Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Big plans, no noise

So, my blog has been a little slow of late. Largely because I’ve been immersed in ambitious (and I hope revolutionary) plans. And I’m doing that because as a twenty-year agency vet (I started one of the first few digital agencies, in 1994) it’s so terribly easy to get comfy and do the same things over and over again.

In fact, I’ve launched a number of agencies - sold some, folded one (my bad), watched a couple get absorbed, bought one back… but always relatively small, very cool (my 17-year business partner Jason Holland is to thank for that). Time I think to change gears with my incredible team.

So… no blogs at the moment. Not many articles either. But interesting diversions (see this video from my recent trip to Madrid’s IE Business School) and looking forward to an absolutely amazing ’15. Watch this space!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The marketers who get to grips with CRM today are tomorrow's superstars

Over the past dozen years I have been working in CRM. My team has delivered global strategies for major brands like Virgin, News International and McCain, and I have been teaching marketers CRM skills at the Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing and at Hult Business School, where for the past few years I have taught eCRM to Masters in Marketing students and MBAs. Lately I have been running masterclasses for Heads of Marketing at the Groucho Club (email me for info), and I have noticed something remarkable about people who have these skills: they make unusually rapid progress up the career ladder - so I thought I would pass on a few of my observations.

CRM (Customer Relationship Marketing) or eCRM (the digital version, though these days the terms are interchangeable) is founded on a deep understanding of customers. The skills required include the ability to interpret data, to extract customer insight, and to act on it. They also include the ability to plan ahead, sometimes based on an understanding of what customers do or are likely to do over the span of several years (think: buying a car or a sofa).

The run of the mill marketer tends to get caught up in day-to-day delivery of campaigns; CRM people manage to do this while understanding the over-arching context of the campaigns. More often than not, a campaign within a CRM programme will not drive instant revenue, but will increase the value of the customer to the brand over the course of several campaigns. And this requires a long view. As we all know, daily pressures (get a campaign out, check copy, chivvy along an agency, test an app) do get in the way of thinking big, so how does a savvy marketer make it work?

It all comes down to measurement and markers. CRM requires an understanding of the lifecycle a customer is on, from first consideration of a brand to loyal consumption and recommendation. Using data skills to help map this out provides several fantastic tools at once: a long view of the customer relationship; a sequence of stages in the lifecycle, from engagement to conversion to retention; and a series of timed steps along the journey.

This customer journey map is wonderful, because it allows us to think long term whilst giving us sight of the next few steps. By applying some numbers to each step - say, 1% fewer customers who stop engaging at the end of the step - when they get added up over ten steps that may be a significant increase in revenue. In other words, you can focus on the next immediate improvement, and will find after a while a significant change has been achieved. It's a really simple principle.

That same principle is why some of the people who started out in the geeky bit of marketing, CRM, are now superstars leading their organisations' growth. At each step they set a target and saw what happened. Their success was measured. They proved their value to their employers - and in return, rose rapidly. Many of today's superstar marketers have CRM skills to thank for it.


Felix Velarde is Chairman at Underwired (underwired.com), the leading CRM consultancy, and teaches at Hult International Business School and the IDM. For information about any of these courses, including those for Heads of Marketing, email him at felix@underwired.com

Monday, 18 August 2014

Multichannel is about persuasion

There is a common misconception in modern post digital marketing, which stems from a view that because it is difficult to track which media and devices a consumer uses, it’s difficult to ensure they’re always getting the same message.

This is not the case, however. The functional implication of this is that brands need to extend the notion of “brand consistency” into “communication universality”. In other words, you get the same message in the same style no matter how or where you receive it. Multichannel seems to equate to the “same message on every medium”. Pervasive marketing, put another way.

A practical example of this is those supermarkets that have a TV screen above the entrance, showing either their TV advertisements (ads) or their point of sale (PoS) promotions. You may have seen the crowds of people stopping at the entrance to watch the latest commercial. You haven’t? Well, there’s a reason for that. Every channel is different and each has its strengths. When not playing to their strengths, it manifests as a weakness. There is, in my view, absolutely no point whatsoever in trying to make any communication universal. TV ads work when on TV – they don’t necessarily work in a four-centimetre box in a browser window.

