Monday, March 12, 2012

Living Together - Does Your Brand Have a Relationship With Your Customer?

The dream of any business is to have committed customers who treat their relationship (with their brand) - more than just a brand-customer interaction but show a commitment which is emotional and creates 'feelings'. As brands transcend from a benefit orientation with their customers to an emotional connect, the benefits for the brand grows exponentially. These stand the test of time and in the minds of their customers the brand stands for values beyond functionality.  Customers of such brands rate them much higher in their value systems.

Apple, Harley Davidson and Triumph are some of the few examples who transcended the barrier to create diehard fans/ lovers. For example - Apple’s commitment to their Mac User Groups. Apple interacts with them regularly and constantly integrates their feedback in the new products/ software thereby respecting the relationship. This not only helps them from a marketing standpoint as a 'brand which listens' but also helps improves their offerings. However such brands are a handful. Short term focus has resulted in many brands falling by the wayside.

As possibilities of interactions between brands and customers increase, thanks to the mushrooming of offline and online alternatives, brands can establish a bond with their customers thereby strengthening their relationship and having a committed customer.

But having said that, I wonder how many marketers actually do what it takes to build a relationship. I am just not referring to advertising, loyalty programs and the like but to get deeper into understanding relationships between their customers and their brands or business.

The basis for a relationship is pretty much similar to a relationship between two individuals or even a group of people. Look at such relationships like we would do for people. People make the relationship more interesting, fun and exciting. It also gives it a personal touch.

Basic Principles of a Successful Relationship

Mutual Demand - Relationships are created from a mutual demand or need for something - maybe emotional or physical/ materialistic or both. The needs can be personal, professional etc. Likewise a brand and it customers need to get something out of each other. While it is pretty simple what a brand wants, customers may adopt brands for various reasons just like in a person to person relationship.
Beneficial to both - Relationships are healthier when it is beneficial to both parties. It builds up and is nourished only when it is positively beneficial and giving to either parties or individuals concerned.
Share something in common - When people can share something in common, the relationship gets stronger and creates a way to a better relationship.  Common interests create opportunities for conversation, understanding, mutual respect and also admiration.
Healthy communication - Just like couples need to talk to each other, brands and its customers need to talk to each other too. It cannot be one way traffic but a two way dialogue. Customers are more demanding than ever and brands not only need to listen to them but also act. Each customer is different and marketers must make efforts to understand each and every one. That is because each customer has different perceptions. Poor or improper communications can result in thawing off the relationships and ultimately the customer can get his/her needs met elsewhere.
Deep commitment - It is about hanging in there, through the good times and the bad. Brands need to commit to a relationship. It cannot be in 'ifs and buts'. Commitment lets your customers know that the brands are serious about the relationship; it’s the foundation that allows trust to develop.
Strong connection - When you show your customer that you are committed, apart from bring an effective and healthy communicator, the basis for a deep connection has already been set. Discover what makes your customer feel close to your brand and communicate what you need in order to feel close to him/her. Not all roads lead to a connection —become aware of and respect these differences as no two customers are alike.
Sincerity -You cannot force someone into a relationship, likewise you cannot force a customer to like you and talk to you. Relationships which are true and positive should be sincere, natural, and voluntary. Only real relationships stand the test of time.
Mutual respect - The two people in a relationship should respect each other. Any arrogance by one party will hamper the relationship. There are umpteen examples wherein brands have turned arrogant and forgotten to listen to their customers and thereby leading to their demise.
Companionship - Successful relationships are based on being friends and companions. Friends often have similar interests and engage in enjoyable activities together.
Similar core values/desires - Customers adopt brands which have similar core values or they atleast desire them. This is especially critical when brand is being re-positioned. Many customers have taken to a particular brand because of certain values but in the re-positioning it may be lost.
Expressing & appreciating each other - Everyone likes a pat on the back. Both brands and customers like it too. The more we demonstrate the more successful the relationship is. Brands need to create moments/ occasions for customers to interact and appreciate them for what they have done - more so if it is personalized. I know it is easier said than done but that is the way people are.
Never ending process -Maintaining a relationship is a never ending process. Relationships need to be nurtured. Neglect will lead to decay and breakdown. It needs to be worked on constantly, repaired when it is frayed and nurtured. Neglected relationships make it tougher to take the test of time.
Spend time - Especially in the age of quick gains and quarter focus, time has become scarce. Brands need to spend time and have a whole lot of patience to build a relationship. Results take time but are far more robust.

There are not many people who have ever not been through a relationship which is full of positive things. All the relationships needs to go through the test of times which either makes it stronger and sometimes it just breaks down.

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