Taking Relationship Marketing Online

I’ve focused my career on helping marketers leverage data to better understand and more effectively market to customers on an individual level for nearly 15 years. In my early days in the industry, I worked primarily with marketing groups leveraging offline channels like catalogs and other forms of direct mail. In recent years, I’ve spent most of my time working with relationship marketing and database marketing groups and with online marketing groups.

While these marketers still view themselves as different, their responsibilities are starting to converge.

Marketing Channels Are Evolving

There’s lots of change happening in the marketing domain. It’s a time of uncertainty, but also opportunity. Marketing channels are rapidly evolving:

  • Mass media is less effective as audiences fragment and adopt technologies and tools like DVRs that enable them to tune out ads.
  • The Internet is no longer “new media” because most consumers are online.
  • Traditional outbound direct marketing channels require more analytic sophistication as response rates decline and more states consider and adopt privacy legislation.

Addressability Is the Common Link

Addressable channels are outbound and inbound channels through which marketing communicates directly with an individual — identifiable or anonymous. This includes traditional direct marketing channels (e.g., direct mail and phone), Internet channels (e.g., Web sites, e-mail, mobile, and social media), and traditional mass marketing channels (e.g., TV, billboards, and radio).

As addressable channels become more prevalent, marketers are recognizing they need new skills to effectively engage, communicate, and interact with customers. Specifically, marketers must:

  • Listen to all information provided by customers and prospects — both explicit and implied.
  • Understand past and present information to determine the best possible marketing action.
  • Communicate in a compelling, timely, and relevant manner.

What’s more, marketers must do this across inbound as well as outbound channels and in an integrated way.

Interactive Marketing Will Emerge as A Dominant Marketing Discipline

The best term to describe the fusion of these capabilities is “interactive marketing,” which I’ll define as engaging each customer and prospect in a cross-channel dialogue that builds upon past and current behavior.

Although the term isn’t new, few (other than Professor John Deighton of Harvard who is widely credited with coining the term) define it as broadly as I have here.

It’s interesting that, in many organizations, the required capabilities already reside in different parts of the company — relationship marketing, database marketing, online marketing, e-commerce, etc. Unfortunately, many of the companies I talk with are adding duplicate capabilities within stovepipe marketing groups rather than integrating these skills. The result? A widening gap between “online” and “direct” marketing functions.

Rather than continuing to grow the silos, companies should explore cross-training, opening lines of communication, and integrating marketing teams that communicate with customers via addressable channels.

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