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Commentary: Value lies in the bond

Successful merchants will use the coordination of online and traditional marketing not to push more merchandise at consumers, but to build stronger relationships with them.

By Claudio Marcus, Gartner Analyst

Coordinating online and traditional marketing holds great potential, but successful merchants will use it not to push more merchandise at consumers, but to build stronger relationships with them.

First the potential: A study in the United States by the National Retail Federation found that multichannel customers purchase more often and spend more than single-channel customers.

See news story:
Marketing tool may be right mix for stores
Customers who visit a retailer's Web site and then buy from a retail store spend 33 percent more than the retailer's typical store customers.

How can a retailer tap that potential? Merchants would make a mistake if they take as their primary objective figuring out how to sell the most stuff to the individual customer through each channel. Consumers would soon tire of such a blatant sales and marketing strategy. Instead, retailers should use the various channels to build more enduring, more profitable relationships with customers.

Effective customer relationships require an understanding of what that bond entails, a means for building mutual value and a commitment to the relationship itself--in short, the same things that create a strong personal relationship.

Companies spend significant resources trying to better understand customers with an eye toward increasing the customers' value to the company. They spend much less time answering the equally important question of what the relationship may mean to the customer. Companies need to better understand what customers are looking for from them: Is it quality, convenience, discounts, perks or all of the above?

Consumers will likely gravitate to companies that relate to them in a manner that is most relevant to their daily lives. Customer relationship management, or CRM, has just started coordinating the multichannel communication efforts needed here. Increasingly, building relevance will require moving beyond superficial personalization efforts to forging relationships with groups that customers support and believe in. For example, some companies ask their customers to help direct donations to charities of mutual interest.

Beyond an understanding and common interests, a lasting relationship requires mutual commitment. For consumers, that implies a dialogue with companies that they feel understand and listen to them. Companies should ask desired customers if, when and how they wish to be communicated with as well as to what degree and for what purposes they will provide personal information. Many companies fear that, given a choice, consumers may not want companies to communicate with them or to use their information. If so, such customers would not make appropriate targets for an ongoing relationship anyway.

Well-coordinated multichannel marketing activities make a lot of sense because they can increase the relevance of communications with customers. However, businesses must take time to educate consumers on the benefits and value of more targeted offerings, because doing so will increase acceptance and response to such marketing communications.

(For a related commentary on customer relationship management, see Gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright ? 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.