Monday, 15 February 2010

Last minute places for the IDM eCRM course

I'm teaching the new one day "ECRM for Marketers" course at the Institute of Direct Marketing on the 26th of February – there are still a few places left at a £200 discount if you're free and you want a comprehensive 'how to' on planning, creating and managing eCRM programmes. We'll also be running the same course on June 10th, though it'll be slightly over double the price!

The Efficiency Begets Effectiveness Cycle

We've just gone past a fork in the road. You know the one, a year of very reduced budgets, and a dawning realisation that a year without brand awareness is a dangerous place to be. Marketers are approaching the idea of restarting major spending with some trepidation, because the board is peering closely at ROI.

So brands are starting to spend again, though with huge - and proper - circumspection. While it's tempting to go all out and get brand awreness back by focusing on telly or online with virals and sexy, award-winning branded acquisition campaigns, true effectiveness requires that marketers begin at home, with the customers they already have. ECRM (Electronic Customer Relationship Marketing), with its focus on retention, is auditable in ways an ephemeral viral campaign cannot be.

And there's a second fork ahead, though I don't think it has much impact on the decision about marketing strategy. We're either approaching the end of the recession, or we've chanced upon the middle of one that's W-shaped. If it's the former, then there are already a number of brands that have taken on the salutory lesson and switched focus to low-cost, high-impact programmes delivered by cheap, responsive and trackable channels like email, web, social media and SMS. We've already seen remarkable results that show traditional media-led brand consideration declining sharply while eCRM bases rise against the tide. Those brands will prosper with high margins, where marketing spend is described by what's left over after overheads and profit. More marketing effectiveness means higher market share. TV advertising brands not only haven't been able to afford it recently, but when they return to it they'll be shouting louder at diminishing audiences with waning response.

If we're appoaching the middle peak of a W, this problem will only get worse. Brand advertising works when there's continuous stimulation, something that traditional media strategies cannot provide at trickling budgets. ECRM and retention-oriented programmes, which seek to provide continuous engagement through cutting out anything that is not relevant to a specific user's customer journey, can provide not only stimulation for cross-sell and up-sell during times when high street spending is necessarily low, but also data. And this data actually can be used for acquisition, perhaps counter-intuitively.

The major learning is centred around which segments work and which do not. Essentially customers are segmented by propensity to buy, then value (frequency of purchase, lifetime value and so on), with some information about advocacy thrown in for good measure. Taking these very basic measures, and running campaigns based on what you think will most effectively motivate increased engagement (relevant content, added value) and returns (cross selling through relevant promotions, upselling via added functionality), quickly points out which segments are most easily promoted from low value/low loyalty to higher value. This is invaluable knowledge. It tells you in the most direct terms what types of customers are easiest to get more from. It tells you who to target through acquisition campaigns. It writes your media plan for you - and it's one with little or no wastage. Following this path is a marekter's dream: efficiency leads to greater efficiency.

Whichever way the V or the W goes once all the receipts from the government's response to the american mortgage crisis are tallied up, eCRM-oriented strategies for retaining customer loyalty and building engagement are critical, because the days of the brand delivered glibly in 30 seconds are over.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Making eCRM Work For Charities

The age of eCRM is upon us. Well, to be fair, the age of eCRM is upon the commercial world. Companies like The Sun’s fantasy football league, the world’s biggest, are doubling their revenue from digital by engaging with their existing customers in a structured, highly commercial way. They love it (who wouldn’t love a 93% increase in digital sales in three months?). ECRM’s a hot subject in News International towers – in fact it’s a hot topic for all sorts of brands from Nickelodeon to McCain Foods to Virgin. You would imagine that, given the commercial successes and incremental profits it drives, it would be a straight port to charity. But it isn’t. In my view, eCRM isn’t a universal fit, and it needs a slightly different approach when it comes to applying its highly tested principles to fundraising and donor engagement.

Let me take a step back and explain the general principles behind eCRM and then how I believe it can and should work for the third sector.

ECRM starts with data. This data comes from, in essence, existing customers. The data consists of things like when a product was bought, what its value was, whether it was bought following a sequence of events, or driven by a promotion, or facilitated by a third party. That kind of observed behavioural and motivational data can be layered with information about the customer herself – family size, age, location, whether others they know are also customers, whether they belong to this, that or the other social group. Integrating and analysing this data often shows up connections and trends. We may find for example that a customer is likely to spend more if they’ve seen a TV ad within hours of being emailed a voucher on a Tuesday, or that if they’ve got young children they’ll respond better to new offers on mornings when they have childcare. We derive series of insights, and we create a plan that segments audiences by value, frequency, recency, and motivation. We come up with a creative hook, attach email, SMS, web touchpoints, and off we go testing and optimising campaigns to see which work most effectively. It’s pretty logical, and it’s entirely oriented towards increasing a customer’s value.

In theory, you could apply the same highly commercial approach to charity eCRM. In fact, Direct Marketing and Direct Response Television (DRTV) do exactly that, and in general it works extremely effectively, at least for a short while. It relies on continuous volume being fed into a funnel, because using these kinds of methods you can burn through huge numbers quite quickly. And it is of course very single-minded. It allows little for the emotional attachments people have with causes that actually very often span lifetimes and generations. It’s mechanical, in essence. Commercial eCRM creates an equation that takes customers and uses data and psychological techniques to maximise the revenue that can be gained during their lifetime as a customer. That’s business, and it’s not personal. I think that charitable giving, on the other hand, is personal. Charity is not, or should not, be a machine (stick charity on top of problem here, turn handle, problem solved) because I think charity is about solving problems unaddressed by the machine of society.

All of which is a little grandiose. ECRM for charity does automate inasmuch as it allows organisations to use techniques and principles to increase engagement between a cause and its supporters. If by using eCRM we can provide genuine value and fulfilling engagement then as a consequence support will deepen and charities will be able to operate more effectively. The essential truths of eCRM do apply: eCRM is about delivering information to a supporter that is timely and relevant, that doesn’t confuse, that increases the bond rather than distracts from it or irritates. Data is still at its heart. Understanding what your audiences are motivated by, where they live, what their attitudes are, what they are prepared to do on your behalf, all of these are critical. But while commercial eCRM is about facilitating a value transaction (I give you entertainment, you increase your purchase frequency), not-for-profit eCRM is about building and delivering trust, and allowing an opportunity for this to be returned. ECRM for causes works most effectively when it provides a call to understand rather than a call to action. The same methodology applies – we still analyse all the data we can lay our hands on, we understand what motivates people, we work out what people are likely to want to do, and we segment them accordingly. But the strategy is much longer in view. Building relationships over long periods of time builds trust and cut-through. It gives something back to the supporter, and in turn this means when we do have something we need to say, if it’s delivered in an appropriate manner to the right person at an appropriate time, it is listened to. VSO learned this early on in its forays into eCRM, when at a certain point it found it needed to recruit a large number of primary school teachers – using email and a microsite to engage it found over 6,000 new, qualified contacts all through referral, because of the relationships it had created.

ECRM, that is to say properly researched and segmented long-term contact strategies delivered digitally, is a means not to an end, as it is in the commercial world, but to a beginning. Worked well it delivers relationships that last not just lifecycles but lifetimes.