One thing is certain – 2018 won’t be the year that the landscape becomes less complex. World uncertainties, growing sophistications in tech and an increasingly competitive environment means this year is about adapting smartly whilst building on solid ground work. It also makes for an incredibly exciting environment for communications.

Customer relationship management (CRM) is perfectly poised as a discipline as its power lies in continually learning from and developing based on customer interactions, each being a positive, brand-building experience.

This year won’t be without its challenges, but it’s time to refocus our attention on the opportunities these offer. Here are four key areas in 2018 and how brands should address them head-on.

1. See GDPR as an opportunity

With the May deadline approaching, now’s the time to shift the sentiment from grudging acceptance to anticipation. For many, months of work have been dedicated to discussing the best strategy to take, but not everyone will have refined their approach. I take a short-term and a long-term view.

In the short term, where brands need to re-permission some or all of their customers, make a virtue out of the opportunity for customers to keep their “investment” in the data they have given you, and the benefits it can give them.

Look at Manchester Utd for a great example that every brand can learn from if GDPR affects their ability to retain their data. The football club’s recent ‘Stay United’ communication uses some of their top players to clearly and simply explain the benefits of consenting to receiving ongoing marketing. There is also a timely prize draw to encourage action. Granted they’re talking to fans, but the principles are clear.

In the longer term, the changes should encourage brands to adopt new behaviours and frequently talk to customers transparently about the value their data provides them.

2. Bring the brand back

In a world where automation, personalisation and efficiency are increasingly the weapons of choice in the fight for competitive advantage, beware “optimising” the brand out of data-driven channels. Leaving brand awareness to “traditional” channels can mean that the softer side of building a brand becomes a casualty. We think finding ways to dial up engagement by delivering compelling brand stories and propositions through technology will see greater focus, especially for businesses that don’t have the scale and budget of the category leader.

Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) that serves the right message/product/offer at the right time, plus a compelling brand experience, are two sides of the same coin. One on its own would be ineffective and/or outpaced by the competition; combining both effectively is what creates loyalty.

3. First party customer data signals

Omni-channel marketing is still more of a concept for many brands than a reality, and the tighter data protection landscape makes striving for it even harder. Brands who are still in the foot-hills should focus on identifying customer signals from their first party data sources. The holy trinity of eCRM, website and app is where the majority of customer engagements happen. These channels will always bring the biggest and the quickest wins and should be a brand’s first focus in creating proof-of-concept programmes quickly.

4. Evolve, don’t dilute, email

We see plenty of life in the email channel yet – and we’re in good company. Last year’s Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Email Benchmarking Report showed 95% of marketers saw email as an important or very important channel in the marketing mix – the highest figure they’ve ever recorded.

For many brands, email remains the channel to which the highest number of sales can be attributed, and we’re seeing (and using) opportunities to develop agile tech approaches to keep it evolving . For example, putting interactive UX and data collection within the email itself is a strong technique. The same report flagged the importance of serving the right content in emails with a quarter of marketers worrying that the wrong content was damaging to their brand. Emails need to deliver the brand experience side coupled with driving additional value from clicks on top of sales.

CRM remains a powerful and sustainable discipline because it centres around relationships – which by their very nature evolve. The key is to ensure we also adapt our approach. By facing the year’s themes and challenges head on and responding smartly, we can not only make some quick wins this year but also continue to develop an intuitive and effective ongoing communications programme.

James Ray

James Ray


James Ray, CEO, Armadillo CRM