2 min read

Is brand experience important to consumers?

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It can be difficult to convince executives of the importance of brand experience, given that it is a relatively hard thing to quantify or calculate a clear return on investment for, which places marketers in a difficult position.

However, consumers are increasingly influenced by this type of marketing, which can shape how they look at a particular company or service.

This, in turn, can mean they recommend it to their friends – which can be crucial in an age when advertising is increasingly treated with caution by well-informed shoppers.

Brand experience doesn’t necessarily need to involve dramatic PR stunts or friendly shop assistants. It also incorporates contact points such as calls and emails, which is where CRM comes in.

Personalising your approach towards customers can have a big impact on how they view your service or product, helping develop your reputation within a particular sector or consumer segment.

John Viccars, senior strategist with RPM, recently argued that the scepticism toward the benefits of brand experience needs to be addressed.

“I think brand experience is still daunting because many marketers think in terms of immediate reach. Based on my X budget, I can ‘push’ a message to Y amount of people,” he explained, writing in the Guardian.

He urged industry experts to consider the potential benefits of ‘consumer influence’, which can allow a message or positive experience to spread exponentially without any further investment from the marketer.

“According to studies by McKinsey, experiential brand experience is the most powerful form of word of mouth, driving activity accounting for 50 to 80 percent in any given product category.

“Brand experience is inherently social, it’s built on ideas that people want to spend time with and that people want to share,” he added.

For firms that want to embrace this element of marketing, investing in a CRM programme could be wise – but they need to do it the right way.

4 min read

The state of content marketing

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Presented at the Convergence 2014 event.

The key message from this presentation is: Relevant content + Right time + Right channel

In the 1900’s, one to one marketing was effectively the shop keeper servicing a set of customers he knew very well, moving forward 90 years and the first web browsers emerged enabling people to read your content on the web and so reaching a much wider audience; this was a one way street though as the organisation did not know the customer, had no way to control contact with the customer and could not be track or assist the customer though the buying journey.

In the early 90’s, some magazines included a small card that could be filled in with what a reader would like information on from the magazine; for example, a person interested in buying a new freezer could select that item on the card, post it off and at some point in the future a brochure would arrive. These cards would traditionally be batched up and sent to the relevant departments when sufficient numbers were received. What would invariably happen is that the customer would receive the information weeks after making the purchase! A simple change to this process involved dealing with the cards as they arrived and posting out brochures immediately, this helped the customer through the buying decision – an example of the content/time/channel equation.

So what are the challenges of content marketing today?

  • Silo in Marketing (Sales, Social, PR, Digital etc.) – all creating and decimating content to the same targets – “random acts of content”.
  • Limited resources in organisation, multiple silos producing content – expensive.
  • Tools are great, but they don’t create strategy or content on their own.

Addressing these challenges, what are the opportunities?

  • Efficiently Leverage resources.
  • Build brand affinity.
  • Build a social community.
  • Be more responsive and engaged.
  • Generate demand and new leads.
  • Cross and up sell.

A content strategy involves marketing, communications and technology; it’s not just about the content!

Know thy Brand:

  • Do you have a clearly defined brand identity and mission?
  • Do you have a core value statement?

Essentially, what is the first thing that a customer will think about when hearing your brand? What do you think about when you think of brands like Microsoft, Apple, Nike?

Know thy Customer:

  • Understand as much about your customer as possible, you will never understand everything about the customer so just go as far as necessary.
  • Create the customer journey for each customer ‘persona’ you have identified and defined.

The content you generate must be unique, relevant and ownable.

If you borrow content, make it relevant to the target audience; don’t just retweet/resend.

What do you think about when the brands Nike and Bose are named?

Nike owns ‘authentic athletic experience’ – Think Tiger Woods, you won’t play like him, but you will feel like him; Nike deliver on this experience.

Bose owns ‘sound’; if you think Bose, you think sound; whether it be little black boxes, headphones, noise cancelling headphones … Sound.

