As the value of individuals becomes redefined, will IRM replace CRM?

Influencer Relationship Management (IRM) is the hottest new emerging practice in marketing and communications that is winning budgetary affirmation amongst some of the world’s major playing brands including Coca Cola, Adobe and Phillips.

Taking its beginnings from the rationale and practice of Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM), IRM is also sometimes described as ‘CRM of the Marketer’.  

Beyond the terminology it is important to understand how IRM and CRM fundamentally differ and pursue differing goals, objectives and outcomes.

Also why it’s critical that they work hand in hand, building a bridge between CRM, direct marketing, social media and marketing, while optimising the performance of each area respectively.

IRM vs CRM

IRM vs CRM: targeting different audiences

CRM/PRM programs are built specifically around a brand’s existing customers and prospects. In the B2C world, CRM models are usually closely integrated to customer loyalty programs and can count well up into the millions in terms of account numbers as well as budgetary investment.

IRM programs on the other hand target relevant brand influencers.

These are not necessarily the customers or prospects of the brand. They are the individuals who can sway the behaviour or shape the opinions of others through their online conversations and interactions to the benefit of a given brand.

The premise being that on-boarding those few with a proactive discerning voice that is heard is by far of greater value.

To be clear it is not a key objective of most influencer programs to turn influencers into customers. The reason is that the value of an influencer to a brand is not their wallet, it’s their voice as the power of peer-to-peer influence and word-of-mouth is now recognised as one of the single most impactful means of customer on-boarding.

IRM vs CRM: a fundamentally different understanding of the user value

CRM programs mostly aim to increase customer value by looking at their buying performance. Customer value is calculated on the direct margin generated by a given customer through their purchases.

For IRM programs, user value is based on their influence within relevant contexts, groups and scenarios. IRM programs aim to work with online influencers, that is those individuals that have an impact on social media through their voice. Their value lies in the influence they have on others.

Customers and influencers: different engagement objectives/models

CRM programs aim to increase custom for your product and most focus on hard line promotional mechanisms such as couponing and targeted offers that aim to trigger additional purchase (and also contribute to tracking consumer behaviours).

IRM programs aim to increase the positive mentions of your brand among select opinion leaders, driving brand visibility and advocacy levels.

Successful IRM programs aim to build collaborative relationships with key relevant influencers and facilitate the co-creation of content. It has to be a partnership in order to work.

A most fundamental point of divergence between IRM and CRM thinking is also the distribution of value.

A major French retailer recently shared with me that their top 9% customers account for 50% of total revenues generated through their loyalty card customers and the equivalent to 25% of their total business. 

At the same time, research at Traackr shows that 3% of influencers generate 90% of conversations on the web. This means that the concentration of important voices is disproportionate to the concentration of your top customers.

While CRM has built highly scaled automated engagement programs, IRM will focus resources on just a few selected individuals to maximize the ROI of social engagement.

IRM and CRM: specific KPIs and measurement

As one would expect, KPIs and other success indicators will differ widely between CRM and IRM. 

CRM managers will look at the total purchase value, the average basket value and the penetration rate. Because most KPIs are in £, CRM metrics have been referred to as being ROI driven.  

However all CRM experts know that such a notion remains elusive, even here. The reality is that most brands struggle to even track customer purchases through their distribution network.

IRM managers will consider the number of mentions, the share of voice, the generated traffic… indicators that would normally demonstrate how the program contributed the overall visibility and advocacy of the brand.

IRM Programs are one element of the larger communication stack and it is critical that KPIs from IRM are integrated in the bigger projects brands are now undertaking to optimize their communication investments across channels.

The next stage of IRM and CRM is convergence

After all we have said above, why talk about convergence now?

One brand. One voice

Naturally the same individual can be a customer – part of the CRM program – and an Influencer – part of the IRM program. The reality for the biggest brands is that most influencers are also customers (but perhaps low value customers?)

These customer-influencers don’t care about IRM and CRM, they expect to hear one voice only. It is the responsibility of the brand to build bridges in organisations that enable it to speak consistently across all touch points 

Aggregating social data to individual CRM profiles could also be a fantastic source of knowledge for CRM programs and open the door to new targeting and customisation capabilities.  

The influencer marketer knows much more about its audience than the manager of CRM programs.

Obviously such process raises a number of technical and privacy issues that need to be managed extremely carefully. 

The challenge of influencer concentration

One issue for many CRM managers is to realise the impact of the hyper concentration of influence on scale.

A Traackr customer trying to recruit influencers across their customer base received a response rate of 1% (that is 1% of customers interested to be identified on social media), of which not surprisingly only 5% were deemed sufficiently influential to be part of an IRM activation.

This is overall a mere 0.05% of the initial number of customers. Take the example of a retailer with a strong 4m customers signed up on their loyalty card. A quick estimate is that only 2,000 people would accept to join an IRM program and have a meaningful impact on online conversations.

CRM managers struggle to see the value of developing specific activities for such small numbers, because they live in a environment of mass engagement. Matching cultures between IRM managers and CRM managers is key to building efficient bridges between the two practices.

Influencing advocates: the Eldorado of brand engagement

Innovative brands have already started to build specific programs that sit across IRM and CRM, involving their most influential customers.

The best example is ASOS advocacy program #AccessAllAsos involving fans and customers of the brand selected for their social activity and influence.

Engaging with influential customers is a great opportunity because they already know and love the brand.

By providing exclusive and exciting opportunities to generate unique content to the members of #AccessAllAsos, ASOS facilitated the publication on social of thousands of original pieces of content featuring the brand, and increased spontaneous brand mention by up to eight times. 

In summary its clear that influential clients are one of the most valuable and strategic assets that brands can and should now be looking to activate and capitalise upon in their social media strategies.

Impact on the technology stack

IRM integration is without a doubt the next stage of CRM. And because the CRM market is a highly structured and well-funded part of the marketing technology stack, IRM and CRM integration represents a huge opportunity for IRM vendors. 

Many of the most advanced companies are already starting to build user cases and workflows and are planning interaction projects, leveraging application and unique API capabilities.

Qualitative authentic customer feedback and genuine engagement count by far as the most inspirational and sought after outcomes of any brand marketing activity and IRM is the exciting new avenue at the forefront of current marketing practice that can help brands to realise this.

The overlaps with CRM are palpable and yet organisations must adjust their current structure and resource allocations in order to capitalise upon this opportunity properly. 

Stay tuned: it’s just the beginning for IRM and its convergence with CRM.