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”?

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