CRM: the Love Story

So many movies are based on the same classic story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, all  is well with the world. At some point in the story there usually a scene that involves some version of the dreaded phrase “you just don’t understand me”. As a viewer, you know these two are meant for each other and they will find their way back together. And therein lies the tale: they will figure out what is important to themselves and to each other, and the relationship will emerge stronger than ever.

OK,  maybe I watch too many chick flicks, but I do think that all this has some bearing on the work I do with my brand team partners as we develop our  CRM strategies. (CRM is our shorthand for Consumer Relationship Marketing. Sometimes the same acronym is used for Customer Relationship Management, and that’s not what I’m talking about here.)  Because of the inherently social nature of beverage alcohol brands, we have been integrating relationship marketing into our strategies for many years, and the internet has helped us not only be more cost efficient, but to be more real and relevant in our conversations. This enables us to truly build a relationship.

Today, it’s not enough for a brand to just send “love letters”. The consumers that raise their hand and tell us they want to hear from us expect us to listen, to know who they are, to understand them. And a relationship is a two-way street: there are times that our friends might reach out to use with a question or a comment, and they expect a response that recognizes the existing relationship. A brand needs to have a personality that is almost tangible, and our efforts should always seek to know them our friends better, so that they never get the feeling that “they just don’t understand me”.

So how can we do this?  I would bet that you have friends that would rather text you instead of phoning, or who prefers to let folks know what’s going on with them using Facebook instead of Twitter. We expect our “brand friends” to know that too. Brands need provide a way for our friends to tell us how they would like to talk with us: postal mail, email, SMS, our web sites, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. I see articles talking about “social CRM”, but I think that misses the point: to the consumer, it’s the same brand regardless of channel, and it’s all “social” even if we are referring to an email or a web site.  We want to inspire conversation in whatever way the consumer wants to engage in that conversation, and in a way that brings others into the conversation too.

Now that most brands have defined the role of the various tools and channels, we can develop strategies that allow them to all work together. A brand should define objectives in terms of what we seek to accomplish in the relationship, and only then define how or where we will seek to accomplish those objectives. Much like the classic romantic comedy, we can think about the relationship in four stages.  

1. They meet. Acquisition strategies: inviting, recruiting, bringing new people into a relationship with the brand. Where are your consumers, how will they meet you, what will attract their attention, how are you going to get them to “give you their phone number”? Maybe they would be more comfortable just giving you an email address. Or maybe they just want to say hello, and might come back again another day. Regardless, try to figure out a way to remember their name so that the next time you see them, you can say hello. But for every brand, some consumers may always stay in the “acquaintances” category.

2. They get interested in each other. As two people get acquainted, they start to identify things they have in common. A brand wants to have the same opportunity with each consumer: how can we engage new and existing consumers in ways that express the brand’s personality, to help them to get to know us and include us in their lives. For some of these consumers, this will hopefully blossom into “more than a romance” – we are hoping for a “committment” of brand loyalty, we want they consumer to have a sense that “this is a brand for me”. I always assume that an 80/20 rule will apply, and 20% of the acquaintances will become “interested”.

3. They have a fight over something, and some one else is there to help them feel better. Which consumers have “broken up” with us, and more importantly, why? What other suitors does our consumer have? How do we demonstrate that we are more attractive, and why would they choose us instead of the others? What mechanics does the brand have in place to identify consumers who are unhappy or dissatisfied? How can we follow up with those we haven’t heard from in a while, or identify they have left and earn a chance to “win them back”?

4. They make up, fade to black.. and live happily every after. But of course we all know that this is just the beginning. In a real relationship, the hard work begins once the two have made the committment. And only a few of the consumers who are “interested” in the brand will become an advocate, but these most loyal consumers are the ones from which we can learn the most. Brands must continue to seek to understand the wants and needs of those who are truly “in love” with the brand. We can give them tools that enable them to express their passion for the brand. We can help them participate as stewards of the brand by asking for their opinions and ideas. And we can let them know we recognize that they are an important part of what makes the brand successful.

In any good relationship, success depends on communication. A brand must develop ways to understand what the consumer thinks about the relationship: what’s working, what’s not, what’s missing.  The brand must have techniques in place to measure, learn, and refine our tactics based on what we learn. The measurements should track back to the objectives we are seeking to accomplish in the relationship. We will certainly continue to track open rates, “likes” and “comments”, the number of people at each of the stages I’ve noted above. It is even more important that we establish measures to help us understand the relationship: do our consumers feel valued and included. Would they say “you really DO understand me”?

A Newbie’s View of SXSWI

This was my first time attending the South by Southwest Interactive event, but it won’t be my last! It was a very stimulating creative environment.

In case you don’t know, South by Southwest (SXSW) is a huge 2 week gathering of folks that are, or are hoping to be, on the cutting edge of entertainment and technology. There are three overarching tracks: interactive, film, and music – and there are some interesting content overlaps that surface because of the mix of those 3. I attended only the interactive portion (SXSWI) along with an estimated 19,000 others. The folks attending, or at least the ones I met, tended to be in one of three categories: agency and client folks (often digital marketing and innovation specialists), entrepreneurs and technology developers (particularly gaming and social media folks, and the venture capitalists supporting them), and creative folks (writers and designers who are helping the other 2 groups think about content). An even thought I hadn’t signed up for the Film or Music tracks, I ended up running into musicians, producers, filmmakers, and lots of other interesting folks. It was a terrific opportunity for me to feed the creative side of my brain!

