Why CRM agencies are still a thing in the age of performance

CRM has meant more than just emails and post-sales processes for some time now - brands need specialists in understanding their first-party data.

Lida into M&C Saatchi. OgilvyOne into Ogilvy. Wunderman into Wunderman Thompson. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that CRM specialists are folding into their bigger, more lucrative peers because that’s where the money’s heading.

Certainly, the majority of Campaign's commentators suggested that the age of the dedicated CRM agency is drawing to a close, with phrases like integration and multichannel communications ringing through strongly.

For me, though, the recent mergers don’t sound the death knell for the CRM agency. Perhaps unsurprising because I run a CRM specialist, but this goes far beyond our own self-interest. The trend we’re seeing is actually the opposite.

CRM hasn’t been a post-sales process or "email newsletter" for quite some time – perhaps for those who believe it starts and ends with that, it really is a dying discipline.

CRM actually encompasses every step of a brand’s customer journey. Each time an individual experiences a brand, that’s a potential moment to capture first-party data and use insights and understanding to deliver greater value, increased relevance and, crucially, deliver sales. It’s about triggering an action – whether it’s raising awareness, driving a purchase, building affinity or encouraging advocacy.

Google’s rollout of SameSite, the changes to third-party cookies combined with the CCPA and GDPR, and privacy by design, all impact on the ability to measure the effectiveness of digital media and programmatic marketing.

Brands are seeing these shifts in the digital media landscape and understanding that first-party data needs to be at the heart of their approach to marketing. In the past 12 months, we’ve been approached by more, not fewer, brands to discuss helping them build capabilities to acquire and leverage first-party data.

Far from looking for a channel-neutral solution, we find that most big brands either already have or are in the process of introducing CRM specialists into their marketing team. CRM is a growing discipline and that’s because it’s fundamental to everything a customer does. And that’s why the big brands are at pains to draw that specialism closer to the rest of their operations.

With a lot of these brands looking to move more and more aspects of their CRM in-house, lines are becoming increasingly blurred. But this is also an opportunity for specialist CRM agencies.

We are working actively with brands to empower their CRM teams to deliver the elements of a programme that they can manage in-house. This means we can use our expertise to direct the strategy, interrogate the data and identify insights that support a baseline CRM programme, enabling us to focus on delivering innovative solutions that continuously evolve and improve the way we connect with their customers. 

Integrated and traditional advertising agencies are seeing these changes and realising that they need to increase their strength in data and CRM. Which may go some way to explaining the recent changes among our competitors.

Being specialised and focused on CRM means we are able to collaborate with other agencies, working productively for the common good of both the brand and their consumers. We’re not trying to deliver everything, all the time. Instead we look at where we can have the biggest impact on the customer journey, delivering individual elements that benefit both the brand and individual customers. 

Far from its days being numbered, this could represent the triumph of CRM, as it becomes a more influential part of the overall marketing mix. That’s arguably why brands will retain a specialist.

James Ray is chief executive of Armadillo

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