Wednesday, July 2, 2008

MMA Avista DSS ...and more

I originally contacted Marketing Management Analytics (MMA) to discuss Avista DSS, a hosted service that helps its clients use MMA-built mix models for planning, forecasting and optimization. But while MMA Vice President Douglas Brooks seemed happy to discuss Avista, he said the most excitement today is being generated by BrandView, a newer offering that shows the long-term impact of marketing messages on financial results.

This is important because mix modeling shows the short-term, incremental impact of marketing efforts on top of a base sales level. BrandView addresses the size of the base itself.

BrandView works by comparing the messages the company has delivered in its advertising with changes in brand measures such as consumer attitudes. It also considers media spending and market conditions. These in turn are related to actual sales results. Using at least three years of data, BrandView can estimate the impact of different messages and media expenditures on the company’s base sales level. This allows calculation of long-term return on investment, supplementing the short-term ROI generated by mix models.

In other words, BrandView lets MMA relate brand health measures to financial results—something that Brooks sees as the biggest opportunity in the marketing measurement industry. He said the company has completed two BrandView projects so far with “rave reviews.”

That’s about all I know about BrandView. Now, back to Avista.

As I mentioned, Avista is a hosted service. Beyond browser-based access to the software itself, it includes having MMA build the underlying models, update them with new data monthly or quarterly, train and help company personnel in using the system, and consult on taking advantage of the system results.

The software has the functions you would want in this sort of system. It can combine results from multiple models, which lets users capture different behaviors for different market segments such as regions or product lines. It lets users build and save a base scenario, and then test the results of changing specific components such as spending, pricing and distribution. It also lets users change assumptions for external factors such as competitive behavior and market demand, as well as new factors not built into the historically-based mix models. It provides more than 30 standard reports showing forecasted demand, estimated impact of mix components, actual vs. forecast results (with forecasts based on updated actual inputs), and return on different marketing investments. Reports can convert the media budget to Gross Ratings Points, to help guide media buyers.

The system also includes automated optimization. Users select one objective from a variety of options, such as maximum revenue for a fixed marketing budget or minimum marketing spend to reach a specified volume goal. They can also specify constraints such as maximum budget, existing media commitments, or allocations of spending over time. The system then identifies the optimal resource allocations to meet the specified conditions. Reports will compare the recommended allocations against past actuals, to highlight the changes.

Avista was released in 2005. Brooks reports it is now used by about two-thirds of MMA’s mix model clients. The system typically has ten to twenty users per company, spread among marketing, finance and research departments. Each user can be given customized reports—for example, to focus on a particular product line or region—as well as different system capabilities. Building the underlying models usually takes three to four months, depending largely on how long it takes to assemble the company-provided inputs. (Standard external inputs, such as syndicated research, are easy.) After this, it takes another month to deploy Avista itself, mostly doing quality control. Cost depends on the scope of each project, but might start at around $400,000 per year for a typical company with multiple models.

Of course, just getting Avista deployed is only the start of the process. The real challenge is getting company managers to trust and use the results. Brooks said that most firms need three to six months to build the necessary confidence. The roll-out usually proceeds in phases, starting with dashboard reports, adding what-if analyses, and only then using the outputs in official company budgets and forecasts.

Brooks said that MMA will eventually integrate BrandView with Avista. The synergy is obvious: the base demand projections created by BrandView are part of the input to the Avista mix models. This is definitely something to keep an eye on.

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