comments


Having ignited a twit-storm of tsuris with my recent post on how (not) to brief an analyst, I thought I’d spend a moment recognizing three newer companies whose briefings really impressed me this year.

They had the dynamic duo of:

  • Winning solution — a product that seems IMHO to be solving a real problem in a practical way, overcoming some friction in a marketing process or otherwise meeting a challenge with creative elan
  • Winning pitch — unpretentious, plain talking, friendly and clear

These three companies don’t have much in common, other than being HQ’d in cities other than SF, being smallish and newish, and #nailingit. (BTW these are not official Gartner Cool Vendors and have not been endorsed by my boss. This is me talking to you, amigo.)

1. Automated Insights – Durham, NC

Founded by an ex-Cisco engineer with a passion for fantasy football, Automated Insights (AI) takes large volumes of data and turns it into English prose. You read that right. As they say: “It’s like an expert talking with each user in plain English.” AI automates the process of writing simple reports based on data streams, a job that today is usually in the hands of a very bored junior analyst. (Trust me, I was one of them.)

Generally using structured data, AI finds basic patterns and outputs reports in templated formats, white-labeled with the client’s logo. The value here is an ability to automate routine reporting and customize at large scale. Reports can be distributed to thousands of recipients, each of whom is seeing a unique version. Uses are pretty obvious: imagine a wearable sending a daily run summary, or a fantasy football league recap.

2. Beckon — San Mateo, CA

Like AI, Beckon wants to help marketers meet the challenge of swelling data volumes and variety, combined with their own limited capacity to process reports and gain insight from the swells. Calling themselves “a partner to clean up the data mess,” they offer a solution that basically consumes standard reports from other systems, pulls data from APIs, blenderizes and reformats, and creates a central repository of normalized, structured, useful information. Beckon proudly calls itself “middleware.”

How does it work? The marketer can Email autoforward reports from web analytics, marketing automation, app performance management, whatever systems, and Beckon pulls pre-defined data fields directly from these disparate reports. (As mentioned, it also takes info from APIs.) It uses “parsers” to map inputs to predefined data fields. Like AI, Beckon is happy to white label its output, put your logo (or your agency’s logo) on it. It’s not real-time customer-level advanced analytics, but for most marketers drowning in small-fonted and unread PDFs, it could be pretty darn useful.

3. CivicScience — Pittsburgh, PA

I’ve mentioned these guys before. Their business is quite simple: they have a lot of publisher partners who offer up real estate on their websites, and CivicScience serves up little consumer research surveys, mixed with pop culture and other questions for fun. On the back end, the company maintains what is essentially an always-on syndicated demographic and attitudinal survey that maps individual users (based on browser cookies) to all the answers they have given, over time. In this way, CivicScience provides a bite-sized way to deliver surveys to consumers that is perfectly suited to combat the anti-survey mentality plaguing brand consumer research.


To increase engagement and make the survey process less choreful, CivicScience seeds kicky questions among those that clients are really asking — for example, they might ask “Who is the smartest Kardashian?” … followed by a question about whether you live in a city or suburb. In this way, a sizeable database of answers is accumulated that can be cross-tabbed by marketers who are interested in aligning demographics with attitudes, including attitudes to their own and competitors’ brands, to inform campaigns, product development, and so on. The advantage is relatively high response rates and fast turnaround — two things in short supply in the consumer survey space.

Plus, CivicScience releases some very entertaining surveys of their own from time to time. Check out their profile of Snapchat fans.

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