Don’t turnaround. Please remain calm. I don’t want to alarm you, but just out of your direct line of sight are countless marketers who want something from you. And it’s not what you think. Sure they want your money, but now they also want to have a “relationship” with you.
They wish to infiltrate the nooks and crannies of your daily life like all those dead people crammed into the kitchen cupboards in the movie The Sixth Sense. Only there are thousands of these marketers and they can be just as creepy — even without Bruce Willis in the room.
It’s one of the newer buzz words in marketing. It’s “relationship marketing,” and whatever it was you had before with the brands you buy, it wasn’t a relationship because this has been newly discovered by the consultants who are selling it. It’s a little bit like Columbus discovering America. A lot of Native Americans already knew it was there.
Saving friendship to a hard drive
Ok, so what relationship marketing is really about is digitizing the customer or prospect’s interactions with the company and with the brand. This is not a bad proposition in and of itself. It depends entirely on the execution. Virtual relationships can be convenient, or they can be tiresome. They can seem amazingly individualized, or they can miss by a mile and make a company look stupid. They can be efficient and expand purchases and loyalty, or be annoying and contribute to a negative experience.
Amazon gets it right
I order a lot of books on branding from Amazon. Their data processing systems have identified this area of interest for my account. But do they send me an email every day about the gazillions of books they have on the subject? No. As a result, when they occasionally do send a note about a new release, I pay attention. I have never spoken to a real person at Amazon.com, but yet they have treated me individually and respected my time.
I haven’t ordered a CD from BMG Music in years. (Why would I? I have such a great “relationship” with iTunes now.) But these guys bombard me at least once a week with a “Free shipping for the next 48 hours!” or “We’ll give you 5 CDs in exchange for a ripe watermelon!” offers. Why I haven’t opted out of BMG, I really don’t know. The delete key is easier, I guess.
Keeping it real
So let’s turn the process around and look at it from the marketer’s point of view. What’s the right way to build a brand via virtual relationship tools? The answer to that question depends a great deal on what defines an ideal relationship with your company’s or organization’s brand. If human contact is an important part of your sales process, be careful with shifting too much of it to the non-personal web site and email realm. On the other hand, if you have many thousands of customers who purchase indirectly via retailers and rarely have direct contact with your firm, virtual relationships can improve your connection to them.
Here are some questions to ask to help build more effective virtual relationships:
- When a customer or prospect opts into your database and gives you permission to contact them by email, do you take that to mean it is unlimited? That you can send as much email as you like? Or do you ask if they wish to receive communications at different levels and do you check back to see if they’re satisfied?
- Are your virtual relationships able to become more and more focused on the individual and result in predictable returns, or does every segment receive roughly the same information, offers, or updates, no matter what part of the database they occupy?
- Do you know how many emails you’re sending to your database on an annual basis from all sources within your company? (You should care deeply about this.)
- Have you replaced human contact at critical points with web page information or an automated phone system, with no possible option to reach a real person?
- Have you set up blogs, e-newsletters, and other forms of web-based communications and then failed to maintain them on a timely basis?
- Do you depend solely on self-reporting from your prospects to build your database so that you wouldn’t know who really is in a key demographic and who isn’t?
- Are the techniques you’re using consistent with the promise of your brand, or have they evolved into little more than fishing expeditions for leads with low production costs and equally low returns?
There is no doubt that marketing and brand building are moving steadily toward more and more digital experiences. But what works for one brand may damage another. If you’re not sure what’s right for your target audience, here’s an idea. Talk to them. One day, person-to-person contact will be the new killer app of marketing. Do it now, and you just might be ahead of your time.