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Thomas Cook’s Chris Chalmers on why CRM and creativity go hand-in-hand.

Thomas Cook’s Chris Chalmers on why CRM and creativity go hand-in-hand.

Chris Chalmers is Marketing and Ecommerce Director UK & Ireland for Thomas Cook. He was previously Digital Marketing Director at Asda and has also held senior marketing roles at Ford, Tesco and Jet2.

Chris Chalmers wants to take the jargon out of CRM. Yes, the marketing discipline (short for customer relationship management) can involve complex data sets, detailed segmentation and carefully planned communications, but first and foremost it’s about customers. This relentless focus on the customer guides Chris in his current role as Marketing and Ecommerce Director UK & Ireland for holiday operator Thomas Cook.

“CRM comes down to what marketing has always been about, which is maintaining a strong relationship with the customer,” he notes.

“Those brands that will win are those that take a broader, holistic view of CRM, because it’s the underpinning of the whole comms and contact strategy.”

During a career spanning marketing roles at major brands such as Ford, Tesco, Jet2 and Asda, Chris has seen new technologies and platforms come to the fore. At the same time, he has also observed many enduring consistencies in the way that brands build successful relationships with customers.

It has been a privilege for BJL to work as a CRM partner with Chris in recent years – firstly in his previous role at Asda, where he was Digital Marketing Director, and now in his current post at Thomas Cook, which he took up last year.

While CRM is often about using communications to drive particular customer behaviours – consideration, recommendation, purchase, etc – it is also a much bigger brand tool which shapes longer term relationships between brands and consumers. Through our work with Chris over many years, creativity has played a big role in not just maintaining those customer relationships, but ensuring they thrive.

“The creative represents your brand, its tone and personality, so it’s a very important facet of CRM alongside things like smart planning and the use of data,” says Chris.

“The creative can also be developed and made more engaging with technology. That’s been a key learning – that when you marry the two it’s a powerful recipe in terms of engagement, brand perception and impact, driving customers to take action.”

Certainly, the rapid growth of digital technology over the course of Chris’s career has created many new possibilities in CRM. While he notes that more traditional channels such as email and direct mail remain “the core heartlands” of the discipline, the channel mix has expanded to other areas such as SMS, push notifications through smartphone apps and tailored, on-site messaging.

Recalling some of his most notable CRM activations with BJL to date, he refers to a campaign for Asda around the film Minions in which the retailer used geo-fencing technology to send targeted SMS messages to people in the vicinity of cinema sites. Another campaign that made a big impact was an April Fools ‘scratch and sniff’ activation. This optimised the tactile nature of smartphones in an original and fun way, generating high levels of engagement and significant press coverage in the process.

Although email is one of the older CRM channels, Chris believes technology is opening up new opportunities within the medium. In particular, he is excited by the potential to bring more of a standard digital experience into emails by incorporating interactive features such as drop-down menus and buttons that reveal product information when you press them, as well as richer native content and even video.

“It was the case originally that email programmes were seen as rather click-baity – you just wanted to drive a click through to your site. I’m much more in the space now of wanting to create dwell time with the brand,” he says.

“If people are spending two minutes reading your email content but never clicking I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Attribution models allow you to understand its role in the path to purchase.”

Chris says getting the basics right is important for driving this level of engagement, from crafting the right email subject lines to presenting customers with compelling offers and content. His career has included work on Tesco Clubcard – still the gold standard in CRM – and at Jet2 he was responsible for setting up the airline’s data warehousing and customer database, which included creating a single customer view for all communications.

In his current role at Thomas Cook, Chris aims to expand the role of CRM by using content to support the wider saliency of the brand. “We’re selling holidays, so why wouldn’t we want to send more inspirational content to customers to help influence their choices and where they go?” he says.

“We’re looking to do more of that, rather than just sending out loads of deals and price points, which will get the clicks to the site but won’t necessarily drive the overall conversion and brand affinity.”

So what does the future hold? Chris believes the next great frontier in CRM is “the ability to communicate in real time to a customer through the channel of their choice”.

Developing the right technology stack for this level of ‘always on’ communication remains challenging, he says, and there’s a balance to be struck between engaging with customers in the right way, and not bombarding them with messages. Ultimately the goal is to continually nurture and build lasting relationships with customers.

“If a brand can be part of their everyday lives, and be useful – that’s the important thing,” says Chris. “The key is to be of value.”

CRM comes down to what marketing has always been about, which is maintaining a strong relationship with the customer