Even if you could devise one that did, how would it work at PoS, or on a mobile without sound? By trying to make a piece of communication platform-neutral, we neuter platform-specific creativity – we render the advantages of each venue, medium or device redundant. Multichannel is therefore a much-abused term in common marketing practice. What multichannel means, when it is not a catch-all for “make it all look the same”, is “use every channel to its best advantage”. Taking this one way might imply a fragmented, incoherent collection of messages. And again, that’s not ideal. So what is?

Multichannel marketing done properly requires a genuine understanding of customer lifecycles and framed within that, customer journeys. Customer journeys are the articulation of researched cycles within awareness, prospect, engagement, consideration, conversion, retention, advocacy and win-back phases of the lifecycle. Data, (Big data sometimes, but not necessarily always) provides the information, data planning – especially CRM planning – provides the insights, and customer journey planning converts this into a series of sequences. Attach to each point in the sequence a trigger, information, value exchange or call to action and we have a plan we can use to map the customer’s engagement from each phase of the lifecycle, leading to the next.

And this is where multichannel comes into its own. With this map in hand, and the data and validating research into the behaviours, preferences and attitudes of the customer, (each map will look different according to the segment defining a particular type of customer and their interactions with the brand), a start can be made on defining how each touchpoint should be executed. For example, if we know that a shopper always shops on a Saturday at 10am in Warwick, and buys a basket of produce, which we can predict, for their family (which we know about), then we might want to increase their loyalty by delivering some real value – in this case, in the form of genuinely relevant vouchers.

We have several possible touchpoints, we could send them a mobile message, for example. Or e-mail. Or in the post. Or at the till. You can see that by approaching multichannel in a simplistic way the answer would be “all of them”.

To make it effective, we need to understand the sequence involved:

“Thanks for shopping with us” – printed on the receipt, same day as last shop.

“Here’s a voucher based on your last-but-one shop” – sent by e-mail, two days before the next shop (which our research shows is when a shopping list is planned ).

“Did you print this week’s voucher?” – a targeted ad on Facebook, Friday afternoon.

“In case you forgot, use this code” – SMS, Saturday morning.

“Do you have any vouchers?” – sales assistant.

This is true of multichannel marketing, albeit using a microscopic sequence to illustrate the principle. It requires coordination of course, which is why most people don’t bother doing it. But the rewards can be staggering – it’s generating an extra £5.75m a year for one of the brands we work with, and it has barely scratched the surface. With an understanding of what multichannel truly means, customers can be engaged to an astonishing degree. Multichannel isn’t about pervasiveness after all. It’s about persuasion.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Is personalisation and segmentation in marketing necessary?

Big brands think personalisation is the preserve of the cutting edge, big budget marketers. But no one should forget that all they are doing is replicating the personal service we, as customers, were once used to when we went shopping to our favourite small independent stores. The reality is it’s in reach of every company, whether small or large: SaaS allows us to do it at low cost, while the big vendors charge millions for systems that can’t possibly ever be fully utilised. The investment that is required is in the customer journeys, the content and the behavioural economics that goes behind planning the programme. Only that way can you drive massive, measurable financial returns.

But do customers actually like it?
Most people prefer to be addressed by name – we’re hardwired to respond (that's why you always hear when your name is mentioned on the other side of the room at a party). If you wish to build a relationship between your brand and a customer, then you have to behave as if the brand is an individual, and recognise the individuality of the person you’re trying to relate to. That’s all but impossible if you speak generically or impersonally. That’s not to say that’s how all marketing works: TV, for example, can work brilliantly to create brand resonance when it ignores the personal relationship between brand and consumer altogether.

So we need to segment our customers to personalise our marketing?
The two are entirely distinct. Personalisation recognises the individual, by identity, position in a customer lifecycle, attitudinal trajectory and behaviour (observed and forecast). Personalisation therefore allows truly individualised communications. Segmentation on the other hand is a ‘meta’ discipline, taking broad-brush strokes to datasets filled with people defined by characteristics; these could be behaviour, motivation, demographic profile, propensity etc. In other words, segmentation is about how you describe people and personalisation is about how you talk to people. Although each is different, it is important to consider both to achieve a desirable outcome from your customers.

By segmenting customers, businesses will have a greater chance of achieving success and thus creating a loyal customer. Segmentation is a no-brainer. There are two examples that come straight to mind to illustrate the power of segmentation. The first was a campaign for Virgin Holidays back in the early days of eCRM, this was the first time we ran an email campaign segmented simply by previous purchase behaviour and the (very simple) campaign generated £3million of revenue on the spot.

