The business world is changing. Almost all DM companies used to be
product- or service-led, but now more and more of them are becoming
customer-centred. Client knowledge - built from customer profiling and
enhanced and updated with each contact - allows companies to anticipate
the demands of individuals.
Recent research, carried out jointly by the management consultancy,
Arthur Andersen, and The Economist Intelligence Unit, showed that of the
200 companies asked to describe their organisational structure, only 18
per cent were centred around the customer. However, about 50 per cent of
the respondents said that in five years’ time they expected their
business to be customer-centred.
But if these goals are to be achieved, companies will need to change not
only their marketing tactics, but their entire philosophy.
To make the new ideology work, companies will need to become
customer-focused enough to invest inspiration, time and money into
providing added value. They will almost certainly need to adopt
different sales channels and find new ways to market, including the use
of interactive communications platforms.
By using customised imagery, personalised data and individual messages,
it is possible to ensure that each customer contact is as creative and
individual as the customer.
If your marketing is to be powerful, it must have more than impact; it
must be personal, relevant and valued. Communication is a two-way
You cannot communicate at people, but with them, and to do that you need
to get to know them. For example, will your customers prefer using
e-mail, the internet, television, telephone, or letterbox? The correct
answer might be one or all of these.
The initial learning curve will be acute for most client companies, but
it threatens to be even greater for the agencies. Despite the
Andersen/EIU study’s discovery that 50 per cent of client companies are
actively seeking partners to help them reorganise along customer-centred
lines, very few agencies, above or below the line, appear to have woken
up to this opportunity.
They have largely failed to supply the demand for strategic thinking on
a wider scale, preferring to leave such matters to database and
management consultancies. This is an oversight, as creative
communication strategy is increasingly being dictated by customer
preference as interpreted by service companies, which were previously
not involved in the client’s strategic process.
Consequently, agencies not embracing data-driven strategy and processes
are already losing strategic control to other marketing organisations
which are gearing up to offer holistic communication solutions.
In tomorrow’s world, the role of the creative agency, orchestrating and
planning communication strategies, will change. Managing a customer
relationship is fundamentally different from managing a communications
campaign. I’m pretty sure agencies will catch up on the evolution - but
they may already have missed out on the revolution.
To compete with these new customer-focused businesses, agencies will
need to demonstrate the tactical wherewithal to handle all available
marketing channels, including internet construction, direct marketing,
mail order fulfilment, inbound and outbound telemarketing and digital TV
promotion, if they aspire to retain strategic control of customer
Several database marketing specialists have gone some way towards
customer-centred consultancy, by researching marketplaces and customer
bases and offering strategic marketing service solutions. But most have
stuck at this level and have not attempted to offer the training,
strategic consultancy and resources which are the cornerstones of
business culture overhauls.
Data providers may have hindered their progress by falling into the trap
of allowing too great a level of access to their information, thus
devaluing it. Some have bruised their credibility by overstating the
value of their information. If you sell BMWs, there’s a great deal of
difference between someone who likes them and someone who intends to buy
one next month and has the money to do so.
Data providers have evolved and done good business selling lists, but
have been very slow to take over a key practical, strategic role.
Conversely, management consultancies have largely concentrated on the
change in business culture and improvements in customer relationship
management (with notable exceptions; Arthur Andersen and KPMG both seem
set to enter the strategic marketing arena).
But they don’t have the infrastructure which would allow them to provide
back-end database or customer-interface solutions.
Companies already steering a course towards becoming the giants of
tomorrow’s marketing strategy and execution are Prophit Share (born out
of Eagle Star Direct); Hays (which last month bought Crawfords
Computing, which manages some of the UK’s biggest financial and
marketing databases); EDS Centrobe (a major US company developing its UK
capabilities); and, although with a history of delivering
creative-driven solutions, Brann and WWAV Rapp Collins.
All these, along with my own company, Primecom, aim to provide clients
with non-biased marketing solutions, not tied to specific media,
creative solutions or form of data.
Today, a client taking the same brief to two different agencies will be
given two completely different creative solutions, which are likely to
have more to do with each agency’s key discipline and ethos than the
Tomorrow’s customer-centred client will entrust its customer
relationship management to a company which will provide a complete
management, training and database consultancy and will deliver the
ongoing customer-interface and information needed to formulate
promotional and communication strategy.
The client will then be able to select the agency most suited to
producing the specific creative execution dictated by this
customer-driven strategy, be it an ad, a mail shot or a website. An
alternative scenario might involve a tactically adept, customer-centred
business working in partnership with its client to deliver the same end