Monetate is one of the oldest and largest Web testing and personalization vendors, founded in 2008 and now serving more than 350 brands. Its core clients have been mid-to-large ecommerce companies, originally in the U.S. and now also in Europe. I’ve been meaning to write about them for some time but when we finally connected late last year they had a major launch coming this April, so it made sense to hold off a little longer.
That day has come. Monetate last week announced its latest enhancement, a machine-learning-powered “intelligent personalization engine” that supplements its older, rules-based approach. Machine learning by itself isn’t very exciting today: pretty much everybody seems to have it in some form. What makes the launch so important for Monetate is they had to rebuild their system to support the kind of machine learning they’re doing, which is real-time learning that reacts to each visitor’s behaviors as they happen,
Montetate now holds its data in a “key-value store” (meaning, instead of placing data into predefined tables and fields, it stores each piece of information with one or more identifiers that specify its nature). This is a “big data” approach that lets the system add new types of information without creating a new table or field. In practical terms, it means Monetate can give each client a unique data structure, can rapidly add new data types and individual pieces of data, and can maintain a complete, up-to-the-moment profile for each customer. These are all essential for real-time machine learning. (Of course, the system still has some standard events shared by all clients, such as orders and customer service calls. These are needed to allow standard system functions.)
Important as these changes are, the basic operation of Monetate is still the same. First, it builds a database of customer information. Then, it draws on that database to help test and personalize customer experiences.
The campaign audience can be based on Monetate’s 150 standard segments or draw on Web site behaviors, visitor demographics, local weather, imported lists, customer value, or other information derived from the database. Actions can virtually insert new objects on a Web page, or hide or edit existing objects. Users can build content with Monetate’s own tools or import content created in other systems. The content itself is dynamic so it can be personalized for each visitor. Actions can be reused across campaigns and campaigns can contain rules to select different actions in different situations. The new intelligent personalization engine automatically picks the best available content for each customer, drawing on both individual and group behaviors. Users can also embed split or multivariate tests within a campaign. The system will reallocate traffic to better-performing options while the test is running and switch all traffic to the winner when enough information is available.
In other words, this is a very powerful system. The user interface is also remarkably, well, usable: some training is certainly required but no deep technical skills are needed.
Monetate’s intelligent personalization is currently limited selecting content for Web interactions. The company plans to add product recommendations later this year (finding the best product among thousands is a different challenge from finding the best content among dozens or hundreds). It will add support for other channels next year.
Pricing for Monetate has also changed with the new product. It was previously based on page views but is now based on unique visitors and number of channels. This reflects a desire to stress customer value over individual decisions. Fees start around $100,000 per year for a small to mid-size company.