Is the era of warm and fuzzy relationship marketing DEAD?

by James on May 1, 2009

Each Friday, for the past three weeks, Deb Rapacz* has posed a relationship marketing power question and explored its implications. On the following Monday I provided some quick tips, some hip shots on how to use the insights in Deb’s post to help your business. This is the third post in the series.

From auditing dozens of relationship marketing programs that aren’t paying out I’ve been forced to ask the gloomy question, “Is the era of warm and fuzzy relationship marketing dead?”

I see too many brands base their relationship marketing programs on the belief that if they engage customers, and treat them like trusted “friends,” they’ll generate warm and fuzzy feelings toward the brand. Then these customers will tie themselves to the brand and reward it with increased sales. This logic results in relationship marketing programs focused on unbranded general-interest content versus directly talking about the brand, and providing deep and intriguing brand content.

Will this approach lead to the death of Relationship Marketing as we know it? Here are a few of things to consider.

Relationship Clutter

Peoples’ mailboxes and inboxes are so full of tips for setting New Year’s resolutions, cleaning closets in the spring, hosting great summer barbecues, enjoying fall foliage tours, and avoiding holiday stresses, it’s almost impossible to remember which brand sent which collection of helpful tips – and therefore reward any single brand with feelings of appreciation and increased sales. How many relationship marketing programs can we expect people to engage with anyway?

“Relationship” as the Wrong Goal

Many brands state, “Our goal is to build ongoing relationships with as many of our customers as possible,” instead of being driven to get their best customers so highly committed to the brand that they are locked-in loyal customers. If the goal of effective branding is to instill the brand’s position in the customer’s mind, to streamline future purchasing decisions, is it presumptuous for brands to assume that people want to engage in an ongoing relationship with them?

“Member” Mentality

Requiring people to enroll in a formal marketing program can significantly limit the number of customers who will engage with the brand. Brand-interested customers may be motivated to learn more about your brand, but may not be ready to “sign-up” for a formal program yet. And those who are willing to sign up for your program may actually be committed to your brand already. This could drive you to spend too much on the already-committed consumers rather than helping others reach higher levels of commitment toward your brand.

Marketing the Marketing vs. Marketing the Brand

Most brands initiate relationship programs with an ultimate goal of helping more people become more commitment to the brand for the long-term. When creating “relationships” is the goal, relationship marketers can lose focus and become driven to marketing the benefits and features of the program, instead of using the program to marketing the benefits and features of the brand. Have you lost your brand focus?

Savings and Rewards can Destroy Brands

Money-off discounts and reward structures, designed to encourage and help track customer “relationships,” can actually be destructive to the brand. Many relationship marketing programs feature “saving money” and “special offers” to encourage participation. Shouldn’t the ultimate reward be the satisfaction that comes from using a product the customer knows is perfect for his or her needs?

*Deb Rapacz blends her marketer, agency, and consulting experiences to deliver powerful solutions, which work effectively across all marketing and advertising functions to build a solid base of core buyers. Learn more about Deb and how she help brands achieve success at Reilly and Rapacz.

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