As CNN put it in a recent article, SXSWI is about big ideas in technology: where are we going, why, and how will we get there? The content and schedule for the conference  is determined in a unique way: months before the conference begins, people who want to share information submit their proposal for a session, and the community votes. Because of this process, the sessions reflect the zeitgeist of the community: what folks are thinking about, working on, wanting to learn. In the interactive world, this means that the ideas that are discussed at SXSWI are often the concepts, technologies and platforms that will become commonplace in the future.  Twitter was the breakout hit of SXSW in 2007, and Foursquare was launched at SXSW in 2009.

As with most conferences, at least half of the value of attending comes from the conversations that happen before and after the scheduled sessions. On the shuttle buses, at food trucks that are everywhere around town, at the power-charging stations that are set up all over the 10(!) conference campuses, at the parties each evening, I had fascinating conversations with all sorts of folks. Everyone attending was there to think about the future, and this results in a “delicious stew” of thoughts, ideas, concepts.  

As a brand marketer, I was interested in how brands and companies leveraged the conference to get their message across to the people attending. CNN re-branded a local restaurant into the CNN Grill for the week, Chevy was providing rides to and from conference locations, AT&T provided a charging station lounge in the conference center, Maccallan scotch and SoBe beverages provided free trials to registrants – just to name a few. Brands (both well established ones and startups) were everywhere, clearly seeking to make a positive impression on the all-important “influencers” – those who will use their own networks to spread the word about the things that catch their attention.

Lots of folks have written articles that provide a view to the main themes emerging from the conference, since they can be indicators of  the direction that digital marketing will take in the next few years. Mashable created some infographics to depict the “battles” among various technologies.  The major themes I observed were:

A. Real-time marketing: strategies and structures to support marketing in the moment

B. Trans-media: storytelling / content that is expressed across platforms (sites, advertising, games, social, video, e-books, blogs, podcasts, downloads)

C. Location-based ideas: use of GPS, NFC (near field communication) and RFID (radio frequency identification) to provide context for communications

D. Group social communication tools: group texting such as GroupMe or Beluga

E. Gaming ideas being incorporated into everything: rewarding people for actions, providing surprises and fun

Here are some a few other articles about the conference from other attendees:

http://whatsnext.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/10/what-sxsw-is-and-why-it-matters/

http://adage.com/article/digitalnext/sxsw-collaboration-yields-innovation-tech-fest/149441/

http://smartblogs.com/socialmedia/2011/03/17/looking-back-at-sxsw-3-ideas-that-dominated-this-years-show/

http://booksquare.com/sxswi-2010-themes-and-thoughts/

And a link to the conference site: http://sxsw.com/

Monthly Reports that Matter

I’ve been recovering from a broken arm, and the recovery process is full of measurement. Each time I visit the therapist, she takes multiple measurements of my arm’s range of motion. Some days, I go in to our session thinking that I haven’t made any progress, and other times I go in sure that I’m almost back to 100% – all based on how my arm “feels” or how faithful I have been in doing my assigned exercises. My senses are often wrong: the measurements tell the real story. They provide the feedback I need to know where I need to focus my efforts.

I mention this because this experience has encouraged me to make more time to prepare regular reports for the brand teams I support. I’ve been really busy with strategic thinking, budgeting and project management, and I have lately put the anything more than a cursory reporting of results on the back burner. I have a “sense” of how things are going, how consumers are engaging with our content and responding to our efforts. But those senses can be influenced by my emotions, hunches, personal opinions, and the best efforts don’t always yield results. The reporting of actual measurable results provides the necessary reality check.

Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” With digital marketing, there is no lack of measurement and data. I want to make sure we are paying attention to the measurements that matter. The challenge is in choosing what to include and how to organize it.

And I want the time I take to develop reports to be time well spent: generating something that is worth both my time and the time of the reader. A monthly reporting cycle is fairly standard in our copany, so that’s the cycle I will use too. So with that long preamble, here is how I’m thinking about the reports I am creating.

1. Begin with the end in mind. What am I seeking to accomplish by providing the report? Are there changes that I think the reader should make as a result of the results? For the report to be useful to the reader (which is the only way it is going to get read each month), it needs to provide more than a long list of visits, fans, click throughs and downloads, and it needs to show more than pretty pictures of the ads and promotions we executed. It has to help the reader understand how the results made a difference to the brand, and what we should do differently going forward.

A terrific post from Tim Wilson outlines the different dimensions involved in measuring results, and provides some ideas on how to trace the results back to the strategic versus tactical elements.

2. Keep it simple. The audience, my reader, has limited time, and needs to quickly grasp what I want them to know. It is my responsibility to help them understand why they should read it and care about what I have written. I need to organize the report in a way that provides for quick scanning, with hot links to more detail of they are interested.

3. Draw conclusions, make recommendations. I need to consider what the reader needs to know to do their job better. The purpose of the report is not to show how hard I am working or how brilliant I am; the purpose is to help them understand how the work is impacting their brand objectives. If they are focused on building brand awareness, my report should focus on how I am accomplishing that objective, and what would make our digital efforts even more effective.

4. One master, many reports. I have multiple audiences with different objectives, so I develop a “master” report from which I prepare a custom executive summary for each. In my case, I am writing for a global team, several regional teams, plus individual  countries and markets within those countries. Each team is focused on different things, so I need to highlight what they need to know for their own work. But they all want to be aware of what the others are doing, so the master report provides that detail when they are seeking inspiration from others.

5. Make it better. As I develop each report, I’m asking myself: What is missing that needs to be measured? What questions do I have that I’m not able to answer? How can I get at those answers, and would the additional knowledge be worth the investment? (As Seth Godin pointed out in a recent blog post, there are times when all the facts in the world won’t change a decision.) Chances are my readers will have the same questions I’m asking sooner or later; it makes sense for me to let them know I’m thinking about how to address them.