From the 15th through the rest of this month I’m talking VRM with all comers at Inkwell.vue, the public space at The Well, one of the oldest and best of online fora. A shortcut for visiting and joining the conversation is http://bitly.com/docsearls. Here is an excerpt from my answers to the latest questions from my host at The Well, Jon Lebkowsky:
In your second question… “How well you can scale ‘engaging the customer’? … the “you” is the company. The scale we want with VRM is to be able to relate to many different companies in common and well-understood ways, rather than in as many ways as there are companies.
For example, loyalty cards don’t scale for customers. Having lots of them is mostly a pain in the ass. There are approaches, of course. I have a friend who scales his loyalty cards by punching a hole in the corner of each (careful not to hurt the barcode or the mag-stripe) and putting them on a janitor’s key ring. He organizes them alphabetically and keeps the whole thing in his car. At the drug or grocery store he whips out this big round messy thing and presents it to the self-check-out machine or the baffled person behind the counter. I know a woman who has a fat wallet in her purse devoted to all the loyalty cards she carries. Real scale for both of these people would be eliminating the whole separate-card system (in which each loyalty program is a separate silo) and replacing it with one way of defining a genuine relationship with each company. That way, for example, companies with genuine relationship would get favored treatment when the customer signals an intention to buy. Also, the customer should be able to change their contact information for every company in one move, rather than dozen, fifty or a hundred different moves, each on a separate website.
I don’t see this as a scaling down of marketing interactions, but rather of eliminating waste, increasing efficiency and increasing genuine loyalty, by removing gimmickry and costly self-delusional bullshit.
Last year I noticed that Panera Bread, one of the few chains where I like to shop, started pushing loyalty cards. It pissed me off, because I was already loyal and didn’t want this fashionable friction inserted into an otherwise functional relationship. When I said so to the woman behind the counter, she said, “I know, I know. We hate them too.” Later they stopped putting a stack of cards for customers to take on the counter, and stopped asking if customers carried cards. So I just looked up Panera and loyalty cards in a search, and found this article by Dale Furtwengler (about Panera Bread’s card). Read the post and the comments. It’s a different angle on the same issue for a retailer like Panera. What is says is that this loyalty program has failed to scale for both Panera and its customers. For customers like me, who don’t carry a Panera card, business is the same, and the company knows whatever it knows already by less gimmicky means. Customers who like and carry loyalty cards are now buying for the gimmicky reasons (e.g. discounts, points and the rest) rather than just because they like the store and the products sold there. Panera itself gets a skewed view of their customers, based on what they learn only from the subset using loyalty cards. The whole mess makes Trader Joe’s approach — to avoid the whole mess and make the shopping experience as simple, pleasant, inexpensive and good as the products sold there — look a lot more appealing.
So, to your third question, “In advocating that engagement, are you advocating a scaling down of marketing interactions? Do we get away from ‘mass marketing’?” the answers are yes. But mass marketing won’t go away. As I say about advertising in the book, it will do what only it can do. Coca-Cola will always need mass marketing. But the rest of the business world won’t need to be just like Coca-Cola.
Come on over and join in.