Ambiguity in Marketing

I live in the agency world. Our days start and end at the beckoning call of our clients. Our jobs are to inspire and drive business marketing results for them. Easy enough mission statement, right? It's so easy, when we don't speak the same language. I like to call this "ambiguity in marketing."

We like to take buzz words and make them fit our needs. Then we find others taking and evolving them until we one word or phrase means 10 different things to 10 different people. One phrase that gets miscommunicated is Customer Relationship Management (CRM), interchangeably with Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM).

If I asked you what CRM was, you'd likely get largely different views from different experts in the space.

A technical person would think of a Siebel implementation or SAP and consider CRM the process of evolving systems to support the organization and the customer. Some may think of CRM as the executional marketing and customer service side of the business. Others see CRM as the analytics and business intelligence involved in understanding long term value of a customer and how to build around this. Some will throw out the Right Customer, Right Time, Right Message and some other marketing 101 phrase. CRM has become a buzzword that contains everything these days: systems, processes, support systems, data/analytics, channels and marketing mix.



If you ask the analysts, it becomes even more confusing: enterprise marketing management, marketing automation, loyalty marketing, and a long list of other terms that define areas within CRM that often get bundled. Try to identify the industry leaders in CRM, and you'll get a mix of technology companies, consulting companies, direct marketing agencies. No wonder CRM efforts have failed; many don't even agree on what it is and what it means to your company. IT and marketing people will argue what is the value of CRM. Where does it end? Or better yet, where should you start?

Today, for my particular needs, we define CRM as Customer Relationship Marketing. We break CRM down so we can address high-level discussions, program discussions and optimization discussion. To do this, we have a hierarchy to CRM:

Customer Relationship Marketing is the strategic management of organizational activities that span more than one business, product or view of the customer. This includes designing a broader view of the customer, building marketing insight and direction that informs many business's rather than a single campaign. This may also include a vision for technology that supports marketing automation and channel solutions. This is the BEHAG (Big Enormous Hairy Audacious Goal), or framework for how we'll mobilize our organization to compete.

Relationship Marketing is the development of customer experiences and assigning valuations around these interactions. This is the communication strategy, the segmentation strategy and the business intelligence that goes into targeting and optimization. This is also a very program view of customer value and how you invest in growing, retaining and creating loyal customers.

eCustomer Relationship Management (eCRM) is the digital channels that support Relationship Marketing programs. This includes email, social, mobile, voice, search, media and the Internet in general. eCRM is the coordination of digital channels to build and evolve these experiences. When someone asks us to help them with eCRM, we assume it is tied to a defined need and how to coordinate the digital experiences.

It may seem trivial to define these differently, but great marketing is about organizing decisions and managing contingencies. Today's organizations and consumers are far too complex to understand or control without some framework for how you'll address organizational marketing needs.

With CRM, we address how to scale programs, strategic view of marketing assets, larger budget optimization issues and governance. With RM, we focus on business unit (BU) level needs and how to react to market conditions that evolve rapidly. With eCRM, we focus on the digital experience and how to weave this in and out of our business plans.

If we tried to address all in the same discussion, we'd spend a year trying to make decisions and never have enough budget. This type of nomenclature allows us to respect the need to act quickly, promote the value of strategic planning and provide governance to an organization that supports best practices.

As Dr. Phil says: "Sometimes you make the right decision, and sometimes you make the decision right."

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