The second was a campaign for The Sun’s Dream Team Fantasy Football. Previous segmentation had been unproductive. We took a look, decided to approach segmentation from a motivational point of view and decided the two motivations were likely to be ‘passionate about football’ and ‘in it for the money’. This simple insight increased revenue by 93% in 90 days.

Very often, fantastic CRM is about simplicity and insight, not complexity. In our experience, segmenting customers into 6-7 segments will drive 90% of the value creation available, proving that in fact many customers like brands to appeal to them individually: by doing so it will increase the customer’s engagement with the brand, thus creating loyal, valuable customers.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

24 hours with SmartThings, a home automation adventure

Way back in the mists of time I sponsored SmartThings (smartthings.com) on Kickstarter. About an age and a half later they finally got round to getting the kit licensed in Europe and after a bit of irritation and some judicious chasing, I received a badly packed box of gizmos and a hub, no instructions included. Being a bit of a geek I set to work.

I received a hub, three proximity key fobs and a ‘multi’ sensor, which gauges temperature, angle, humidity, acceleration and closed/open. I set the hub up with only one false start, when I tried to power and network it via an Airport Express rather than directly into my main home ethernet - support from SmartThings was fast but useless, so I let my inner nerd have rein and quickly found the solution.

I then set up a proximity fob, my iPhone (which gives you the option to set a proximity alert when the phone reaches, say, your local train station, or closer, the front door) and the multi. The multi has been attached to an internal door, and set so I get an alert on my phone when the door is opened. I have so far worked out that the most sensible (for now) combination is thus:

  • If my wife or I leave the house and the back door is open, we both get an alert
  • If either of us leaves the house while the door is open, but one of us remains in the house, no alert
  • If I arrive at the station and my wife is home, she gets an alert, but if she isn’t, she doesn’t

I have yet to incorporate the other two fobs. I’ve already decided I want a couple of switchable plug sockets, so that if we both leave the house all the stuff left on standby gets switched off at the socket, and back on when either of us arrives back.

I’m starting to get the hang of it. I suspect it may get slightly expensive, this home automation thing - and I have a suspicion it will eventually change our behaviour (and our electricity bills) for the good. I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

It's the Art of Perfectly Timed Marketing

Guest blogger – Jen Talbot, Senior Account Manager

Responsible for the day-to-day account management of some of Underwired's clients including ESPN and Regus worldwide, Jen advises on digital best practice and marketing strategy, and coordinates planning workshops for customer journey mapping.

Jen joined Underwired in July 2013 bringing with her experience from previous roles at Havas EHS in account management and project planning for both digital and integrated campaigns for brands in the financial, utilities and leisure sectors including Barclays Wealth, CPA Global and E.ON.

In an age of connectivity, where everything has become instantaneous, the sense of meaningful communication has been lost in the constant noise of notifications and reminders. So, with this being today's reality, what does this mean for the modern day marketer?

When you see a stunning rainbow or a great piece of street art, what do you do? Instagram it, Vine it, Tweet it, Facebook it? When you're out for the day how many times do you respond to texts, WhatsApp messages, emails or tweets?

Media theorist, Douglas Rushkoff, has outlined our obsession for trying to capture the moment, but never quite living in it, in his new book 'Present Shock'. He makes the point that, "The only kind of people that used to be contacted this frequently and this incessantly, were 911 operators - and they would only do it for two or three hours during the day. And then they would be medicated in order to be able to live that way".

Kronos vs Kairos 
Taking inspiration from Ancient Greek, today's marketers have two differing methods to select from, when looking to determine the 'right moment in time' for customer communication. Definitions of 'Kronos' and 'Kairos' - both Ancient Greek words for 'Time' - distinguish these methods:

Kronos means chronological or clock-driven. A marketer's version of Kronos is: "I know that by sending my newsletter on Thursday at 1pm I will get a better response than at any other time". Or "I know that by sending an email every week I will get more repeat purchases".

Kairos is the alternative sense of time, succinctly put by John Pulakos, in his 1983 article 'toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric': "In short, Kairos dictates that what is said must be said at the right time." In marketing, we can interpret this as both the readiness or 'openness' for conversation, and the choice of selecting the appropriate moment.

The age of bombardment 
According to Microsoft, the average person has 184 emails in their inbox and receives at least another 28 emails each day. According to Ofcom, 49% of people regularly 'media mesh' - using devices for completely unrelated activities whilst watching TV - and an average of 500 million tweets are sent everyday.

