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November 1, 2006
Too Many Relationships: How Relationship Marketing Succeeds (and Fails)
 
I have more relationships than I can handle. I do a so-so job, managing up, down, and sideways at the office. I do a little better with my gorgeous wife. I struggle to manage relationships with dog-walkers, doormen, dry cleaners, tech guys, cab drivers, next-door neighbors, visiting cousins, finance guys, college pals, and professional peers. But I am maxxed out.

I don’t have time or patience for relationships with my fabric softener, my shoes, my dishwasher, HBO, The Mets, Citibank, my iPhone, or my toothpaste. And even if I did, I am not sure I’d do any better. 

I guess I should be thrilled that a bunch of marketers armed with appended data, cookie pools, device IDs, and personal information are monitoring, tracking, observing, and messaging me. But I feel more like a moving target than a BFF.

CRM works (or doesn’t) based on getting the right message to the right person at the right time. The trick is to use data science to understand me and to provide me with personally relevant, useful, valuable, or surprising offers or information.

Here’s a sampling of hits and misses from my relationship-rich life.

Robo-Friend: Norm Thompson. Fifteen years ago I saw an ad in The Wall Street Journal that read, “I make the world’s most comfortable socks. If you doubt me, send me your card and I’ll send you a free pair”. I did it. So did ‘Norm.’

‘Norm’ sends me a flyer twice a year. And I buy 3 pairs twice each year. For the wholesale cost of a pair of socks and thirty 50-cent mailers Norm has built me into an annuity with a present lifetime value of $570 and a future value of $38/year.  

Quid Pro Quo: American Airlines. I am a mile whore. American knows when and where I fly. They upgrade me much faster than their competitors and make me feel like a big shot. I’ve repaid their largess with frequent use, incremental purchases, light mileage redemption, and positive word-of-mouth.

One Size Fits All: Amazon Prime. I buy 40+ books each year using the ‘1 click’ button. In return they bomb me with a mix of relevant and irrelevant email and retarget me endlessly. But they’ve never offered me a deal or a reward.

Pigeon-Holed: Brooks Brothers. I’ve worn Brooks Brothers shirts since I was eleven. I have benefited from some great discounts. But I can’t tell if they’ve sorted me into a “value buyer” category or if it’s just a coincidence that I only get discount catalogues and discount emails. They never refer to my purchase history or offer me a logical cross-sell. 

One-Way: Hertz. I’ve been a Gold Card holder for 20 years. I still get a kick seeing my name on those digital boards. They offer me all kinds of irrelevant coupons. If they’d look at my transaction history and my address, they’d know how lame the offers are! Is it still a relationship when one side no longer pays attention?

Building meaningful relationships with customers is about paying attention. Paying attention to customer needs is the highest form of compliment. CRM is like a friendship. With each exchange and each interaction, the parties learn more about each other, gently adjusting the conversation based on new realizations, information, or insights. Using this information thoughtfully in the right context at the right moment separates the great brands from the also-rans.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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