We’re in the Age of CRM, so what’s next?

I recently spent the day at the Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing, teaching marketers from the NHS, entertainment, travel, financial services and education sectors about eCRM. The format of the day’s course deliberately – because of the variety of industries – avoids detailed best practise, as one size clearly cannot fit all. The focus is on the framework. More particularly on three frameworks: customer journey planning; capability assessment and prioritisation; and business case development. This is well-trod ground for me, I’ve been teaching this course for around ten years, and I lecture on this to Hult International Business School’s Masters Degree Program.

One thing that I’ve observed over the last few years of teaching eCRM masterclasses is that the recession which started in 2008 kicked eCRM – and CRM – way up the agenda. Provable marketing has taken over. And the clients we’ve worked with who started out at the geeky end of things are now the marketing directors, precisely because they have been able to demonstrate the commercial results and advantages of rigorous marketing strategies.

During this revolution, creativity seems to have taken a back seat to data, segmentation, analytics, infrastructure and million pound notes. Retention programmes must resonate with a brand’s consumers and customers. They have to sing in harmony, and where possible enhance and amplify, the creative direction set out for the brand.

This creative direction, the tone of voice, look and feel and integrity of vision and values, is the context and instruction for how all communications must work. By focusing on the practical, technical, commercial and process aspects of marketing it’s a shameful reality that occasionally these things get lost in the drive for results and ROI. Creative thinking provides the glue for all of marketing. Over the last few years, as CRM has blossomed, the most successful programmes have been produced by clients and agencies that have deep creative capability – not as lead, that’s for the brand agency, but as interpreters. Why? Because interpreting brand values for the kinds of channel eCRM now makes use of – social media, email, mobile, direct – takes clever interpretive abilities that are execution-oriented. The great creatives take the grand work of the advertising partner and deliver it to individuals on the ground, during the customer journey, matching it to the consumer’s transient need states as they travel along the relationship with the brand.

CRM is established as an equal partner to advertising, where it has effectively become the engine room of marketing thinking. It took eleven years. It’s time marketers looked up and worked out what the Next Big Thing is.

I don’t think it will be any surprise that it’s already shaping up to be about partnering, collaborating with and accompanying customers for their entire lifetime, in every channel, in ways that are relevant and – critically – appropriate. CRM implies retention, data, direct, pushing customers along the journey we have defined for them. The new approach requires creative engagement enacted by the brand following the customer, not the other way round.

It requires multichannel or omnichannel thinking, holistic relationship building. It’s called Total Customer Engagement and it’s been here already for a few years. It is the next big wave. When you’ve got eCRM or CRM sorted (and you will need to have it nailed down before you can start) you can take a few short steps to transform it into the next big driver of your business as the economy dusts itself off.

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