With all this noise and irrelevance, companies are forever looking to achieve efficiencies using the Kronos method, a chronological approach to sending marketing communications. By doing a simple Google search of 'best time to send email' 1,550,000,000 results are produced. But how many companies implement this approach without looking further into their audience motivations?

When IS the right moment? 
One source suggests potential reasoning for the most successful time frames for each sector and industry. For example, the 'post work peak' (between 5pm and 7pm) is considered to be the best time to send marketing emails, in terms of open rates.

When Gmail announced the implementation of 'tabs' to its inbox, companies were concerned that response rates would go down. In fact, within the first few weeks of the update, the opposite was true and the open and transaction rates actually increased. Although rates are approaching the average again now, this uplift highlights the affect of taking the Kairos approach and the importance of having an audience that is 'ready' to view marketing emails. This 'readiness' essentially means that recipients are in more of an open mind to click through to the email and transact where relevant.

Kairos in CRM 
Readiness, or indeed Kairos, is absolutely key to CRM, as it ensures marketers are carefully considering when the audience is 'ready' to hear from your company. In so many cases, communication programmes are run on a periodic or silo basis - onboarding, newsletters, loyalty programmes, retention - all overlapping and clamouring for attention.

Let's think now about how many times a company has said 'thank you' to you for being a customer. Now let's think about how many times a company has said 'thank you' only to use this as an opportunity to cross-sell? Some might see this second option as an efficiency that their customers would appreciate. But by having a 'dual-purpose' communication you actually weaken both messages. There should be a time and a place for everything. The acceptance and desire for tools, such as the Gmail 'tabs' or Outlook's 'advanced rules', show the increasing importance for customers to control when they are ready to be spoken to. So with this in mind, a thank you should just be that; 'thank you'.

Kairos in practice 
Confused.com is a good example of using Kairos in practice. Having used the insurance search engine for a quote comparison in March, a month later - when I'd nearly forgotten about it - they sent me a birthday email. There was no sales message, just a humorous email from the brand mascot, Brian the Robot. The email immediately put me in a great mood and brought Confused.com to the front of my mind. It made me want to show my friends and it generally made me feel pretty good to be a customer. A couple of months then passed by and they nudged me again, this time about a new app that was available.

Confused.com is playing the long game as it clearly understands that it will be a year before I make another decision about my insurance. We both know that I'm not in the market right now, but in the meantime I'm being made to feel appreciated - and entertained - therefore enhancing the chances of a repeat purchase. And before I return to the website, to potentially make a purchase, I have been providing my word of mouth recommendations to colleagues and friends about the company and its great customer service.

So after all this talk of Ancient Greek, where do we as marketers stand? Well, hopefully with a realisation that when juggling existing communications plans, business goals, stakeholder opinions and a disorganised or legacy database, the thought of "What does the customer want from my company?" can often fall by the wayside. But, this question should hold equal if not a greater importance than the thought of "What do I (the business) want to tell my customer?" This is because it can inform and give greater value to everything from data segmentation to communications content.

When a communication becomes supportive and not 'shouty', useful but not needy, and timely yet not thoughtless, we start to see appreciation in the form of response. Through this approach, we regain the value of meaningful communications and become able to cut through the chaos of a 'Present Shock' inbox.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Total Customer engagement: growing trend of "Total Customer Engagement" and how this is affecting the future of marketing

When I was a kid, we used to shop in the same places all the time. We'd walk down the street and say hi to the butcher walking in the other direction. He'd always have a smile, and maybe make a cheeky comment about us kids. When we went into his shop he'd comment on what veg would go with the meat my mum had chosen, and tell her to say hi to Jeoff when we went into the greengrocer's next door. There was always a kind word. For decades my family shopped in the same shops. There wasn't anything called customer engagement. But that's what it was.

Nineteen years ago the web turned up, messed up customer experience by turning it on its head, reducing the shopper interaction to seven clicks, shopping carts, price comparison and basket abandonment. Almost twenty years on, we've learned a huge amount about technology, about acquisition, about usability, great design, optimisation and the always-on mentality. Having now come out the end of e-commerce's terrible teens, here are the things we now know:

Retention only comes after acquisition
Loyalty only comes after service
Advocacy only comes after loyalty
Win-back only comes after failure
Three clicks is best, though if you have a process that takes more than ten by the time you've got the customer to seven she's unlikely to turn back and go to your competitor
Responsive design means you can make the experience similar across PC, tablet and mobile

...and so on.

