A Relationship-First Approach to Brand-Customer Balance

Jeff Eckman

Jeff Eckman

This is the second half of a two-part article on the changing nature of the relationship between brands and customers, from a marketing and advertising perspective. This article is based on the view we've developed from over a decade's worth of experience in digital working with B2B and B2C brands, technology, agencies, and our own lives as consumers.

In case you missed it, read part one "Toward a More Balanced Brand-Customer Relationship".


Toward a More Balanced Brand-Customer Relationship, Part 2

In the first post on this topic, I depicted the brand-customer relationship as a spectrum of bandwidth, with the brand taking most of the space, and the customer left with a smaller amount of space. I suggested that this imbalanced relationship was not unlike a dysfunctional couple, with the brand playing the overbearing, bulldozing ogre, and the meager customer as having little room to breathe. The customer is then left with few opportunities to be heard, with the only substantive role in the relationship being the momentary “buy” transaction (however important that moment may be). I’ve illustrated this in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Imbalanced Relationship

In reality, brands and customers are collections of people—humans who ultimately need each other. My personal view of marketing and advertising is simple—marketing and advertising should be used as practical means of making useful, balanced connections.

Blue Green’s relationship first ethos is centered on the idea that we can have more balanced relationships between brands and customers, where the customer can more actively participate in the conversation, resulting in:

  • less waste and noise
  • less brand-centricity
  • more engagement (read: more brand awareness)
  • more exchange (read: more revenue for brands)
  • more mutually-reinforcing relationships (read: longer customer retention)

In Figure 2 below, I show the brand leaving more space for the customer to fill, allowing for more bandwidth for various buying activities (not just the rare, singular buy “moment”), more interaction, and room for more actions for the customer to take. And in the brand space, communications are two-way, allowing for more listening, and the subsequent ability to respond to the customer with relevance, based on conversational exchange. And with more balance in this relationship comes more engagement, and ultimately, more transactions. And with more transactions, comes lower cost to acquire. And with more interactions come more data which can be used to make brands’ efforts more efficient and effective over time.

Figure 2: Balanced Relationship

Allowing the customer to have more control in the relationship means giving them more opportunities for say, leadership, voice, and agency. But fear not, this actually means more customers and prospects for brands and marketers (at least for brands that create things that truly add value and utility for customers).

Giving customers and prospects the chance to take over more of the ‘marketing relationship’ is not a new concept or practice in a broad sense, but it is relatively new to the digital-native community—thinking of those who started their digital or marketing careers during the “dot-com 1.0” days or later.


The Opportunity for Brands—Giving Customers More Influence in the Relationship

Direct and performance marketers who run call centers have been creating opportunities for rapid, conversations for decades. At one conference last month, I learned about the field of conversation analytics, which is used in telephone call-center services and operations. And relationship-oriented salespeople have been practicing the art of conversation for millennia, giving the customer space to share their wants, needs, desires, goals, challenges, preferences, etc.


The Role of Martech

However, martech companies like Drift, Intercom and Jebbit are now embracing these classic principles. Drift is championing “conversational marketing” and Jebbit has been calling their approach “declared data” and now “assumption-free marketing.” Worth mentioning, both Drift and Jebbit are proudly founded in the “Martech Mecca” of Greater Boston, home of HubSpotPegaSnapApp, and NewStore and where The MarTech Conference and INBOUND took place here in Fall 2019. Of course, Boston is also home to several champion sports teams you might have heard of.

These companies and others are increasingly bringing to market tools and evangelizing techniques that are more customer-centric. They are all based on the premise of helping brands give customers much more say, control, voice, and ultimately more influence over the brand-customer relationship. And they are all shouting from the rooftops that the results of this more balanced approach to marketing is actually generating exponential growth in the typical yields that direct and digital marketers have become accustomed to. In fact, our own experience with these practices in our 10 years in the field proves indeed that brands can expect 10X higher net results when applying these methodologies in digital.


The Essence of Relationships in Marketing

Of course, it could be argued that marketers of successful products, apps, and other examples of product-led marketing have been doing this for years with deep experience in customer-centric interaction design. I am referring to products where interactive, relationship-oriented marketing is embedded in or embodied by product itself—think Mindbody, Lyft, Starbucks.

But in cases where marketing is needed to generate action by the prospect or customer where digital marketing experiences are involved (e.g. websites, landing pages), or even where mass or targeted branding campaigns are required to generate awareness that could lead to action on the part of a customer or prospect, there is a promising opportunity for brands if the customer gets more of that relationship bandwidth. And if brands make that space in the relationship for the customer, we can all breathe easier for the sake of more sustainable relationships.

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