What we have to say on effective marketing.

Building the ultimate customer and brand relationship

For years marketers the world over have been aiming to build a 'relationship' with their customers, based on the premise that a relationship leads to loyalty which in turn leads to sales. This all sounds fair enough, but what is this relationship we are trying to build? NICKY STEEL explores this.

In human relationships we know that things are getting serious when there is an engagement between a couple. This is a definitive sign of commitment between two people and an indication of their loyalty to each other. Should we be aiming for engagement between brands and their customers? What constitutes engagement in a brand and customer relationship?

Let's look at what we have learnt recently about people and how they are behaving when it comes to brands...

We know that a person's relationship with a brand is based on personal experience with that brand - whether that experience is based on the things they know or things they have seen or heard about the brand from trusted sources. The more they feel they truly understand the brand and its resonates with them, the stronger their affiliation is likely to be. Think of brands like Ouma Rusks or Mrs Balls Chutney - they have stories that we all know and can re-tell and we know what we can expect from them. As in any relationship, the key determiner of the trust is whether the brand consistently delivers on what the customer expects them to deliver. If a brand is saying one thing but doing another, that most definitely isn't going to lead to any engagement.

Over the past few years, we have seen the rise of the individual. In 2006, Time Magazine's Annual Person of the Year was 'YOU'. We have come to expect brands to understand us and to offer each of us what we really value. Nike understands this and allows us to custom-build their trainers. Apple knows that all users are different and gives us an App Store of options to craft our iPhone or iPad to perfectly suit our own needs. We want to be able to choose and tailor options to satisfy our individual needs. If a brand demonstrates this commitment to us, the bond between us is likely to be strong.

We have also seen that people - enabled by technology - are eager to be more involved in the brands that they chose or admire. They want the opportunity to contribute ideas, to participate in the brand's world and influence what it does and how it does it. Rather than brands talking at them, people want to engage in a two-way dialogue with brands, whether that be via social media or more conventional customer care lines, the important thing is that they can participate, are being heard and taken seriously.

As the rise of social networking has demonstrated, the influence of what others are doing and using is strong. We are more likely to believe a recommendation from a friend or human contact than from a brand. Endorsement and advocacy from those we respect are important to us, just like it's important to many people that their best mate likes their new boyfriend/girlfriend and is happy to hang out with them.

The above suggests that there are rational, emotional and social elements that contribute to the strength of relationships people have with brands. As brand owners and managers, we need to understand how these elements play out in the category in which we operate, and then to build a plan to engage with our customers on all these levels.

As is true of human relationships, an engagement built on a solid foundation of rational, emotional and social bonds is likely to lead to a long, fulfilling and rewarding relationship for both parties.


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