Dentsu-Backed Harmonic Debuts Optimization Tool

Harmonic, a startup backed by Japanese agency giant Dentsu, is set to unveil its cross-media optimization software, amid growing interest for tools promising better ways to track and fine-tune marketing spending.

San Francisco-based Harmonic’s Engine for Marketing 2.0 serves as a data warehouse and analysis tool — combining client customer data with information from third-party providers like Axciom or Information Resource, and using it to segment customer databases.

But the real value of the tool is in analyzing campaign data to determine the effectiveness of different placements and channels. Using built-in links to systems like DoubleClick DART and Responsys, the system can analyze Web and e-mail activity. It can also import information from call centers, linked to direct mail promotional codes, and data from agencies’ calculations of print, outdoor and TV through local test marketing and comparisons to overall sales.

With that data, Harmonic’s Engine offers recommendations on the best ways to optimize media buys based on creative, offer, customer segment and media channel.

“What we do is essentially enable marketers to rank order their marketing spending across different combinations of buys to determine at a very granular level what is the most profitable and best way to spend their marketing budget,” said Gina Bianchini, Harmonic’s chief marketing officer and co-founder.

Already, Harmonic has attracted some big-name customers, including Disney’s ABC, NEC , NetBank and Lowe’s Entertainment.

The system is already in use at Tokyo-based Dentsu, which is introducing a localized version of the system to Japanese clients. (In Japan, the service also automatically tracks i-mode wireless campaigns.)

Though the service is offered on an ASP basis, with customers providing their own third-party data feeds and offline marketing research, Harmonic employs an analysis staff of its own for agencies and advertisers without a dedicated research team.

“There’s a pretty wide continuum of marketers. Some have 20 data analysts on staff, and to those kinds of company we offer this purely as a [service] that their own team can manipulate. On the other end is a marketer who is under-resourced … and we would offer the software along with value-added services.

The product rollout comes as tools to track and optimize media spending are in high demand by on- and offline advertisers, as marketing managers cope with dwindling budgets while still striving to overcome media fragmentation and integrate new advertising formats into the mix.

In recent months, a record number of tools to measure the effectiveness of and fine-tune online, and, to an extent, offline campaigns. have entered the market. DoubleClick, for instance, now offers a service for Web publishers to analyze visitor behavior on their site and to deploy e-mail campaigns accordingly; its Abacus co-op database unit also offers an ASP for its clients to track the return on investment from cross-channel direct marketing campaigns.

Harmonic’s Engine for Marketing, which assigns a unique identification number to each ad for use in tracking, also comes as support is growing for industry-wide digital systems that could be used for computerized tracking, trafficking and optimization.

Earlier this year, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers jointly launched a digital ID code system, an initiative that has received support from other players in digital media management, such as Donovan Data Systems.

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