What we've also started to understand is that the customer is on a journey. Over a decade, we have perfected the art of defining that journey by understanding that there is a natural sequence that doesn't feel forced if you ask the customer to take the journey with you. This in turn, is based on the idea of the nudge - that one little step at a time can lead to significant change. When we look at where a customer is, what they like, where they go and where we want them to go, we can then readily develop a map of the customer's journey from first point of contact to lifetime loyalty, in little incremental steps. 

The art of customer journey planning, which came out of the in-store retail experience and the desire to drive customers past high margin discretionary items on the way to their target staples, has been translated to the online world and perfected over ten years by the specialist eCRM agencies like Underwired and others. And this customer journey, delivered using the cheapest digital channels, has been developed to allow brands to examine each little, incremental step on its own and optimise its performance. By extension, when lots of little increases in performance are added together, huge changes in revenue can be achieved. To illustrate this, by increasing revenue by 3% for a single step, when applied over 24 steps will double your revenue. We do this all the time.

By adding a dimension of customer focus to this rather technical, commercial focus, segmentation has been taken from its shopping experience roots (for instance, when our butcher would know that because ours was a three kid family, we'd be more likely to buy mince than a steak), via direct marketing thinking, properly defined in the early seventies, to the digital age. This digital age has allowed marketers to think in big numbers, to define shopping habits not through inference, but through observing behaviours from Google search to repeat purchase in an e-commerce system. Behaviour, enhanced by adding demographic data, married to motivation (back again to inference) gives us 3D segmentation. And 3D segmentation gives us the tools to develop different customer journeys for different types of customer.

All of this you're familiar with, I suspect. Marketing is now largely scientific. We can develop customer journeys for different customer types and take them from one step to another leading to maximal (or at least optimal) lifetime value.

It's been a revolution. And the kids have grown up. Almost twenty years on since the first days of the web and the painful birth of a new way of retailing, this discipline of how to engage with customers is finally about to emerge from its teens.

So where does it go from here?

The next generation of retailing takes what has gone on up until now and builds on it. In actual fact the Next Big Thing is really simply an extension to everything  you have just read: if you look at how segmented customer journey planning has been expressed in practice, the next step in its evolution is quite clear. Thus far, we have made use of digital channels to do all of this. The web to capture attention, to engage people with the brand on the website (or landing pages), to engage and retain them using email, to convert them to customers using e-commerce.

And thus far, we've been viewing the customer journey as something we as master marketers define for our customers.

In fact, customers are on their own journey. They have lives, which are multi-threaded, which involve the web, and mobile, and walking down the street with their kids. They live lives ruled by their motivations, the people they listen to, their immediate needs, and their whims. And, critically, they are influenced by all sorts of things that aren't just digital.

The customer journey plan does work. It does have a crucial role to play - as marketers we must have a framework for holding the hand of the customer while we take them one step further: without it we don't know how to brief it to agencies, we don't know how to measure success and we don't know how to optimise it. But it ignores the fact that customers (actual real people!) have their own sequence, and they are unlikely to share it with us, even if they know it themselves.

One of the facets of this which informs what will happen next is that in real life, customers aren't just on email. They don't just use digital. Sometimes the critical nudge that will take the customer from point 16 to point 17 isn't online. We may have to reach them offline.

The customer journey requires us to think in a channel-agnostic, or multi-channel, way. The future of this marketing discipline requires us to map the customer journey without assuming it will be served at every step by an online touch-point. If we do this, the customer journey plan we describe can more closely reflect the customer's own journey and the way she actually lives her life. By defining customer engagement on the basis of what nudges and steps are required first, and then adding in channel selections based on the customer's own journey, second, we can create single-minded, focused, multi-channel strategies and campaigns. 

This is the next generation of marketing. It's called Total Customer Engagement. It gives us the tools to leverage 3D segmentation and digital insight to deliver the kind of supreme engagement previously only delivered by the local family shop keeper. 

Friday, 2 May 2014

Who are The Inheritors?

Guest blogger - Jamie Barnett, Planner
Working with Underwired's Planning Director Ivan Fernandes, Jamie helps develop digitally integrated strategies and CRM programmes to address its clients' challenges and goals. Jamie started her career client-side at Williams-Sonoma in San Francisco before moving to the UK in 2011, where she jumped the fence to go agency-side working for brands such as Heineken UK, Iceland Foods and LoveFilm. Jamie has an MBA in Marketing and Brand Strategy and a degree in Graphic Design, Psychology and Communications.

