Once, the relationship between consumers and a brand was strictly business. Consumers viewed brand relationships in a totally different way than they viewed their relationships with friends, family, co-workers and other acquaintances.
Brand relationships were based on logic and reason, and personal relationships were based on emotion. Consumers typically considered only two factors when deciding on a brand:
- Did the product offered satisfy the needs of the buyer?
- Did the product provide value, i.e., was it worth the price paid?
Marketers tended to tailor campaigns that answered those questions in a positive way. They extolled the benefits of choosing their brand, explained why their product was superior over their competitors and offered demonstrations proving that their product was actually the better value. They offered discount coupons and rebates to lure new customers or reward existing customers.
For decades, this approach worked, and consumers expected little more.
However, everything began to change in the Internet age. Advances in technology gave more power to consumers. Seemingly overnight, customers had access to a wealth of information. They no longer had to assume marketing claims were true; they could investigate the validity of claims with just a few keystrokes. They could read reviews posted by actual users of the product or ask their friends on social media sites.
They could order many products online and have them delivered to their door, avoiding brick-and-mortar stores and the long lines — as well as impersonal service — that had become commonplace at many retailers.
These newly empowered consumers began to expect more from brands. Consumers began to shift from viewing brand relationships logically to viewing them emotionally. In short, they began to apply the same criteria they used when evaluating personal relationships:
- Does this person/brand understand me?
- Can I trust this person/brand?
- Does this person/brand behave with integrity?
- Can I have confidence that this person/brand will not let me down?
- Is this person/brand interesting, i.e., offer something unique, a passionate message or provide another differentiating facet?
- What does this person/brand think of me?
In other words, brand relationships have become two-way streets.
It is no longer enough to push marketing messages to consumers. Now, marketers must also listen. They must add a fifth "P" — personality — to the traditional marketing mix of product, price, placement and promotion. They must put their best foot forward, present their brand as the consumer's friend and provide an interesting, relevant and customized customer experience to every customer, which requires leveraging technology.
Big data has given marketers the ability to craft highly personalized experiences. Social media sites offer ways to engage consumers in a friendly, interesting manner. Mobile devices, wearable tech, beacons and connected devices provide marketing opportunities that were only be imagined a couple of decades ago.
Marketing professionals have tools available to build and nurture relationships. These tools actually show consumers what the brand thinks of them. Additionally, they demonstrate the brand’s integrity, build trust and prove that the brand offers something that the competition does not. They have the ability to demonstrate that the brand understands its customers and their needs.
However, these tools must be used wisely. If wielded irresponsibly, the efforts can drive consumers away. One way to ensure that marketing technology is being handled properly is to consider the "social niceties" involved when you meet an individual with whom you would like to establish a friendship. Violation of these social standards by either party can destroy a budding friendship. These violations include:
- Ignoring what the other person needs or wants from you
- Calling or visiting at inappropriate times
- Delivering inappropriate messages or comments
- "Smothering" the other person with constant calls or messages
- Demonstrating a lack of interest in the other party's life, career, dreams or preferences
- Not listening to what the other person says
- Attempting to control the other party
- Monopolizing conversations
- Not showing that the other party is valued and respected
In a similar fashion, marketers can ruin brand relationships by delivering excessive or irrelevant messages, ignoring the customer's stated preference for receiving messages or making communications one-way. Showing disrespect for their customers demonstrates that the brand does not consider them as valuable assets, and just as they do in their personal relationships, customers will move on to someone who actually "gets" them.