“What we really need is a mindset shift that will make us relevant to today’s consumers, a mindset shift from ‘telling and selling’ to building relationships.”
— Jim Stengel, Former CMO, Procter & Gamble
What’s Happening Today and Why?
CMOs and other marketing leaders are finally becoming more accountable, working with CFOs and CIOs to deliver more of what is expected by CEOs and boards: profitable growth. However, for a majority of companies, profitable growth via marketing is increasingly challenging – whether tackling “Big Data”, acquiring new customers, moving to “mobile first”, identifying (much less leveraging) influencers or simply driving sales. There’s a lot to do with fewer resources. Customer engagement is more difficult than ever given the clutter and noise in the marketplace and in people’s lives. Unfortunately, it’s not going to get any easier.
Strong brands have a better chance at success, but there is still a chasm between being brand relevant and being customer relevant. Smart technology, published loyalty programs, well-monitored social sites are all a good start. Unfortunately, relationship marketing is still largely disconnected from customer marketing efforts, and the default remains rooted on the old adage that more email and more promotion to more people is better. This mass marketing translates to mass irrelevance, ultimately driving disengagement, more clutter and more noise.
The key to building valuable, sustainable customer relationships is relevant dialogue, but it’s easier said than done. Just look at today’s loyalty landscape and answer the question: Which brands are executing customer loyalty marketing and relationship marketing really well? Our answer, sadly, is very few.
So, What to Do?
The best marketers in the world recognize that brands which establish and grow their relevance create stronger and more personal customer relationships.
Relationships – including brand-to-customer relationships — should be personal. Too many customer loyalty marketing efforts, loyalty programs included, are one-size-fits-all vehicles designed to push, “tell” and “sell” rather than create a unique dialogue with customers and deliver an optimized, yes relevant, experience.
Customer loyalty marketing is not rocket science. It’s the simple art and science of paying attention to customers and acting accordingly. And by “accordingly”, we mean relevantly. As marketers, we have tools like loyalty programs to draw customers into the brand relationship and establish a willingness to be identified at brand touch points. Once they engage, it’s up to relationship marketing and the broader customer experience – within the program, within the brand experience – to deliver sustainable and increased value over time.
Relationship marketing and relevant dialogue must:
- Deliver on both an explicit and an implicit promise (Kimpton, American Express).
- Adhere to the broader brand promise, but made highly personal (Nike Fuelband).
- Deliver a brand experience based on the customer’s unique needs (newcomers: Stitch Fix, Harry’s, existing brands: Nordstrom, Anthropologie).
- Be rooted in the brand experience, core to the overall business strategy (Delta Air Lines, Starwood Hotels, Uber).
Brand relevance is essential. However, brand relevance translated into customer relevance – where we recognize what customers need and expect from a brand, and act on it accordingly – is the greatest opportunity to create profitable growth. That profitable growth is what our CEOs, boards and other stakeholders are asking us to deliver.