Unfocused attention

This year’s Marketing Forum heard downbeat news from Camelot and the Customer Contact Company, among others. It seems that, despite the much-trumpeted spread of CRM, brands are failing to connect with their customers

Camelot chief executive Dianne Thompson’s admission to the massed ranks of the Marketing Forum last week that the company had become “battle-scarred” and “weary” from its fight with Sir Richard Branson over the next lottery licence was symptomatic of a wider malaise afflicting top brands.

Many brands appear to have become detached from their customers and alienated from the staff responsible for running them. While brand-owners have been involved in endless rounds of corporate restructuring, mergers, demergers, rebranding, responding to government action and getting involved in wars of attrition over copycat brand extensions, they have taken their eyes off the ways in which their brands are perceived by customers and staff.

A not-so-enchanted castle

Marketers aboard the Oriana also heard – from management consultancy the Customer Contact Company (CCC) – that many consumers believe they are not getting the service they deserve from their brands, even though companies are spending heavily in this area. There is a mismatch between what customers want and what brands are prepared to give.

At Camelot, Thompson says that senior management were so concerned with winning the next licence that for a time the company lost sight of its customers. “We had lost the sparkle that comes with creativity, innovation and daring. We had lost that crucial element in any successful business – customer focus. We had, in short, become process-driven and boring,” she told the Marketing Forum’s inaugural session.

Customers aren’t the only ones that have been forgotten – employees, too, appear to have been left out of the loop. Thompson has vowed to inject renewed vigour into the company by paying more attention to staff relations, introducing dress-down days and “no e-mail Fridays” in an attempt to improve communications and creativity.

Camelot is an example of how the external image, as presented in advertising and promotion of the brand, appears to have become dissociated from the internal culture of the company. While the National Lottery brand is about fun, escapism and dreams, it appears there has been precious little of these for those working at the company.

Virgin loses its innocence

Last week, a couple of days before Thompson’s speech to the Marketing Forum, Branson appeared on national television to announce that his Virgin Atlantic airline was making 1,200 staff redundant. Virgin – a brand that always associated itself with entertainment, friendly staff and good times – was doing something not at all in keeping with these values.

Across the spectrum, brands are struggling to present coherent messages to their customers. Media are fragmenting, and there are many ways of communicating with consumers, whether through the Internet, telephone, mobile commerce or direct mail. But what appears to be lacking is joined-up marketing – unifying all the messages and all the sales channels rather than leaving each part of the company to go its own way.

Meanwhile, the manner in which companies are moving into new areas is muddying their images and relationships with customers, forcing them to reinvent their messages and add further layers of confusion. BT has spent millions of pounds on promoting its Genie mobile Internet brand, but will axe it when it demerges its mobile division as mmO2 this autumn. In the long run, this move may help BT to clarify its position as a provider of landline technology, without being confused with a mobile telecoms brand.

In the meantime consumers will be struggling to understand what happened to Genie, and what this new 02 brand represents. And BT rival NTL next week launches a campaign attempting to show how its complex array of products – including telephone, Internet, broadband, digital and analogue cable television and interactive services – all fit together. The situation has extra complications for NTL as the company offers different combinations of these services in different areas of the country, and does not have a single, simple proposition it can promote nationally.

A relationship that favours consultants

Questions were raised at the Forum over what is many people’s great hope for joined-up marketing – customer relationship management (CRM). Some even argue that it has been a “con” perpetrated by self-interested consultancies, and that there is little evidence that it has delivered the promised benefits.

Paul Walton, chairman of consultancy The Value Engineers, says: “I am somewhat wary of the claims made for CRM. For example, Shell spent a lot of time on the Smart Card, but has pulled out. The Smart Card Consortium was the living manifestation of CRM.”

Shell’s loyalty card, which was axed in March (MW March 29) brought together a wide array of high street redemption partners – including the restaurant chain TGI Friday’s – and offered customers a selection of rewards from a catalogue, in addition to Air Miles and charity donations. Its replacement, the Plus Points card, uses the simple swipe method rather than the more complex Smart technology. A Shell spokesman says: “Plus Points is a simpler scheme for customers as well. It gives you one point per litre of fuel and is redeemable at fewer outlets. We did not do this [axe Smart] for our own sake, we asked people what they wanted and they said Plus Points was the sort of simple scheme they were after.”

Things mean what you want them to mean

CCC, meanwhile, presented marketers with its own research into CRM. Director of business development Simon Daisley told marketers: “There is widespread confusion over what CRM is. Software suppliers and consultancies have hijacked the term to describe basic sales automation systems, data warehousing, Web click-stream analysis and the like. But it is much more than that – CRM is something you do, and being customer-centric is something you are.”

CCC’s latest research, into “total customer experience” ranked business sectors according to the degree to which consumers felt valued and respected by organisations, and whether they were proud of being a customer. Supermarkets fared best, followed by banks, building societies and car manufacturers. The research also showed that 35 per cent of the population claim that their local authority offers them “the worst total customer experience”.

In the “best total customer experience” category, 6.4 per cent of the UK population believes that the National Health Service provides the best total customer experience. The reason for this is that for most people, access to the health service is through the GP network, for which there is a high level of respect and appreciation. The NHS was followed by BT (5.4 per cent), Tesco (5.2 per cent) and British Gas (4.75 per cent).

The study concludes that organisations are investing heavily in developing excellent service, yet consumers do not feel that this is what they are actually getting.

A number of organisations, such as Tesco and branchless bank First Direct, are setting the pace, but mainstream organisations still have a long way to go before they can say they are customer-centric. UK consumers as a whole recognise that the services provided by the organisations of which they are customers are good, while still falling short of consistently meeting their needs and expectations.

The research concludes: “There is a significant gap between companies’ strategic plans and their commitment to actually achieving them. Companies that have strategies in place without the accompanying processes, measures and targets are destined to fail.”

The biggest hurdles to achieving customer-centricity are embedded leadership patterns and corporate culture, says the research. “Organisations are paying lip-service to customer-centricity without wanting to compromise their short-term financial targets by actually investing at the appropriate level to create change on a large scale and at pace,” it says.

Will even the staff buy it?

The likes of Camelot, NTL and many other brand-owners – struggling to present a unified front to their customers – are calling on the services of internal marketing agencies. With company staff rolls running to tens of thousands, they feel it necessary to outsource the task of training their staff in brand values.

Kevin Thomson, president of internal marketing agency MCA Banner McBride, says that, traditionally, companies have given the task of educating staff in a set of internal brand values to the human resources department, in a process usually driven by the chief executive. “Meanwhileí” he says, “the marketing department comes up with a set of external brand values, but so far the two have generally been separate. Internally marketers have been told to change their cultures, so they come up with visions and mission statements. But in reality little has changed. You can’t change the culture of a company, but you can change the climate and change behaviour. I can change my behaviour, but not what is in my head.” He believes there needs to be greater integration between the external message and the way staff are taught to behave towards customers.

Thomson warns that CRM has also led to considerable confusion among staff. CRM can give call-centre workers complete lists of everything a customer has bought from the company, but without a greater knowledge of why people buy those products it is hard for staff to identify other products to sell them. Thomson calls for “internal CRM”, where attention is paid to keeping staff informed about customer relationships.

Camelot’s admission that it lost touch with lottery players is the first of many steps it needs to take on the road to improving the relationship with consumers and staff. Other companies will have to take the same honest approach before they can really start to address the problem. The task of clarifying brands to consumers and staff is no easy feat. But the job should be started sooner rather than later.

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