For B-to-B, this kind of marketing may not be totally appropriate but does have relevance.

An example would be a brand like 3M, they are B-to-B and make digital display screens. They create incredible effects through the screens, they no longer aim marketing at engineers with screen specifications – They talk about experience.

 

So, how did they reach out?

  • Targeted social media campaign based on accurate customer persona creating a consistent message about the experience customers would have (and not about the screen composition etc.).
  • Consistent brand and messaging across touch-points like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and the website.
  • Measure! Test, analyse, learn and optimise.

The end result was a much larger increase in interest than the traditional strategy they previously used.

The obvious points to consider include:

  • Talk about things that are relevant to your customer.
  • What does the customer want?
  • What can I do to help the customer journey?

Technology such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM play an important role that is absolutely required today. It allows you to target, measure and connect with user communities. Importantly it is tied to the customer life cycle and provides automation which is critical in this era of marketing and communication.

2 min read

More CRM training needed in the UK?

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The marketing industry has faced a digital revolution over the last decade, as online becomes an essential component of their business as clients demand an increased focus on new channels such as social and mobile.

While this has opened up many new opportunities for the sector, it has also put pressure on workers to develop their skillsets and keep track with the pace of change within the industry.

According to a new report from training firm The Knowledge Engineers, businesses need to do more to ensure their staff are ready to cope with the challenges involved in digital marketing and communications.

For instance, only 29 per cent of respondents described themselves as happy with their data and CRM skills, suggesting firms may not be getting everything they can out of investment in this kind of software.

On the bright side, this figure was considerably higher than the global average of 20 per cent, an indication of how important CRM is becoming to British companies.

Nevertheless, as digital becomes an entrenched part of the landscape, it is crucial that workers are given the experience and training they need to take advantage of this shift.

Niall McKinney, founder and chief executive officer of The Knowledge Engineers, pointed out that digital is beginning to overtake print as the biggest advertising medium, meaning companies will be left behind if they do not upskill.

“It is essential for organisations to understand whether they have the right skills to maximise their digital opportunity. The UK leads the world in some areas of digital marketing like search, but needs to catch up quickly in others like mobile,” he added.

Only 35 per cent of UK respondents felt completely confident delivering digital marketing activity, with content strategy deemed to be the most important area in which to develop their skills over the coming years.

2 min read

CRM market enjoyed expansion in 2013

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New research from Gartner has delineated the impressive growth levels seen by the global CRM market over the course of 2013 as firms attempt to improve their relationships with buyers and utilise the analytics possibilities offered by the software.

“High levels of end-user investment in digital marketing and customer experience initiatives were the primary growth drivers of the market in 2013,” said Joanne Correia, research vice president at the firm.

“CRM will be at the heart of digital initiatives in coming years. This is one technology area that will get funding because digital business is critical for companies to remain competitive.”

One of the major factors in this development is increased demand for software as a service (SaaS), which is developing across a host of sectors as firms attempt to move on from outdated legacy services or provide complementary additions to their workers.

Another possible reason for the increased popularity of CRM is that major vendors such as Oracle and Microsoft Dynamics have upped their efforts to compete for market penetration.

As these software providers vie to offer the best service and develop the subtlety and techniques of their CRM offering, firms will have more choices when it comes to bringing in new technology.

Microsoft enjoyed the second-biggest growth levels over the course of 2013, expanding by 22.8 per cent. Salesforce was the best performer, with a 30.8 per cent increase.

On a regional basis, Western European firms appeared to be the keenest to develop their CRM processes, perhaps suggesting that the American market (an early adopter) is beginning to show signs of maturity.

The former enjoyed growth of 15.2 per cent over the course of the year, while the bulk of revenue share (52.9 per cent) was recorded in the latter.

On a sector-by-sector basis communications, media and IT services vertical industries are the largest spenders on CRM because they tend to link up with large numbers of customers via call centres and other direct marketing techniques.

