We thank Caren Carrasco, Senior Partner at Emarsys partner Benjamin David Group, for contributing this guest post. The post has been adapted, and originally appeared on the Benjamin David Group blog, here.

Customer relationship management (CRM) is much more than a simple business strategy to increase sales – it’s about forging a deep connection between your brand and your customer.

Today, building your brand and establishing loyalty is as important as nuturing your own personal relationships. It’s a huge undertaking – something that needs constant attention – for a number of reasons:

  • You need to have a great methodology for both collecting and understanding data
  • You need to be able to leverage your data into actionable insights
  • You should always go beyond the customer’s needs using unicorns

But first, a brief history…

Why CRM is Important

Customer relationship management wasn’t always the powerful, automation-driven thing it is today. CRM functions as an omnichannel marketing strategy that allows you to target specific audiences, with the ultimate goal of generating long-term customer engagement.

If you’re in the depths of CRM, you may have heard of Lester Wunderman. In the late 60s, Wunderman planted the seeds for future marketing tactics during a speech at MIT, in which he officially defined the term “direct marketing.” As the years rolled by, and technology boomed, CRM continued on as simple data collection for the marketers switching from their dusty rolodex to the modern day computer. Later, software companies like Siebel Systems emerged, paving the way for the CRM technology we see today. But the programs that spawned from the new technology are ancient in comparison to what’s available today.

The data continued to be underutilized, used only to store customer information and subsequently used for post-sale purposes. They were still only scratching the surface of the potential benefits of using 1:1 communications with your customer.

Now, as technology continues to usher in a new age of ultra-connectivity, we’re seeing marketing shift to growing and sustaining customer relationships. Brands are more and more detached from the customer, so the only way to keep up is by establishing a relationship. Marketing professionals should be focused — more than ever before — on creating strategies that can connect customers with the brand in meaningful ways.

Okay, Caren. I’m on board. But how do I do it?

For starters, you won’t be able to engage in any sort of customer relationship without meaningful data in your possession. You need to gather this data in order to tailor your communications to specific segments.

Your data collection might ask the customer:

  • “What’s your name?”
  • “What are your interests and preferences?”
  • “How often do you want us to check in with you?”

But you also need to be using your coveted information positively and properly.

Listening is important in any relationship — especially marketing. With all of this usable data, customers expect to receive exactly what they sign up for. You need to hold up on your end of the bargain by delivering relevant content.

Unfortunately, if you can’t commit to this strategy, there won’t be any relationship to build because you’ll have no customer retention. Why should a customer trust a brand that’s uninterested and unwilling to listen to their “likes” and “dislikes?” If you’re unable to use a customer’s information positively don’t expect them to stick around.

What it boils down to is the need for transparency and equality. Treat your customers the same way you’d want to be treated by another person. Customers won’t be impressed by old marketing tactics like mass communication. They want to be treated uniquely, as individuals who deserve personalized experiences.

Wow-ing Customers with Personalized Experiences

Behind every great brand staying true to relationship building is a team of A+ marketers — those men and women that care about customer preferences, those curious cats looking to discover more data about their audience, those marketing warriors willing to go the extra mile to understand how to make 1:1 communications come to fruition.

This is why they’re considered unicorns. They’re the people that make an effort to work with every department — honing in on the best customer experience possible. They’re also the people who are throwing away plain emails and experimenting with creative ways to impress clients.

Extending the customer relationship lifespan happens by using habits and interests and matching them to products, not the other way around. Let’s look at a couple examples from Aeroplan, Canada’s premier coalition loyalty program, and how it found customer insights in new places.

Example: listening to customer service calls

Have you ever sat down with your customer service team to listen to your customer’s calls? If you haven’t, it’s definitely time to start. You need to dedicate some time every once in a while to sit down and to listen to the pain points of your customers. Because you are this A+ marketer, you should be excited about being able to get a subjective view of what your customers are saying about your brand.

The Mythbuster campaign for Aeroplan came to fruition as a result of the marketing team listening in on customer service calls. There were misconceptions that the team wanted to clarify, but wouldn’t have known if not listening to support calls — a lot of them.

The campaign turned out to be one of the most successful in Aeroplan’s history, and it’s still online. All of this came by collaborating with other departments, which is key.

Example: looking at customer emails

Another great example of going the extra mile is to get access to the reply inbox from your brand — that generic email that customers might be replying to. Some companies have customer service taking those emails and replying to them, but some don’t even bother. As a marketer, you can take that as source of information and start an investigation, like a good CSI agent.

Start this exercise with a hypothesis based on your active listening, and then execute based on data. The reply inbox at Aeroplan showed customers were asking the same questions — again and again. Data showed that a big percentage of members would not connect with an agent over the phone, or over an email, leaving the question unanswered. The action plan was easy: an automated email with the top questions and their answers, right after a member would write to the “non-reply” email address from a commercial campaign. With that email, Aeroplan reduced call center calls by 10% and improved engagement within members.

Find Your Unicorns

All companies have the ability to leverage marketing automation tools, collect customer data, and execute campaigns. There are dozens of resources to help guide companies into establishing best strategies.

Related Content: Building Your Ship: A (Step-By-Step) Guide To Enterprise AI Marketing Implementation

It’s the A+ marketers behind the scenes who will help your brand develop long-term relationships. You should leverage tools and platforms as a means to forge new, creative ways to connect with customers. This is how you turn brand engagement into brand loyalty.

If you can find someone who can translate knowing how to do something to actually doing it, hold onto to them because they’ll be shaping your brand in no time.

Final Thoughts

Finding your unicorns doesn’t mean you need to go on a crazy hiring spree. You just need to hep your team be their best selves. How?

  • Don’t limit your role. Learn how to do quick changes in HTML, how to tweak a picture in Photoshop, or how to do a quick SQL query to segment your audience. Being agile and nimble has to be your first priority.
  • Get involved with everyone in the company. Marketers are not the only ones that hold data. Being well connected with the BI team is key.
  • Sell your idea. You’ll need to support your idea with numbers. This could mean market research, or could be past campaign results, a business case, or something else. If you believe that your campaign will make a difference, make it happen!
  • Don’t do something that is easily “googleable.” Your campaign has to be fresh. If it’s something that exists somewhere else, then present it in a different way. For example, use an infographic.
  • Be curious. Listen to call center calls, get access to non-reply inbox, and do mystery shopping — basically, don’t stay still at your desk. Your screen monitor won’t give you the ultimate campaign idea!
  • Connect with your marketing community. Other colleagues from other brands may have the answer that you are looking for, because they may have already done what you are trying to do. Leverage your network!

All of these things are not listed in your job description, and those are some of the things that will make you stand out from the crowd and make your brand unique…à la a unicorn!

Want to chat with Caren about strengthening your relationship with customers? Shoot her an email at Caren@Benjamin-David.com.

Caren is a Senior Partner at Benjamin David Group, a Montréal based CRM consulting firm offering business owners innovative marketing strategies to help achieve revenue objectives and cultivate long-term growth.