Some say CRM technologies may be the death of the brand.
This news, however, has been greatly exaggerated.
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I recently attended a conference whose keynote speaker was Martha Rogers, Ph.D., the one-to-one marketing guru. Excellent as always, she discussed how to use CRM to identify and differentiate customers by both their needs and their value to an organization. She explained how effective new CRM technologies are at helping organizations manage and profit from their customer relationships. Then she asked a rhetorical question: "Will these technologies diminish the power of the brand?" Her question got me thinking, so I gave her a call.
"When the Industrial Age started and companies had to have millions of customers to survive, they couldn't have a relationship with each customer. So as a substitute they branded their companies and products. The brand came to stand for something: quality, beauty, hope, whatever," says Rogers, a cofounder of Peppers & Rogers Group, based in Norwalk, Conn. "A brand is an untouchable icon, a kind of meaning for a product or company. By definition, then, a brand cannot be interactive. And here we are in the interactive age."
So, with today's proliferation of CRM, e-business, and related technologies that can help differentiate the customer experience, some people may ask, who needs a brand anyway? The answer: Everyone, Rogers and I wholeheartedly agree.
Here's why: My four-year-old daughter, Claudia, and I were walking to her preschool. Along the way we passed a stray Macy's bag lying on the sidewalk. She pointed her finger and said, "Look, Mommy, someone lost their Macy's bag."
Now, my daughter can read a few words. But I can assure you that Macy's is not one of them. What she recognized was the logo. The same way she recognizes the Toys R Us, McDonald's, and Burger King logos from a distance that would make her eligible for the Air Force's fighter pilot program.
More important is the experience she attaches to those logos. For Claudia, the Macy's brand is trying on party dresses, ogling Barbie goodies, and eating McDonald's (yes, there is one in the children's department at Macy's in New York City) all within a few steps of each other. In short, the perfect afternoon. McDonald's and Burger King mean a toy with every meal. In other words, fun while you eat. When she whispers, "Mommy, can we go somewhere special today?" she doesn't mean grandma's house. She's angling for the neighborhood Burger King with the play area.
At four years old, no technology involved, she is sold on these brands. Imagine taking that level of brand allegiance and adding a dose of CRM? The opportunities for growing share of customer are limitless. Claudia may be a bit young to receive targeted e-mails from Toys R Us on the latest Barbie products (or is she?), but there are plenty of adults whose brand loyalty can be parlayed into profits with the help of a bit of CRM magic.
The fact is, companies will always need brands to establish and convey their identity. Especially when acquiring new customers. But once they have those customers, Rogers says, companies need to brand the relationship. This is where CRM and e-business technologies play a major role. "A brand is cool and aloof and unaware of you," Rogers says. For example, a fan of Britney Spears may buy all of her CDs, see her concerts, and be a loyal member of her fan club, but none of that, nothing that fan does, will have one iota of an affect on Britney Spears. But in this age of customer relationships, it is interactivity- -the opposite of brand- -that will keep customers loyal.
So build a powerful brand, then use CRM to leverage your customers' relationships with it. Oh, and once you've drafted your strategy, Claudia and I will see you at McDonald's.
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