When many of today’s marketing directors began their careers there was no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn available to influence consumer behaviour.
The focus was on medium- to long-term relationship marketing, and developing emotional connections with brands in the hope of building customer loyalty and engagement.
Word of mouth recommendations, for example, would generate leads as marketers realised that effective relationship marketing was the best way to retain those valuable customers the business had worked so hard to attract.
Relationship marketing is still essential in 2015, of course, but today every marketer must also have a social media footprint. For every brand, social marketing is both a sustainable and largely cost-effective option to reach different target audiences.
Sofie Sandell, a social media expert and author of the book Digital Leadership: How Creativity in Business Can Propel Your Brand and Boost Your Results is a fan of both relationship and social media marketing. She believes the two must co-exist within a wider CRM strategy, but points out that each has its strengths and weaknesses.
“When it comes to social marketing the message must be authentic because people have a bullshit detector when they see messages from brands. Also, what might be regarded as personalisation can be perceived as creepy,” says Sandell. “There is an example of a woman who Tweeted that she liked cake and shoes and when she arrived at a major hotel chain they presented her with a cake shaped like a shoe. That is scary.”
She adds: “Smart marketers know how to build a relationship with a consumer without delving too much into his or her personal life.”
Of course, the impact from some relationship marketing activity is invisible and its effectiveness difficult to measure. For instance, you cannot track a great conversation with a consumer at an event as easily as you can tally up retweets or Facebook ‘likes’.
Successful relationship marketing will, however, persuade customers to keep buying your product or service and, in an ideal world, increase the amount they spend. The danger is that marketers can take it too far by contacting someone too often or taking their loyalty for granted, or failing to incentivise and reward someone’s ongoing loyalty.
Brands wanting to succeed in relationship marketing must also be prepared to play a long game to create a lasting bond with consumers. This means interacting with them in an informative, entertaining, relevant and engaging way on an on-going basis, alongside any tactical and immediate social marketing they do.
Low engagement on social media can be a sign that a brand has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to relationship marketing.
One way to boost engagement on social media is to ensure consumers are listened to as well as talked to. If marketers are aware of what is interesting their target audience at a particular time the content produced or the activity devised is more likely to be relevant, topical and to generate interest.