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Relationship Marketing – The Art of Influence and Experience

Two men are showcasing coconuts in front of a market to engage in relationship marketing.

Just as you would be reticent to engage a random stranger that walked up to you asking you to convert to their religion, consumers will look the other way and keep walking (or scrolling) to avoid another obnoxious sales or marketing experience. Brands are shouting at them through every possible physical and digital medium.

Despite all of the noise they have to hear and see nearly everywhere they go – digitally and physically – consumers as a whole remain savvy and intend to keep up with the times.

Thankfully, there’s a better way. And that better way will be mutually beneficial for you and your customer. 

More than a marketing approach rather than a marketing medium, relationship marketing has become the foundation for successful ecommerce brands. These brands are listening to their audience and working hard to understand their perspective and desires.

What is Relationship Marketing?

Today, most marketers and salespeople affirm that we need to build relationships with our customers.

But many of those same marketers and salespeople will still bombard consumers with unwanted ads, distasteful automation tools, clickbait, and coercion. These tactics – though they may increase sales in the short-term – are unsustainable for any customer relationship.

In contrast, relationship marketing invites the consumer into a respectful relationship. The organization delivers value to the consumer by way of information and meaningful experiences.

Relationship marketing values the customer’s time and autonomy. Brands that use relationship marketing seek to create the kind of customer loyalty that builds word-of-mouth momentum and generates user feedback for ongoing product development.

When a business gets serious about relationship marketing, customer retention rises. And since “increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%” (according to Harvard Business Review), brands that incorporate relationship marketing early on soon become key players in their industry or niche. 

How Relationship Marketing Addresses the Changing Landscape of Brand Loyalty and Customer Relationships

The Digital Age allows vendors to do more with less. Because of this, customers don’t merely have to find the product that they need: they get to choose from many different pleasurable shopping experiences.

In an unhealthy relationship, one partner tells the other partner what they want or need. Healthy relationships involve active listening and creativity. 

Similarly, businesses that overbearingly tell their customers what they want or need are losing to competitors that know how to make customers feel safe – and excited.

The shift away from traditional marketing to modern marketing approaches – experiential marketing, influencer marketing, content marketing, etc. – is less about the marketing channel and more about enhancing the customer experience. 

As such, relationship marketing uses experience and influence to empower customers, not overpower them.

Experiences Create Customer Connections

“Engagement only works when you’re interesting, when you make that emotional connection,” Kate Bradley Chernis, CEO of Lately, Inc. told Forbes. “Why? Because emotional connection translates into trust and likability, and people understand value based on how it makes them feel.”

Relationship-focused brands are enthusiastic about pushing the envelope on behalf of their customers. These brands get just as excited by customer passion and happiness as they do by increased sales.

Customers take notice when they experience this authenticity and “bending-over-backwards” from the brands that they peruse. They feel connection, excitement, and trust.

What Kind of Experiences Nourish Customer Relationships?

There are many different ways to nourish customer relationships. The more intune you are with who your ideal customers are – their lifestyle, problems, needs/desires, etc. – the easier it will be for your brand to deliver a powerful experience.

Your goal is to show your audience that you care and that you want to engage in more ways than just a sale. Here are a few examples of clever relationship marketing tactics in action.

Krispy Kreme

There is nothing new about the way Krispy Kreme delights their customers and attracts visitors. And yet, marketers everywhere continue to use the brand as a great case study for relationship marketing.

Most famous for their right-out-of-the-oven, warm glazed donuts, Krispy Kreme flips on its “Hot Now” sign, and hungry customers pull over for a soft, fresh donut. 

Inside, kids and adults enjoy the donut assembly line (whether or not they buy a donut), demonstrating how donuts are made to order. And because Krispy Kreme’s Hot Now glazed donuts are as good as they look, the displayed assembly line frequently entices customers to buy more substantial orders.

Dollar Shave Club

Through a simple series of YouTube videos, the Dollar Shave Club delighted customers with hilariously-edgy “However You Get Ready” narratives. 

Each video presented several real-life videos of people getting ready in the bathroom, from showers to grooming. Nearly all the scenarios are both relatable and funny – in one example, a middle-aged man wanders a gym looking for someone to help him apply lotion on his back.

With videos this creative, Dollar Shave Club didn’t have to spend money on television commercials (though they did anyway). Consumers loved the videos and happily shared them across their social media channels. 

Dollar Shave Club uses a ton of similar relationship marketing techniques to show their customers that they build hygiene products for average people – not models and bodybuilders.

Relationship Marketing Plus Influencer Marketing: Creating Influencer Relationships Through Experiences

Retailers are taking advantage of influencer marketing as a critical ingredient to their relationship marketing approach. Influencer marketing has been exploding in recent years, with experts projecting it to be a $10 billion industry by the end of 2020.

