Alterian’s Alchemy – Turning Data Into Gold





So, as promised a more thorough review of the new product from Alterian – Alchemy.

A description from the company themselves – “Alchemy is a lot of things”, so let’s break these down.

Firstly let’s explore the principles behind it. Alchemy is designed to change the way business engages with customers online and offline. Having recognized a fundamental shift in the marketing now has to be conducted, predominantly due to the impact of social media, Alterian ahs been on the acquisition trail over the last few years, buying up content management systems and most notably, the social media monitoring tool, SM2, designed by Techrigy.

Alchemy is also recognition that the existing campaign management tools available are now no longer fit for purpose in the new world.

The first thing to note is that Alchemy has been designed with the end user (a marketer, not a technician) very much in mind. To this end, Alterian have brought in a User Experience Engineer, Colin Robertson to oversee the design of Alchemy, to ensure that a user friendly interface was achieved. Indeed, Alterian sum up this approach by stating that, “the user should know what they’re doing, not how they’re doing it”. At last!

Three specific areas underpin Alchemy:

  • Technology
  • Usability
  • New Concepts

Technology – this is brand new technology, not a series of enhancements to existing technologies. Alchemy works on desktops, in browsers, on PC’s or on a Mac in a way that makes no difference to the user.

Usability – Colour schemes have been devised to help the users fell comfortable with where they are at anytime. Specific colours are used to indicate the following parts of this product – segments, campaigns, engineering data, reports, design, tactics and question sheets.

Training in the use of Alchemy should be shorter and easier.

New concepts – Campaign tools that are accessible to the ‘non-power’ user.

But, what’s under the bonnet?

The building blocks of Alchemy are data and tools. As Alterian say, ‘data is the object, tools are the subject’.

So to start, a marker would typically look to create a data segment. The drag and drop feature is fabulous from a  user point of view, but also great is that as you add criteria to your selections, the volume of data that you are creating changes and is visible to you, so you don’t have to wait to hit ‘submit’ get disappointed and start again. So you can pull, females, born in August who, given their transactional history, are likely to purchase within the next three months online, all through the drag and drop functionality.

The other stand out feature for me is Alchemy’s integration of social media into the overall campaign management system. Essentially, once a campaign becomes live, Alchemy listens to the ‘buzz’ that it is creating on social media and can respond to this buzz, based on a series of events and triggers.

An ‘event’, is defined as anything that is brought in from the outside – for example a ‘tweet’ or a blog post. Once an event happens, a ‘triggers’ can be set up to occur – an email campaign, direct mail piece of tweet for example.

The ‘Engagement Persona ID’ ties together all the information known about a customer and be used to personalise elements of a campaign in a particularly impressive way. The example that Alterian use is a campaign that offers a 15% discount to anyone who tweets a particular hashtag. Assuming all permissions are granted, Alchemy then captures the Twitter handles of all those who have done so, then tweets them back with a link to a url that takes them to a personalized website, promoting products that are likely to stimulate a purchase.

Alchemy appears to be a great, user friendly tool, which draws together the increasingly disparate actions available to customers in 2011. This is a huge achievement in itself, but in giving the marketer a simple and straightforward user interface, it makes brings down the barriers that are present in some systems, so that maximum value can be extracted and all of the features can be used without fear.

Financial Services and Social Media

After some investigation into the area of the use of social media by those companies governed by the FSA (Financial Services Authority), it is heartening to see that such a heavily regulated industry has some fairly light rules that its members are asked to observe.

Whether this refreshing lightness of touch is down to the firm belief amongst those in the FSA, that by its very nature social media is more volatile than traditional media channels and so needs less guidelines, or whether it’s down to a lack of understanding of the potential pitfalls and opportunities, I’m not sure. But I have my suspicions.

Nevertheless, it would appear that a two page pdf is enough to guide its members at this stage.

It is interesting however that the FSA guidlelines are entitled “Financial Promotions using New Media”.

Why first pick “Promotions”? Surely because the authors assume that this is another push channel for its members. In fact the opening section states, “We have produced this update following a review into the media channels that firms use to communicate financial promotions to customers. In particular, a shift towrds the use of ‘new media’ has been noted”

It sounds like the warnings that parents of teenagers heard in the fifties, when warned of the dangers of this new music called ‘rock ‘n’ roll’!

They do suggest guidelines for “Non-promotional communications”, which quite rightly state that communciations be “..fair, clear and not misleading”.

Finally there is a section called “What should you consider before using new media?”

  • New media may date more quickly than traditional • media channels, so regular reviews to ensure that information is up-to-date may be required.
  • It is important to consider whether this channel is a • suitable method for the type of communication. For example, Twitter limits the number of characters that can be used, which may be insufficient to provide balanced and sufficient information.
  • It is important to consider whether the risk • information could be displayed prominently and clearly using this media channel.
  • Promotions and communications made using new media must meet the requirements for
    stand-alone compliance.

So remember that Twitter can only handle 140 characters! “There will be no dancing in the aisles”!

It seems that as long as companies follow the current guidleines they’re covered. But the lack of detail is revealing.

What’s even more surprising is what’s not covered.

There is nothing here about blogs and Facebook pages that will solicit third party content. Nothing about staff training and supervision on using social media tools, nothing about SMS or chat rooms and nothing about the role of  agents of companies governed by the FSA.

By comparison FINRA, the US equivalent of the FSA, have published a lengthy report, also aimed at helping its members.

So, I’m beginning to feel as though the FSA is acting a  little like rabbits in the headlights and perhaps hoping this will all go away.

But guess what?

Interestingly FINRA has a blog, several Twitter accounts and a Facebook page.

The FSA doesn’t.

“It works in practice but will it work in theory?”

I recently heard this quote, admittedly in relation to something completely different, but I felt that it was a perfect reflection of feeling towards social media and its potential in the UK.

It was followed by, “We are wallowing in a miasma of over analytical nonsense”.

It’s true isn’t it? Even sitting here writing this I’m conscious that I’m adding,  in a very small way, to the noise out there on this subject. Surely the arguments are compelling enough. Engaging with customers and prospects is a good thing right?

So, for this post I will say no more.

Except this  – Just Do It


I HATE the word strategy. It is the most abused, overused word in the English language and typically used by idiots when the have nothing to say because they think it makes them sound intelligent.

I HATE it.

Let me state how things should be. A marketing manager or director, must write a plan. The plan should identify quantifiable objectives. Each of these objectives should have a strategy to support them and so deliver the plan.

So – have a plan and objectives before you have a strategy. And then never use the word again. Ever.