Customer relationship management (CRM) has been heralded as one of
the greatest advances known to man. Ten years ago it was ’total quality
management’, two years ago it was the ’millennium bug’ - the fin de
siecle mood, not the virus - and most recently ’knowledge management’
have kept us humming along to the latest buzz phrase.
Many of these have been bang on the money - with the obvious exception
of the millennium bug, which must rank as one of the greatest stings the
world has ever seen. However, the problem with buzz phrases is that they
begin to take on different meanings to those for which they were
CRM has for the past three or four years been shortened and transmuted
into ’Relationship Marketing’, the net result of which is that to many,
such activity has become the sole preserve for those campaigns involving
the use of databases or ’lists’. This is nonsense.
So why has it happened? Over the past ten years, the power of computing
has soared while costs have plummeted, which means that customer
databases, if set up and managed well, are the most potent tool a
business can have.
Companies can truly become ’knowledge-rich’ and exploit that knowledge
profitably. It is the tool by which current customer relationships can
be managed and the learning tool for acquiring yet more of the valuable
However, just because these databases are powerful tools for managing
relationships doesn’t mean database marketing - usually meaning
personalised communications - is relationship marketing.
Tony O’Reilly once said: ’I’ll take the brands, you take the
We’ll get back together in five years and see who’s doing best.’ He was,
of course, proposing the brand-consumer relationship as a company’s most
valuable asset and their factories as their most dangerous
He wasn’t talking about databases; he was talking about bonding. Brands
have been successfully building relationships with consumers long before
anyone knew how to spell the word database, let alone build one.
Aren’t we all therefore relationship marketers? Client side, agency
side, design, sales promotion, new business development, research, ads -
you name it, we’re all playing the dating game. If whatever you’re doing
isn’t aimed at developing or maintaining brand relationships, I suggest
you are in the wrong business. But, of course, this wasn’t what CRM was
originally meant to be about.
Ultimately it was such a lack of understanding that led to the petering
out of integrated marketing - another buzzwagon of bygone days. At it’s
heart was a great idea; that the brand-consumer relationship was
Unfortunately it too became misunderstood as a term meaning
’co-ordinated’ campaigns; if you wanted to ’do relationship marketing’,
best get a DM agency in!
So next time you see a buzz phrase coming along, take care that it’s in
its original form and not in the agency-modified version.
Anyone want to buy some Totally Knowledgeable Quality Customer
Management for de-Bugged Millennium Relationships?