Recently, several of our clients and members of the rDialogue team attended the Customer Relationship Management Conference (CRMC) in Chicago (May 29-31, 2012).  This conference consistently delivers key insights from retailers as well as provides a forum from which to learn from each other.  This year, we were excited to see that there were even more companies farther along the curve in terms of relationship marketing, with technology and programs in place with the intent of optimizing loyalty programs to enable relationship marketing.

Here are a few quick takeaways from the conference (and, here’s the agenda):

  • Nearly every presenter spoke to the importance of having the right team in place.  Often overlooked in the loyalty / CRM discussion is the need for good, smart people leading these strategies within companies.   All too often the focus is on what technology can do for a business, under-emphasizing the importance of having strong leadership at all levels.   
  • Best Buy, GNC and Express stood out with clear plans to manage their data for optimized marketing. All three had segmentation schemes in place to drive smart targeting and relevant marketing.  For these retailers, and across all the presenters, there was an emphasis placed on  how to use customer data to prioritize resources (budgets, time and people) to build what you need, launch offers that are customer-centric and support marketing that will make the greatest impact.
  • The topic of Groupon was mentioned in several presentations not just because they were at the conference leading a session about their program, Groupon Rewards.  In one session, a small business owner (Brooklyn Industries) explained that Groupon attracted the wrong type of customer for growing their business.  In a later session, Groupon highlighted three different levels where they support small business owners.  Groupon is an often discussed topic around the office.  As a company, we’ve never been that bullish on Groupon, neither as a marketing tactic nor during its IPO.  The biggest issue that we see with Groupon Rewards is that the merchant doesn’t own the data.  Therefore, with customers actively participating with your business through Groupon Rewards, you can see customer spend and frequency on an individual level, but you can’t contact the customers.  While we understand that for small business owners, the ability to leverage Groupon’s technology platform plus access their broad customer base has some benefits, but without the data ownership, we feel like Groupon Rewards falls up short.
  • Many retailers spoke about loyalty marketing as a journey that they were just beginning.  Sports Authority (which recently launched its first ever loyalty program called The League) and Game Stop (whose PowerUp Rewards has seen great success especially in terms of membership growth) seemed to be a little ahead of the curve in terms of prioritization and relevant marketing and were most excited how they were using data to talk to their customers.  It was interesting to see how two programs at different stages in their development used customer data as the foundation of their loyalty marketing. 
  • Across retailers, there was recognition that pervasive discounts are not, in the end, healthy for their businesses. Loyalty was viewed as a tool to help them be smarter about managing their discounts.  Wrapp, a social gift-giving service that lets you give free and paid gift cards to friends and family using your computer or smartphone, led a presentation and highlighted how new technology presents opportunities to approach discounting in a more productive, positive and brand-building way – adding value rather than simply reducing price.  Gap is an early adopter of this technology (and Wrapp’s largest client in the U.S.). 
  • There was a reoccurring theme around relationship marketing that is evolving beyond direct marketing. It was exciting to see a number of retailers talk about the fun of marketing to help drive engagement and loyalty versus simply delivering offer after offer.  Bass Pro Shops shared a YouTube video about turkey frying to bring customers into the store while Express introduced the idea of rewarding live check-ins with an in-store associate vs. a mobile check-in that rewards more passive engagement.
  • Finally, as expected, there was recognition of mobile and social and the power they bring to building customer relationships; albeit, no one could really talk specifically about how these channels could build business.  However, many spoke of the need to cut through the noise, turn fans into advocates and, like in all channels, keep the content relevant and meaningful.  Several presenters noted how retailers like Amazon and Zappos are creating a new bar for retailers in terms of how fluidly they manage data and integrate into an improved buying experience.

Relationship marketing is all about using data to make a brand more relevant to its customers.  The right tactics can take many different forms depending on the brand and its customers, as evidenced by the presenters at CRMC.  However, designing your relationship and loyalty marketing strategy starts with and constantly revolves around knowing your customers.  And, that intelligence is built on a solid foundation of data collection and analysis.

Meg Culp, Brenda Thielbar and Phil Rubin also attended CRMC and contributed their thoughts to this post.

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