Today, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) bears little resemblance to what it was when it was first coined as a marketing approach more than a decade ago. This change is due to the proliferation of new digital media, the advances in technology and data collection and the resultant changing consumer ecosystem of communication consumption.
RM arose because marketers wanted to proactively communicate with their targets in a more personalized way and to customize the brand message by target group in order to increase the relevance of the communications and deepen the brand relationship. Traditionally, RM is therefore often characterized as an outbound email campaign or direct mail campaign (and no—direct mail is not dead yet) or even outbound telemarketing.
Simultaneously we saw the evolution of websites from fairly static corporate and brand information repositories to dynamic, interactive and intelligent hubs that have become the fundamental core of brand and messaging delivery. These sites can be designed to proactively identify the visitor’s status in the customer journey and serve up a customized user experience on the site and convert this interaction into data that then loops back to the email or direct mail stream where it is used to ensure that the next outbound communication is on point. Today, the website and the outbound email and direct mail communications are integrally linked and are all part of a singular user experience—all part of the growing tool kit for managing the customer relationship. But wait, the RM ecosystem extends further at both ends of the journey. Customized banners drive into the RM hub or website at one end, while at the other end social media and other pass-along tools facilitate the final stage in a customer relationship with a brand—advocacy.
So today, these points in the ecosystem are inexorably linked into a singular customer experience, where the website “hub” is at the heart of the relationship and is fed by banners and other media where data about the consumer and their brand needs are collected, sorted and stored, thus creating the brain of RM programs going forward. Consumer behaviors—either stated in preference centers or, more importantly, shown by their activities while on the site—then drive the proactive outreach to deepen the engagement between brand and consumer via one of the traditional RM media. Because of the ability to gather data and then use it to respond to customer needs and preferences throughout this journey, it means that RM is now truly CMR or Customer Managed Relationships. Consumers understand this and, indeed, in many cases expect higher and higher levels of responsiveness and customization at all stages of the relationship.
Customer control of the relationship also demands that access to and interaction with the brands that are important to them be available wherever and however they want to access them—making mobile access a must for success in the future.
So what does this mean for the future?
1. Relationship Management cannot be viewed as a channel but as a total communication approach. So if you think: “RM—oh yeah! That is the email program,” then stop and reassess. Go back in your thinking to where the first brand interaction occurs—to what we want the final outcome to be—and you will have arrived at the definition of RM for tomorrow.
2. The consumer is taking more and more control of brand relationships—and will continue to do so in the future. Accept that despite what we like to think as marketers, the consumer controls what that relationship will be and how they want it to occur more than ever before. So making sure we understand their needs and delivering relevance at appropriate touch points is increasingly important—or they will tune us out.
3. Consumer “control” is increasingly gleaned from their behaviors and interactions with communications and content—augmenting their stated preferences. What consumers claim or say (such as their preferences) is powerful stuff—but what they do, and then do repeatedly, is even more powerful as a proxy of relevance and in addressing their needs. And unlike preferences that generally do not get updated frequently, interactions with communications and touch points is on-going and provides a real-time gauge of what is important to customers in their ever changing world of technology, conditions and communications.
4. Seamless integration of messaging across all touch points in the ever expanding touch point ecosystem is now the cost of entry for strong relationship brands.
5. Mobile accessibility has arrived as a pre-requisite for the Best of Breed RM programs.
6. Consumers are taking increasingly greater control not only over brand relationships but also over many other aspects of their lives—especially managing their health more proactively. Recognizing this is a crucial component to ensuring that our RM programs for our clients truly capitalize on this convergence of control to create Best of Breed programs that consistently deliver results—for the patients and for our clients.
7. Data collection is at the core of understanding consumer interactions with our touch points. Even if the term data makes your eyes glaze over, it will more than ever be the foundation for creating, adjusting, modifying and optimizing brand-consumer relationship marketing in the future. In order for our RM programs to lead the way in the future, ensuring that we know what data needs to be tracked—and that we track it appropriately from the beginning of the relationship throughout—is not optional any more. We need to think this through up front, put the tracking in place and make the data accessible so that its full value can be realized.
8. Understand the dynamics of the RM program and continuously adjust accordingly. The days of “set it and forget it” until semi-annual or periodic deep dives will no longer work as more and more RM programs move to real-time tracking and responsiveness to data changes that signal consumer shifts in behavior, which will be addressed in the most timely manner possible depending on category. In pharma, the length of time it takes to get content changes through regulatory sometimes results in short sightedness. Remember, there are other elements that we can address in the RM program such as cadence, timing or changing the order of touch points, for example, that can help make our programs more responsive.
If we pay attention to the changing consumer, the changing ecosystem of touch points and focus on collecting and using the behavioral data to the maximum at every stage of the customer journey, the future of Customer Managed Relationships will be more exciting than ever.