TwinSpires Backs A New Horse For The Kentucky Derby

Gamblers from all around the world will unite in prayer Saturday, as the Kentucky Derby kicks off and the hopes for a big payout will be either answered or not.

And Ian Williams, VP of marketing for TwinSpires, has placed his own bet on the European marketing automation platform Emarsys.

TwinSpires is the official betting and wagering platform of Churchill Downs, which hosts the Kentucky Derby.

As one might expect, the horse race industry is highly seasonal, and there’s a lot of activity around TwinSpires right now as the big event looms.

“The role changes on a monthly basis,” Williams said. “Right now I’m wearing ten hats, but later on in the year I’ll look at the CRM in more detail.” The Kentucky Derby is TwinSpires’ main source of new customers, so a lot of retention happens during the quieter months.

This will be Williams’ first race with Emarsys, and TwinSpires wants to send email messages instantaneously based on events that just happened.

Easier said than done.

“Many decisions happen when an event triggers an automation,” said Emarsys US president Sean Brady. Those decisions include how long to wait before sending out an email, or what offers a person should receive – which can only be determined after the software examines individual records within a CRM database.

“We look at patterns of play, how people view the content, and we try to tailor promotions and messages around those segments and habits,” said Williams.

Last year, TwinSpires was hobbled because this process was largely manual, and the company couldn’t scale its human operation. Williams’ team would have 10 to 20 segments, which wasn’t very granular. Unfortunately, setting up a segment required a staffer with knowledge of SQL to dive into the guts of the system – pulling data, uploading lists and rinsing and repeating based on the campaign duration.

Over the past three months, since activating Emarsys, TwinSpires builds segments in seconds, which it can immediately apply to marketing emails. It can also push that CRM-fueled messaging onto Facebook, Google and a handful of ad exchanges – though Williams wants Emarsys to add AppNexus and a few other RTB exchanges to the mix.

But the basic distinction is that Emarsys can ingest data better than other email and messaging solutions, Williams said. It’s already replaced TwinSpires’ previous email platform Yesmail, owned by Infogroup, and Williams is deciding whether to replace its app push notification solution from Localytics. Right now, the two systems run alongside each other.

It might seem like a surprise that marketing tech, despite its relative maturity, still has trouble applying data to messaging. Apparently batch and blast will never die.

But Emarsys’ Brady has worked in mar tech for years, including a long stint at ExactTarget, before Salesforce bought it. He claims that a lot of mar tech systems are still weak on personalization. Point solutions need to hook into other technologies to fulfill that promise. And big marketing clouds built through acquisition haven’t been able to seamlessly integrate.

So Brady hopes that Emarsys’ promise that it can actually leverage marketers’ data will help it proliferate in a mature US market. So far, it’s been in the US for 18 months, and while it’s growing fast, 90% of Emarsys’ business is still in Europe and Asia.

Of course, that’s not relevant for TwinSpires. Williams is confident Emarsys will perform when activity spikes during the Kentucky Derby – but there’s always nervousness when putting a new system to the test.

He’s not questioning whether Emarsys will work, he said: “It’s more like whether it can handle our API calls.” TwinSpires does a lot of API calls, necessary for real-time messaging.

“We’ve put it under immense loads, but it’ll be the first time it sees a load like that,” Williams said. “But they work with Best Buy, so I’m not worried about how they’ll handle it.”

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