We all struggle with relationships, so it’s no wonder that brands struggle with relationship marketing. There are self-help books by the millions for individuals and for marketers, too. Despite this, it’s still hard for all of us to get the basics right. Stepping back from the marketing strategy, let’s look at everyday life for clues on how to avoid those bad relationships. Consider these relationship missteps. Do they sound familiar in your life? For your brand?

Good Cop / Bad Cop: I’ve heard the quote that it takes 10 good impressions to offset one bad impression – and I think about this often when I parent my kids. I’ve brought them past the brink of frustration over homework or table manner criticisms. And, while I may have won the debate at the end of the day, I’m not sure that I won my audience. As I put them to bed with a sweet “I love you”, what impressions are still rankling in their heads? As marketers, let’s remember that actions really do speak louder than words. We have to manage our relationships carefully, again and again, to keep them healthy.

The Drop-in Relationship: You know this grandma. She decides she wants to be best friends with her grandkids, but only once they’re 16. She shows up for a visit, ready for that “relationship” and is surprised the 16-year old wants to spend time with her friends vs. her. We do this as brands all the time. Send one email, out of the blue, on our terms and expect immediate engagement from our customers. Keep in mind that relationships have to be cultivated over time.

The One-Note Relationship: We all have that friend. The one who wants to tell us AGAIN about the same work problems, the same irritating habits her husband has or the same stories about her daughter’s rise to ballet stardom. Interesting the first few times - maybe, then very tiresome. As with friends, consumers find that the one-note relationship gets very tiresome and stale over time, leaving an opening for a fresh competitive message to steal your relationship. If we want to sustain relationships, we need to keep the conversation fresh.

Quality Time: I heard a great quote from a comedian whose wife considered shoe shopping as “quality time”, but watching football wasn’t. He summed it up by saying, “Quality time means that we’re doing what she wants.” Too many relationships are one-dimensional, defined and timed by one person not both. Brands are no different. While a consistent brand message is important, it needs to be delivered in a way that understands the customer’s perspective, the customer’s purchase cycle. To really engage customers, we need to create dialogue that is interesting to both parties. Brands can’t just talk about their products, they have to listen and respond to their customers’ needs.

My husband, my kids and my co-workers will be the first to tell you that I don’t have this relationship thing figured out. But, these basics can give us all a few reminders on how to make smart decisions about building customer relationships. For me, I’ll try to keep them in mind the next time I want to suggest a family walk with the dogs, where I am always surprised to find that no one else considers this “quality time” or the least bit interesting.

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