2 min read

CIOs ‘unable to extract value from data’

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The potential big data mine that many UK firms are sitting on will be of no use unless chief information officers (CIOs) and marketing experts are given the tools they need to analyse it, a new report has suggested.

According to a new study from Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), 41 per cent of British CIOs agree that current IT processes are impacting organisations’ ability to leverage data to drive growth.

Only 11 per cent of respondents felt they have enough access to business leaders to gain the traction they need to develop investment in new technology.

CRM software could be one solution for firms that are unsure how to utilise the data they are gaining about customers and buyers, but only if they have the cash needed to invest in this type of infrastructure.

Some 73 per cent of UK companies are not currently mining untapped intelligence, missing out on potentially useful guidance or predictions, HDS revealed.

Hicham Abdessamad, executive vice-president of global services at the firm, said: “UK organisations can accelerate business growth and competitive advantage by aligning IT with business strategy.”

“‘IT-accelerated’ businesses use technology as a strategic asset, helping them to derive intelligence and mobilise information, [and] enabling them to be more competitive.”

Companies that can draw on a host of different data streams to produce actionable insights will be able to find new sources of revenue, particularly as the economy begins to recover from its former malaise, concluded the HDS vice-president.

Some 90 per cent of CIOs agreed to some extent with the proposition that traditional approaches to IT are stopping companies from getting everything they could out of their big data processes.

While the initial investment can be expensive, putting off many executives, spending on software such as CRM is likely to be easily offset by the new leads it creates as long as it is implemented and utilised properly.

As many other companies begin to take this step, others may need to get involved simply so they are not left behind by their rivals.

2 min read

Gartner: CRM can drive engagement

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Customer engagement is the byword for many firms in the modern era, whether they work on a B2B or B2C basis.

The internet – especially the emergence of tablets and smartphones – has made it far easier for people to find out about potential new suppliers and make a switch, so firms need to take responsibility for maintaining relationships with their buyers.

How this is done varies from company to company, but installing a CRM system can give many firms a boost when it comes to connecting with customers.

Gartner recently revealed some of its research on the importance of CRM, ahead of a host of summer conferences on the topic of customer engagement and technology.

Distinguished analyst and vice-president with the firm Michael Maoz pointed out that this is an area that affects almost every company, whether they are operating in the public or private sector.

“However, in most cases, these organisations are not actually engaging with the customer, and instead they have been disengaging for a decade in order to lower costs. Furthermore, relatively few have an enterprise-wide approach to engaging with customers,” he added.

Businesses need to consider how employees, partners and consumers work with each other before planning their strategy, concluded Mr Maoz.

Aligning social, mobile and traditional channels is vital to engagement – CRM can obviously help with this, bringing the different information involved with these platforms together and making it easier to analyse.

It is also useful in a host of different ways, for instance by ensuring that firms can focus on keeping their customers’ information safe.

A well-implemented piece of CRM software can store all this data in one place rather than forcing firms to spread it across a host of areas, meaning that losses or mistakes are less likely to happen.

Emotionally engaging with customers is vital if firms are to succeed in the modern era, Gartner concluded.

Buyers with this kind of relationship “are more likely to complain less, compliment more, buy more and contribute more than those who are not”, concluded the consultancy.

5 min read

How can CRM help businesses plan for the future?

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Planning in advance is one of the greatest challenges that modern businesses face. The pace of change that is common across many industries nowadays can generate a host of opportunities for those who are well-prepared; however, it also means that assessing how situations are going to develop is harder than it ever was in the past – which could be where CRM comes in.

What makes this muddled situation even more frustrating for business leaders is that it can often feel as if the holy grail of accurate, predictive forecasting is almost within reach, only to see it fall at the final hurdle due to poor implementation or a lack of analytics talent within an organisation.

The recent hype around big data provides a salutary example. IT experts have suggested that the more information created by consumers, the easier it will become to track their attitudes towards particular products and services.