Although it’s not exactly as William Golding had originally written in Lord of the Flies, we are all holders of a modern day conch – using it to wield as much power as we possibly can. Every day we spring out of bed and enter into society armed with our mobiles, iPads, laptops and cameras. A metaphorical extension of ourselves, our smart devices give us a kind of power similar to that felt by Ralph, Jack and Piggy on the deserted tropical island.
Instead of just consumers, we’ve now become creators and curators of content, challenging the traditional relationship with brands that has existed one-way up until now. Instead of just one conch, brands now have multiple conches, sounding off simultaneously via multiple social platforms, as well as those from consumers. This impacts the noise to signal ratio. Naturally, this new dynamic shifts power and challenges the traditional brand relationship with consumers.
With all of these conches now in the picture, the question then becomes – who really has the power over a brand’s communications – the brand or the consumer and does it really matter?

Wag the dog
As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book The Tipping Point, consumers can play a pivotal role in a brand’s rejuvenation and in creating viral movements. They can keep brands honest and create momentum for campaigns and competitions. But as with cases like Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, is it the dog wagging the tail or the other way around? I think, brands should take the consumer’s power into consideration and tailor it accordingly.
In a way, it’s a bit like giving a classroom full of students a single story starter and letting each pupil generate their own narrative. A colouring book with a new box of crayons and no rules about staying within the lines – the framework is there, but the outcome is unpredictable.

A happy marriage
The basis for my opinion stems from the notion that direct interaction with a brand (and the opportunity to help shape its culture), authentically integrates that brand into a consumer’s lifestyle. In an era where marketing and advertising are ubiquitous consumers are tired of being marketed to – they want to be a part of the process, not just the end result.
They want to help create content and ‘own’ a piece of a brand that lends itself to their constant strive for self-actualisation. In a consumer becoming a creator and / or curator of content, the brand becomes integrated into a consumer’s life either as a memorable experience or as part of a re-occurring ritual – not just a product or purchase. It’s at that point that a consumer is most likely to become brand loyal increasing their value to the brand significantly. By allowing consumers to post, tweet and publically engage with a brand, they become increasingly invested in it and as a result the brand becomes a stronger part of popular culture.
However, that being said I do still believe in having a long-term strategy and vision as well as adhering to a brand’s guidelines and heritage. One way to ensure a healthy balance of the two is to create a comprehensive CRM strategy based on a brand’s consumer preferences and behaviours – facilitating interaction at each stage of a consumer journey. Not only does this allow brands to evolve organically, but in many cases it allows them to reach audiences that they didn’t know possible. As with any happy marriage, it’s a give and take and an exercise in listening and responding in kind.

Beautiful harmony
Whilst technology and social media have forever changed the dynamic between consumers and brands, it’s how a brand responds to this change that will make or break its success in the marketplace. Instead of trying to quiet the army of conches, or being the loudest conch in the room, brands should look to skillfully conduct them all to create a beautiful harmony and a solid relationship that will keep a brand current and relevant throughout the years.
So… what does your b(r)and sound like?

Friday, 14 March 2014

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.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Underwired redesigns Travelodge website

Travelodge has re-launched its website, designed by Underwired the specialist eCRM and customer engagement agency and delivered by the brand’s in-house IT team. The new website provides customers with significantly improved functionality and ease of use. The project is part of Travelodge’s £223 million brand investment programme which is being rolled out this year. 

The new look complements Travelodge’s new room design which launched earlier this year.  

The website delivers improved functionality to ensure customers are able to find and book what they need quickly, whether directly or via the company’s mobile site. Travelodge’s website receives 1.2 million customer visits every week and sees up to 1,500 bookings made every hour at peak times. By simplifying and clarifying the home page, the new website ensures that customers get a quick and straightforward experience – all designed to make the Travelodge journey easier, increase sales and reduce drop-outs.

Jason Holland, Creative Director, Underwired, said “Travelodge is one of the most iconic hotel brands in the UK and we are thrilled to have been able to work together on this exciting website redesign. The website makeover is part of a significant, nationwide brand investment programme for Travelodge and so it was vital that we really got under the skin of what the new website needed to offer customers.

