OPINION: Marketing Society - Can direct and CRM co-exist to mutual benefit?

Many column inches in magazines such as Marketing have been given over to the contention that the future is direct.

Media fragmentation, media neutrality and the empowered consumer are all posited as powerful arguments for the need for marketers to shift their spend below the line (although I understand a few media agencies have already abandoned the line - but at least you know what I mean by the phrase).

At the same time, an equally large number of column inches have been devoted to CRM. And while those three letters may mean 1000 things to 1000 different people, the core of customer relationship marketing - the need for customer-centricity in business - has always been at the heart of good marketing. CRM enjoys the luxury of investment, senior management time and making complete and utter business sense.

Assume for a minute that the future is both direct and customer-centric.

What chance is there that these two can co-exist in harmony and to mutual benefit? What CRM demands is a new marketing process, one that is able to respond to changing consumer behaviours and attitudes while still delivering against the business objectives. That means it has to be justified and accountable with clear metrics, making marketing more of a process and less a matter of risk-taking.

So the issue for direct media and marketing is whether it can evolve to work in this new context, leveraging the core strengths of the discipline - customer insight, accountability, test and measure - while taking on board a new process-driven approach.

The big threats are that direct marketers remain largely process-averse, too accustomed to project-based working, and lacking in political clout.

Yet direct enjoys some strong strategic benefits.

The way that businesses look at the customer lifecycle is embedded in the systems that support process management - call centres, campaign management applications and so on. Yet this is all too infrequently linked to the disciplinary skills of planning, measuring and improving, which are all key direct strengths.

If direct marketers and direct media specialists are to step up to the CRM plate, improved segmentation and targeting is a must. Different packs for different audiences must become standard practice.

So too is the need to consistently recognise the relationship that brands enjoy with existing customers, and also to realise the synergies that exist between targeted messages and bills and statements - a core CRM channel. We need to build the evidence for direct marketing's ability to define brands, so that we can build brands without ever losing the ability to connect with consumers emotionally.

Consumers will effectively push organisations to recognise their values and their preferences and to use the right media for the right messages at the right time. This has been the goal of direct marketers for years.

The challenge remains simple for us all. Now that CRM and direct marketing are becoming intertwined, can we deliver the right process?

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