To an extent, this has proven to be true, with a further expansion in data levels anticipated over the coming years as the ‘internet of things’ becomes more popular and widespread.

However, the reality is that many companies do not have the capacity, the nous or even the technology needed to sift through vast amounts of information in order to find the insight buried in it like the needle in the hay.

CRM can help, but only if it is utilised correctly. Here, Redspire posits some ways in which businesses can take advantage of their CRM system to produce behavioural or analytic insights into their customer base.

Big data integration – is it a must?

As I alluded to above, the enormous cloud of hot air surrounding the big data market is undeniably slightly wearisome but it does not mean that the sector has nothing to offer – far from it.

Instead, businesses need to ensure that they do not buy into the hype surrounding data analytics and instead take a calm, cool-headed look at how they can make it work for their business.

With CRM systems, it’s often best to start simple and then build up your functionality as your team becomes more proficient with utilising the software, so I certainly wouldn’t describe big data integration as a must.

However, if you already have a relatively mature CRM process in place or feel confident that your tech experts are up to scratch when it comes to predictive analysis, integrating big data with customer relationship management can offer undeniable benefits.

The convergence of big data and CRM

Speaking last year, GlaxoSmithKline’s customer relationship management consultant James Parker encouraged firms to invest in big data immediately or risk being left behind.

“There are even larger data sets today [than 10 years ago] and although consumer behaviour is best monitored by the marketing department, the benefits are to the rest of the business,” he explained.

He is among a host of CRM experts who have recognised that the large amounts of information now available to them is making it easier than ever before to use the software to produce accurate behavioural models.

Think of the process as being like making a painting – if you only have two colours of paint, you’re necessarily limited in how life-like a portrayal you can create. Big data has opened up the full palette of shades to analysts, who can now use CRM to produce extremely detailed predictive images.

Benchmarking

Vital indicators such as customer sentiment, retention and cost vs revenue per service call can all be benchmarked through your CRM software – you can then store this information for as long as necessary to gain a clear idea of how well each area is performing, possibly in relation to rival firms or the industry standards.

When obvious trends begin to emerge through this process, firms will be able to take action to improve parts of their operation they know are underperforming, ultimately making any investment that needs to be carried out more efficient.

Multichannel customer awareness

Along with big data, one of the most commonly-identified trends in marketing technology over the last 12 months has been multichannel; that is, the need to engage with customers through a variety of platforms while maintaining parity of voice and tone.

This is challenging, as is tracking the success (or otherwise) of campaigns when they take place across many different channels.

Dealing with all customer touch points means integrating a great deal of information into CRM software, which can be difficult at first – however, this will generally become easier once the necessary functions have been isolated and staff are aware of all the processes they need to go through to input the data effectively.

And the benefits from doing so can be huge, particularly as multichannel marketing continues to go from strength to strength.

CRM: Not a panacea

Ultimately, predictive analysis is somewhat like the holy grail mentioned above, in that it is almost certainly never going to be an exact science.

Economic factors, shifting consumer attitudes and other issues will always mean that firms can find their situation changing unexpectedly.

However, integrating big data analysis with CRM can ensure they are reasonably well-prepared for at least some of the fluctuations that can take place, especially when it comes to areas they can control to some extent such as their own customer base.

This shouldn’t lead to complacency, but instead it should help to make marketers and business leaders aware of any potential hurdles coming up and give them the chance to plan a strategy for vaulting them.

4 min read

Social and mobile – the new CRM frontiers

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The uptake of CRM platforms has continued over the last 12 months and shows little signs of abating. Much-cited research from Gartner indicated that the market will be worth a great deal more by 2017 as firms buy into the software, a sure sign that it is beginning to mature.

For many firms, the old adage that you need to walk before you can run is worth bearing in mind when investing in a first CRM system.

While great advances have been made when it comes to integrating social and mobile platforms with CRM, these may be initially out of the reach of companies without much expertise in operating the software.

