Bringing direct, data and interactive under one roof

There's no question customer relationship management (CRM) is on everyone's minds. And the attention it's been getting has forced many Canadian companies - clients and agencies alike - to re-evaluate their business infrastructures.

There’s no question customer relationship management (CRM) is on everyone’s minds. And the attention it’s been getting has forced many Canadian companies – clients and agencies alike – to re-evaluate their business infrastructures.

Direct agencies have begun arming themselves with more sophisticated analysis software and suites of CRM tools in a bid to reflect the convergence of direct, data and interactive. Many have created entire divisions or companies to address this trend.

Sarah Simpson, president of Toronto-based Proximity Canada, the product of the amalgamation earlier this year of BBDO Response and BBDO Interactive, says the company has managed to grab a bunch of new business. In less than a year, it’s inked deals with the likes of Campbell’s, Pioneer North America, Hostess Frito-Lay and Time Canada magazine.

‘The momentum we’ve had is unbelievable. We’re talking to a lot of new clients and deepening our relationships with existing clients like Pepsi,’ says Simpson.

The company’s raison d’etre is to harness the traditional skills of direct marketing with interactive principles to touch every part of the brand experience a customer has. Proximity, a ‘parallel network’ to BBDO, offers a host of proprietary relationship management tools.

‘There’s always going to be a demand for what I’ll call more traditional direct marketing and more traditional interactive – they’re not going to go out of business, but they may not be as competitive in the future, and they’re not going to get as much of clients’ budgets as they used to. We’re providing a one-stop solution – clients are attracted to that,’ says Simpson.

For its part, Toronto-based Lowe RMP recently launched Analuein (from the Greek verb ‘to resolve’), an advanced database analytics and relationship marketing company. The new company will shares office space with Lowe RMP, and will serve Lowe RMP’s clients, but it will establish its own client base, says Peter Coish, president of Lowe RMP. Analuein is about trying to weave database and analytics into the agency’s strategic and creative offerings, he says – two entities that typically mix like oil and water.

‘What’s unique here is that we’re hanging our hat on creativity in direct marketing, and then introducing the scientific element. We’re taking a much more holistic approach,’ says Coish.

The same goes for Myriad Marketing of Toronto, which recently rolled out what it dubs ‘closed loop marketing’ – the addition of a CRM solution (from prospecting and lead generation to after-sales support and customer retention) to its marketing services offering.

Increasingly, clients have been asking for database, analytics and CRM services, says Baron Manett, director of strategy and client services at Myriad. Such services have previously been outsourced by most agencies, or left up to the client.

‘We had clients saying, ‘we’ve got all these leads from past campaigns in spreadsheets…or on paper – how do we collect and store and deploy and really ring the value of this data to make marketing and sales campaigns stronger?’ Clients now need to quantify the value of their campaigns to be able to go back to their CFOs and request bigger budgets,’ he says.

‘I still think there’s a lot of confusion as to what CRM is. It scares a lot of people,’ says Manett, adding that it is far less daunting and costly for the client to team up with its existing partner, or with an agency that can cover all aspects of the marketing process, including CRM and analytics.

‘There was a time when everyone was talking about analytics, and CRM is the latest iteration of that. There’s plenty of talk about CRM, but few practical applications of it,’ agrees Lowe RMP’s Coish.

‘However,’ he continues, ‘there was also a time when direct agencies were ruled by analytics – creative was merely a service provided. We’re using science and data to make creative better and more targeted and to ensure we get a more relevant message to the target, based on the insights we’ve gathered into the mind of the customer.’

But it’s exactly for that reason that Robert Clarkson, president of Toronto-based Carlson Marketing, believes clients will continue to seek out firms and consultants, like Carlson, that specialize in relationship marketing, rather than turn to their advertising agencies, and often even their direct agencies.

‘The role of the modern marketing company is to interpret the data and say ‘here are the drivers and here are the implications of that data.’ And that’s where most agencies have a particular shortcoming. Even the agencies that are closer to it – the direct marketing agencies – are equally struggling with this,’ he says. ‘Why? Because much of what their business has been based on has been essentially putting a million envelopes in the marketplace, counting on the three or four percent response rate, and being very adept at generating 0.5 percent more by changing copy or creative.’

‘But it’s not just about capturing data. It’s a dialogue,’ Clarkson continues. ‘The key is not looking at the customer in terms of media – it’s looking at what they’re looking for, in any media they want. Most direct agencies are comfortable with one, maybe two media, but they don’t integrate them – they don’t have the infrastructure to do it.’

Michael Griffiths, VP of creative at Toronto-based Wunderman (formerly Impiric), which has gone through a three-year transformation to add and integrate several disciplines (including direct and interactive) under one roof, argues agencies are well positioned to meet clients’ needs in this area.

‘We have been working so much closer with our sister agency, Y&R [Young & Rubicam]. Prior to five years ago, that just wasn’t happening because, like all general agencies, the answer for what media to use was advertising – usually television. Now, Y&R will hand over a client opportunity that they feel is more suited to what we do. It positions the agency as more strategic than tactical – we can leverage all our different divisions and strengths,’ he says.

Other shops, says Griffiths, are getting into partnerships with other agencies or technology companies because clients are demanding this kind of whole-egg approach to their marketing communications. And those that don’t, he adds, are going to miss the boat.

‘Clients are looking for synergies – anything you can do to give the marketer a bigger bang for his buck – everything has to support everything else. It’s something whose time has come.’