Playing the Name Game

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Déjà vu all over again. Brings back distasteful memories of the early 1990s, when relationship marketing emerged from the shadows as marketing's new poster boy (although old-school media marketers still rip down every poster they spot). Hey, this "relationship" stuff had flash and flair-which meant every marketing opportunist in sight was desperately scrambling to "brand" relationship marketing with their own proprietary buzzwords. Even those who were nowhere in sight when this stuff was being tried out and tested back in the 1980s.

Back then I whizzed some people off good by writing an article titled "The One-to-One, Database, Relationship, Integrated Marketing Communications, Future." And these were only the labels that fit into the title block. The gist of the article was "put away the damn branding irons until you know how to do this stuff, instead of just flapping your jaws." Subtle, even for me, eh? One of the "branders"-an academic type-was so upset he refused to write for the magazine that published this little gem ever again. Never heard much of him after that, either. Guess he showed them.

Hey, that was then, and this is now. But guess what, fellow CRMers? The branding irons are blazing hot and stamping everything in sight (you'd better watch your backside next time you walk through a CRM trade show expo). And it's truly a marvel that no one has tried to claim rights to the very term, "CRM"-although I know a few organizations out there that wouldn't be embarrassed to try.

Here's just a partial list of labels being slapped on by claimants to the power and glory that is CRM.

From the old-school junk-mailers, we have "eMarketing"-mostly database marketing dressed up in e.clothes with a dollop of "marketing automation" technology on top. This "CRM" stuff, these masters of mail say, is just a back-end support piece for milking customers after they hook 'em. What sensitivity to customers. What understanding of CRM principles. What a joke. So happens these are the same blokes trying to turn e-mail into a database-marketing venue-the very ones that are going to force regulation on public network e-mail communication. But they don't care. $1.95 in their pockets today is worth onerous regulations affecting all of us tomorrow.

Not to be outdone, we have reborn advertising agencies that are finding religion on a television network called "the Internet." They're not even bothering to name "CRM"-just shove it under the "advertising" rug. They see CRM as the routine cleanup after their riveting advertising campaigns. A few customers need a little extra push, you know. Not quite all are welded to the brand by the brilliance of advertising creative alone.

Tweedledum, Tweedledee. Advertising agencies, database marketers-they both position CRM as the tail on the promotional marketing dog-a cleanup crew. Hey, I know a dog or two I'd like them to meet.

But it's the new-school marketers, the builders of warm, fuzzy relationships, who are wielding the hottest metal on the marketing side of the fence. "One-to-one marketing" won the relationship marketing branding battle of the early 1990s big time. But now the whole "one-to-one" concept (along with every other rendition of relationship marketing) has been eclipsed by CRM, which runs far deeper and wider than anything we could ever call "marketing." But hey, no problem. At least not to more than a few fast-thinking, one-to-one devotees. Let's perform a little morphing magic. Just call CRM "one-to-one marketing." Presto, it's ours. Yah, sure. But only until the CEOs, CIOs, change management specialists and other drivers of CRM show up. Then the show's over. And this little branding façade falls over faster than you can say "CRM."

But if you really want to see some hot iron action, watch CRM software players trying to scramble over each other trying to name CRM in their likeness. Hey, we barely had "CRM" before they were off to the races. One vendor took a shot at "ERM. "It was supposed to mean "enterprise relationship management." Funny, isn't that what CRM was supposed to be? But it no longer matters. This one died a mercifully fast death. Turns out "ERM" was already in use in the back office for resource management. Not to mention that "E" is no longer part of the English language-having been replaced by "e." Which means something totally different, although just what often escapes us.

Then, as soon as we had "e," we had to have "eCRM." Now, there is a slice of CRM that's enabled by the Internet. Fair to stick an "e" in front? Sure. But suddenly everything was "eCRM," Internet-reliant or not. Very trendy. But when everyone starts using the same brand, it's rendered meaningless. Just like "e." Besides, the eCRMers skipped over one not-very-subtle fact. The prefix "e" denotes use of a digital communication channel. I believe that's channel 8. Whatever, it's a channel. And channels don't drive strategies-CRM strategies, to cite just one example. CRM strategies determine channels. So "eCRM" is the cart driving the horse. Or is that a donkey? The same applies to "eBusiness," which I guess means, "we're bigger than CRM." Maybe better, too. My, my, my.

But we're stuck with eCRM. And probably "eBusiness" too. But if everyone's using these handles, what good do they accomplish as software differentiators? No good. So guess what? Don't cringe. We have to come up with more names.

So off we go again. The latest fad is XRM. Use any opening letter except "C" to make "X" relationship management. Oh, you can't use "P" because that's "partner relationship management"-the only "XRM" that makes any sense. But hey, is anyone surprised the letter that stands for "customer" turned out to be the expendable one? And how long do you think it will take to find a use for "Z?" Probably not long-because this stuff is getting so far away from anything to do with improving customer relationships that we can start calling it "zero relationship management." Think it will stick?

Oh, and one more little naming gambit. Now we're starting to split hairs to divide CRM into "operational" and "analytical" CRM. So we can have "operational eCRM" and "analytical eCRM." And do they become "OeCRM" and "AeCRM" or "oeCRM" and "aeCRM?"

Okay, that's it. I've had my fill, even if you haven't. So I'll go back to where I was in relationship marketing days and say again, "Could we please drop the damn branding irons and learn how to do this stuff right, rather than fighting over names?" No one in this business knows enough about good old CRM to call it other than "CRM." Nobody. So let's drop our branding irons right here in one pile. Once I have them all, I'll carry them over to the back office and drop them off so the ERP folks can start having so much fun.

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