Although it tends to be quite intuitive, especially in the case of something like Microsoft Dynamics CRM that allows users to build on their existing knowledge base of similar interfaces, it is nevertheless wise not to bite off more than you can chew.

However, for businesses that have already established their basic CRM processes, there are many advantages in looking towards the social and mobile aspects of the software.

Writing for CRM Magazine, Scott Kostojohn and Mazen Ghalayini – directors in the customer technology and CRM practices at West Monroe Partners – laid out the possibilities that these advances have created.

Social media

As I’ve alluded to above, it’s best not to simply dive into social for the sake of it or because it is the buzzword de jours.

Mr Kostojohn and Mr Ghalayini said: “It’s capable of providing strong insights, but is often implemented poorly. Before embarking on a social CRM initiative, organisations need to have a finish line in mind – how is this new data ultimately going to be applied? More importantly, can both our customers and our bottom line benefit from this application?”

One of the important questions marketers must ask before opting for a social element to their CRM software is how they are going to analyse the information. It’s all well and good to track how customers use Facebook and Twitter, but simply siloing this data is of no benefit and will in fact prove to be a waste of time and money.

Instead, marketers need to start small and create focused, easily examined amounts of data that they can then polish into actionable insights.

“It is tempting to adopt each new CRM advancement in hopes of improving your data collection and driving conversions, but it’s more important that these decisions be driven by an overarching strategy,” added the two experts.

Mobile

Similarly, mobile shouldn’t simply be treated as an additional (and figurative) feather to add to your metaphorical CRM hat. Much like tortuous millinery-related metaphors, it should be deployed advisedly and only if it looks likely to add value to your business proposition.

Implementation is also crucial, as the intersection of mobile and CRM is a complex one that can lead to serious confusion if the software is improperly primed or workers are not equipped to handle it properly.

“While mobile devices can yield interesting customer insights such as geolocation information, improperly harvesting these insights can bias that 360-degree view you’re trying to create,” said Mr Kostojohn and Mr Ghalayini.

The pair concluded by suggesting that businesses will increasingly be unable to avoid facing these elements of their CRM technology, despite their warnings that moving too quickly can lead to disaster (or at least drastically disappointing conversion rates compared to what was expected).

With the emergence of new trends such as wearable technology and the so-called Internet of Things – which will see everyday devices like kettles and ovens be given a web connection that will make them more responsive and also capable of gathering consumer data – the need to use CRM to manage insights is clear.

Simply put, having a good grasp of the fundamentals and driving up your conversion rate through intelligent targeting will gain good results, particularly when you begin to add the social and mobile bells and whistles to your basic CRM package.

“The complexity and scope of CRM will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, which places a premium on having a solid CRM foundation today. Strategy and structure must drive tomorrow’s adoption, especially if businesses expect social and mobile channels to improve their view of CRM to have a meaningful impact on conversions,” concluded Mr Kostojohn and Mr Ghalayini.

With Gartner anticipating such a boom in the market over the next three years, it seems likely that companies will be getting to grips with issues such as these in the near future.

4 min read

How CRM can help overcome business challenges in oil and gas service sector

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The oil and gas sector is a potentially very profitable one – in the UK, despite the fact that supplies have fallen in some places, it is still worth a great deal to the economy and could be extremely lucrative for the companies involved in extraction, sales and so on.

Retired businessman Sir Ian Wood recently completed his government-commissioned report on the industry, with the coalition now keen to fast-track many of his proposals as it attempts to effectively support the economy.

42 billion barrels of oil and gas have already been produced from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) – however, some 12 to 24 billion more could still be generated, meaning it is vital that the sector is given the chance to perform well in the near future.

The near-term prospects for the UKCS are strong, but it is facing an extremely different environment than it did ten or 15 years ago when production was at its peak, Sir Ian explained.

But what has all this got to do with CRM? Well, many upstream oil and gas firms rely heavily on this kind of technology in order to manage their relationships with customers and keep track of their information effectively, a process that could become even more important as the market in the UK becomes squeezed.

