Secret Marketer: Direct communication is key if you want to build real fans rather than fake likes

Brands need to keep customer relationships real with direct communication; it’s the golden route to word-of-mouth marketing.

I was talking to a newish member of the marketing team recently, trying to explain to her that it was okay to communicate directly with customers either on the phone or by email, and that it was our job as marketers to talk directly to customers. And, if complaints come directly through to us, as they often do, we need to take time out to write to them.

It got me to thinking that marketing thought of as a relationship is quite different from marketing deemed as just marketing – a more transactional proposition. Sustaining a real relationship requires doing real things. Updating a Facebook post does not constitute a ‘relationship’ with our customers. Even today, I would imagine that most would-be suitors have to bring real flowers, instead of instant messaging an Instagram photo of a bunch of flowers.

This should not mean that we should be under an illusion that all our customers really and truly want a ‘relationship’ with us. Or that they want to interact with our brands. That way lies folly. Indeed, it is one of the consistent paradoxes we face as marketers: building our brands is essential to our career, and central to many of our lives. But our customers are too busy trying to get the kids to school, keep the boss happy, pay the bills and surf the Mail Online to have time to think about a relationship with the brand.

Of course, there are many brands customers buy regularly, and they may even feel a strong identification with a couple of these. But in reality, the typical customer is not tossing and turning thinking about us. But for those who do feel strongly enough to actually write, phone or somehow engage with us, we have no excuses – even if they are contacting us to complain.

It is no secret that word-of-mouth marketing is the best way of generating business and creating brand loyalty. We marketers go to a lot of trouble and expense struggling to get our customers attention, but we appear to forget that building a relationship with the sort of customers who could provide word-of-mouth marketing is a fundamental priority.

The common golden thread is that marketing is not a functional process for extracting money from people: our brands should only exist if we continue to create value. So direct communications to us should be treated as another opportunity to create value – particularly for real loyalists.

And, ideally, keeping it real, as in writing a letter. Yes, a real physical letter written on actual paper minus the corporate speak, not an email. You might think it is quaint but do not be fooled. It is the one guaranteed way I have found to build a real fan, not a fake like.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here