It's not hard to say something interesting about a brand every day

Tim Williams, M&C Saatchi Milk's CRM strategy partner
Tim Williams, M&C Saatchi Milk's CRM strategy partner

Brands need to take customer insight seriously and move it from the back office to the heart of their operation, says M&C Saatchi Milk's CRM strategy partner, Tim Williams.

It’s not hard to say something interesting about a brand every day. I was stumped when I heard the opposite of this expressed at the ISBA conference, where Sara Bennison from Barclays said that yes, it can be quite hard to say something about a brand and make it interesting, especially every day.

Pam Conway from British Gas agreed and said that it had been grappling with content and social media and how it all fits into its marketing strategy. Little wonder that brands are struggling to generate enough relevant content to feed the ever-growing number of channels and touch points. We all seem to be in a content arms race. Let’s try and avoid it.

The way forward is to be smarter about using deep customer insight in a way that leverages technology but is not vulnerable to constant fluxes within it. We have to find a way to connect with our customers by zeroing in on what matters most to them and understand the role the brand could play in their story.

This means we have to take customer insight seriously and move it from the back office to the heart of the operation.

From targeted push to gravitational pull

Perhaps we are overlooking the fundamental insight that whilst people connect using technology what they connect with is an idea or even a feeling about what your brand (and category) can do for them. Is it relevant? What problem could it solve? What opportunity does it present? Does it simplify my life?

The answers will of course vary according to each customer – and over time. But if we can anticipate how to re-frame our brand positioning in a way that is most relevant to the individual we have an opportunity to create a very powerful connection with them that is durable and channel neutral.

What’s more, this approach makes it more likely that a consumer will naturally gravitate towards your brand rather than require constant badgering.

Stop competing to be heard – just tell your story

If there is one thing anyone working in marketing can agree on it’s the sheer speed at which the world we share with our customers is changing. Never have people been so connected both to each other and to brands via different channels or indeed been able to use multiple devices to access them. Never has there been such a need for brand owners (and their agencies) to keep on top of the technology and develop effective, consistent CRM strategies.

Yet, ironically it doesn’t seem any easier to achieve meaningful one to one connections. In fact, all this choice and capability might be serving to make it harder to achieve cut-through because every other brand (not just your competitors) is also struggling with the same issue.

Everyone wants to talk with your customer about their proposition – and wants to use new technologies to do so. The net result is that ‘attractive’ customers are of necessity filtering out most of the content that we marketers have so carefully crafted for them.

Faced with this landscape the temptation is to perhaps over-compensate by developing separate strategies for different technologies - what BBH Chairman Jim Carroll referred to as creating "conversational mush". Everyone is trying to achieve consistency but without much success.

Connected in every sense

The first age of CRM was all about targeting – about crafting a relevant message to deploy through ‘traditional’ channels such as DM, email and the call centre. More recently has come the need to ‘join up’ these channels to ensure consistency – the ‘connected customer experience'.

We are now entering a ‘Third Age’ of CRM – where we build on technology, channels and data but add in an understanding of how to connect at the most powerful level. By making the brand truly relevant to consumers and showing what role it has to play in their story.

British Gas and Barclays can both have meaningful stories to tell their customers. Every day.

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