For firms in the oil and gas service industry keen to upscale their forecasting models or develop their customer management abilities, investing in software such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM could be a good idea, particularly in the build-up to the various changes put forward by Sir Ian.

Here are some of the ways that investing in CRM can help upstream oil and gas businesses fulfill their roles.

Providing a strong customer view

This isn’t necessarily an industry specific benefit, as it is generally considered the core benefit of installing a CRM system whatever sector you are working in. However, the complexities of the deals involved in utilities sales and other common occurrences in the energy world mean it can be especially helpful here.

A well-integrated piece of CRM software can make detailed notes, document attachments, communications, open quotes, pending orders, well status, production volume, service contracts, services issues and more available to workers across an organisation.

Keeping all this data in one place can have major benefits – it makes the sales and marketing process more efficient, but it also means it is less likely that a piece of vital knowledge will get lost in a (figurative) pipeline, saving the time that can often be spent attempting to gather all the information about a specific transaction.

It also makes it easier for business intelligence experts and other analysts to gain a picture of how customers are behaving, which can be extremely helpful in the relatively volatile and fluctuating world of oil and gas.

Real-time integration of industry data

As CRM software gets more sophisticated and powerful, it can provide firms with real-time integration of data – again, given the fast-moving nature of the energy market and the fact that the UK’s natural resources are no longer at their peak production level, this could prove extremely useful.

Many firms offer an oil and gas sector-specific form of CRM that can access all leading industry databases in order to provide decision-makers with the information they need. This can also be a good way to generate leads.

Track competitors

Oil and gas, as mentioned above, is a competitive sector. By using CRM to keep track of how rival firms are doing, a company would be able to plan its next move with the necessary context.

Dynamic, high-tech mapping

Again, by using industry databases, firms can create a representative model showing well permits and well production status, among other important pieces of information.

Customer service improvements

Firms will be able to assign, manage, and resolve support incidents by using a CRM database. By providing historic information about customer interaction, it will make it easier to form strong relationships and engage with buyers.

Basically, it will streamline the process of linking up with customers, as it can do for any B2B or B2C industry.

Sir Ian “estimates that full and rapid implementation [of his plans] will deliver at least 3 to 4 billion more barrels of oil than would otherwise be recovered over the next 20 years, bringing over £200 billion additional value to the UK economy”.

If this is the case, there are still plenty of profits to be made by firms that are canny enough to deal with the ways in which the market is going to change.

2 min read

B2B and social media

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Social media was initially considered the preserve of B2C marketing, given that sites such as Facebook tended to be more popular with consumers than they were with businesses. However, the last few years have seen this change, with use of Twitter and other platforms becoming normalised across the B2B sector.

It is still not a core channel for the industry, though, according to a new report from B2B Marketing produced in association with Circle Research.

Only nine per cent of respondents described the use of social media as ‘critical’ to their plans, while 47 per cent called it important. Seven per cent said the channel was of no interest to them.

Arguably, the interest is there but not the capabilities, which underlines the role CRM can play in helping B2B firms update their marketing approach.

For businesses that want to provide a more personalised, engaging approach to their existing and prospective customers, investing in software of this kind seems like a no-brainer.

However, this spend must come with strategic thinking, and the recent report from B2B marketing has warned that social media is still not being placed in this category by many firms.

Only one-third of respondents had a clearly defined strategy, with a worrying 27 per cent still treating social as an ‘ad-hoc activity’.

CRM will not be able to function effectively if it is brought into this kind of environment – a great deal of planning and forethought is vital if companies are to gain a good return on investment.

Some of the key aims highlighted by marketers when utilising social media include a desire to drive traffic to their website, as well as the hope that it will allow them to find new leads and develop awareness of their brand.

If these objectives are laid out and clarified before the integration of a CRM programme, firms should be able to automate some of their social media tasks, freeing up marketers for more creative or directive work.