“The journey involved in taking the brand through its website redesign, which is integral to Travelodge's business, has been fantastic and is a major step towards making the customer journey much simpler, clearer and leaves the user with a positive and memorable brand experience.

Catriona Kempston, Travelodge Sales & Marketing Director, said: “The Underwired teams’ eCRM expertise and track record made them an obvious partner for us as we continue to roll-out our £223 million brand investment programme. The refreshed website offers customers a whole host of new functionality at their fingertips, as well as a fast and easy booking journey with lots of great visual content.”

The new website communicates some of the latest changes to the Travelodge proposition, including the company’s food and beverage offering, as well as the new bed - the Travelodge Dreamer - which is being rolled out across the company’s hotels.

The new site also features an enhanced corporate section for business customers, following the company’s three-fold growth in corporate business custom. The new features include a dashboard, which allows business customers to rebook frequently used hotels and add a corporate rate to their search results.

Travelodge pioneered the art of selling budget hotel rooms online when it became the first UK hotel chain to do so in 2001.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Navigating Big Data

Tesco famously has ‘segments of one’. Which is lovely of course - but they had to buy a data company just to make sense of the data so they could get there. Most of us don't have that luxury. But it doesn't mean we can or should ignore data, even if it looks like it might become unwieldy.

Some brands haven't yet realised that the power in a brand/customer relationship has shifted from the marketer to the marketee. Clearly however social media and the ability to share every thought, spoken or unspoken, with friends and peers and even the whole wide world means that the brand perception is out in the wild. It's been let loose. No longer is the way your brand is represented in your control. It's in the expressions of passion, ire, indifference and ephemerality of the digital ecosystem: Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Vine, even email. It's transmitted by mobile, stored on the web, and available to the world.

Your job as a marketer is to understand that this revolution has already happened. And to take advantage of it. If you can do it successfully you can catch up with the wild thing your brand has become, and even gain competitive advantage while your peers wrestle with boards who just don't get that they're no longer in control.

Scary thought?

So what do you need to do in order to flip the situation around? Well, part of the problem is the notion that we can regain control. I don't think we can. What we can do however is map how consumers behave, and indeed how their attitudes will shape how they behave in the future. By going down this route rather than trying to gather the brand in, you can extend the brand into the customer's territory, give them more control by enabling free interpretation of the brand's essence. And that takes not only courage, but data too.

Customer insight is the product of data. The three dimensions of segmentation (what we call 3D Segmentation) are:

  • Demographic - who the customer is;
  • Behavioural - what they do and have done;
  • Motivation - why they do it. 

Demography is slow moving, so we use it as a kind of snapshot to describe people. It means we can target them accurately. Behaviour is retrospective, but we can observe behaviours and trends and make extrapolations based on probability and this gives us propensity models. This means we can target them efficiently. The final dimension is about motivations, attitudes and 'need states'. Sports brand ASICS leverages this in its MyASICS loyalty programme: by understanding why a runner runs, we can talk to them in terms that resonate… the desire to be fitter, or to win, or to raise money for a cause. By talking to its customers about those things that address their motivation, ASICS creates extreme loyalty, increasing sales. Worldwide. And MyASICS is served by a website, and emails, and mobile. All of which feed back data so we can hone the programme.

These days the various digital channels are so well established that the mechanisms that allow you to track a customer in their journey in one can easily be joined with the mechanism in all the others. It means we can effectively create a joined-up process to track a customer across all digital channels as they weave about their daily lives. This ability extends even to the real world - we work with clients who have incorporated data from electronic point of sale (EPoS) systems into their customer view, so we can attribute till sales to pay per click (PPC) campaigns and journeys via every imaginable digital touch-point.

And it's not that difficult, and you don't need to buy a DunnHumby or a data team to do it. The concept of rapid prototyping has been very successfully applied to creating online customer labs and pilot programmes. For instance, brands like Bupa have used it incredibly effectively to build online communities at very low cost before making decisions about major investment (my agency, Underwired, created Bupa's Carewell using this rapid prototyping approach – saving the client around £150,000).

Forget the Single Customer View and its squillions in Capital Expenditure; rope together several separate systems based only on those components you actually require to do the job of proving return on investment (ROI) and use it to monitor customer behaviour in response to the insights you generate from simple data analysis. In my experience six or seven segments gets the job done - segments of one are for when you're already at the outer extremes of wringing profit from data and not when you're mid-shift towards putting your customers at the centre of the brand universe.