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.