Influencer relationship management finds its foundation in the types of customer relationships described above. Marketers that use influencers are thinking of long-term sustainability and earning customer trust.

Who is an Influencer?

Influencers are consumers that have leveraged their voice to generate awareness for brands within a specific niche. 

Influencers are social media power users and usually maintain an active following of 1,000 or more people. Not always celebrities, most influencers are everyday people that nurture an online community around a specific way of life.

They’ve developed themselves into industry thought leaders, and they’ve earned trust with their audience. Because influencers command an authentic voice with their online community, brands will hire them as objective, third-party ambassadors. 

Giving Influencers a Taste of the Customer Experience

Because influencers are also consumers, brands often demonstrate respect for their customers by collaborating with influencers.

An influencer is not a hireling. Influencers care deeply about endorsing quality products and services that will help them and members of their audience. 

In an influencer campaign, brands invite influencers to partner with them to earn customer trust. The influencer partnership demands that the business meet the influencer’s expectations for a mutually-respectful working relationship.

For example, many influencer campaigns involve sending the influencer samples of a product. Influencers are not inclined to work for a brand with which they have no working knowledge. Influencer marketing is a unique customer experience in and of itself.

The Power of Influence

Marketing studies show that people are more inclined to trust recommendations from friends and family. Also, celebrity endorsements usually grab the immediate attention of fans.

Influencer marketing marries the best of both worlds. Influencers hold some celebrity status, though they more often relate to their audience on a personal level.

The proof is in the numbers: “Influencer marketing campaigns see a 6.5 times return on investment” (Influencer Marketing 2020: Where It’s Been and Where It’s Going).

But the influencer ROI extends beyond the initial boost in sales. Brands that use influencer marketing experience better brand sentiment; user-generated content that includes tags, campaign hashtags, product mentions, etc.; increased SEO for the branded online channels; and robust referral relationships. 

What Your Influencer Relationships Will Do for Your Customer Relationships

In relationship marketing, there is no effort too small when it comes to earning customer trust and connecting with an audience.

Because influencers have done a lot of the work for you, you can fast track your relationship marketing efforts by earning trust with influencers in your industry. Further, you can work with those influencers to build meaningful experiences for your customers.

NYX Cosmetics

NYX Cosmetics targeted YouTube Vloggers in the cosmetics industry with an annual Face Award.

Any make-up influencer (or aspiring influencer) is free to enter the Face Awards challenge, and NYX Cosmetics enlisted the help of fans and influencer audiences to vote for their favorite contestant.

Each contestant received a generous sample and used NYX products to create art on their faces. Submissions included elaborate full-body transformations, including fantasy and horror characters.

Participants enroll each summer and submit their first challenge within a month. Fans vote for their favorite artist to determine who advances to the second and then a third challenge. By the fall, fans determine the NYX Cosmetics Face Award winner.

Not only does NYX’s approach offer audiences a compelling experience, but they can also recruit influencers for free, each producing and multiplying the amount of user-generated content on behalf of the brand for the greater part of the year.

Buffalo Wild Wings

During March Madness, sports fans using social media found themselves rudely interrupted. In a hilarious and bold move, Buffalo Wild Wings hired former college basketball athletes as influencers to make a particular kind of video and then to share it on Instagram.

College athletes confronted their fans – some with shouting, others with head-shaking disappointment – for being on their mobile devices while games were playing.

“How can you be a true college basketball fan and not watch the games!” said Christian Laettner in his video. Influencers encouraged their followers to head to the nearest Buffalo Wild Wings and catch the game.

Delighted (and surprised) fans connected with Buffalo Wild Wings during March Madness in a new way, and the influencer campaign generated notable engagement rates on social media.

In Conclusion: Relationship Marketing

Use Experiences to Build Trust and Connection

Brands that use relationship marketing focus on their customers – how they feel, what they want, and the problems they need help fixing. Just as in any relationship, it is unreasonable to try to control your customers. Instead, you want to connect with them and earn their trust.

Whether simplifying your site’s UX design for easier navigation or launching a full experiential marketing event, achieving a positive, memorable customer experience is the best thing you can do for your brand.

Use Influencers to Elevate Experiences

The world of influencer marketing is all about customer experience. Partnering with an influencer means connecting with that influencer’s audience while simultaneously tapping into their creative powers for your brand.

Building trust with influencers will further equip you to earn trust with customers more quickly. Relationship marketing frequently goes hand-in-hand with influencer relationship management.

Embracing the potent mix of influencer and relationship marketing is bound to take your brand places you never thought possible. And the best part is, the success you achieve will be long-term.

This article originally appeared in the Grin.co blog and has been published here with permission.

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