The Relationship Continuum

Posted by | April 25, 2013 | Relationships | No Comments

Developing deeper relationships with consumers should be a key priority for every CMO in the country. Common sense dictates that the greater the emotional bond a brand can develop with a consumer, the stronger the loyalty to the brand. So many wonderful business building benefits come from this.  Deeper Relationships result in Brand Advocacy.  Brand Advocacy results in Word of Mouth recommendations.  Word of Mouth recommendations creates trial amongst new users.  New users can create a new audience for Brand marketers to develop deeper relationships.  This results in a wonderful upward spiral.  Ultimately yielding a scenario where Advocates beget Advocates.

This all sounds great, right?  So why don’t more Brands focus on developing deeper relationships with their consumers?  There are many reasons however, the first reason is the fact that many brand marketers loosely use the term relationship.  “My brand already has a relationship with my consumers.”  This statement is actually true.  Every brand has a relationship with consumers.  The problem is that most brand relationships do not go beyond a Transactional Relationship with the consumer.

Relationship Continuum

There are the four types of relationships people form. Understanding these relationships help marketers create experiences that are relevant to consumers and their communities. The deeper (or further right) the relationship becomes, the greater the level of trust between Brand and Consumer.

Transactional. In many respects, the most basic relationship. Most brands have established this relationship with its consumers. This is a basic quid pro quo arrangement with a consumer. There is very little “experience” beyond product performance expected or provided. You have a product and they give you something in order to get it. For most consumer-brand relationships, this is where it starts.

Neighbors. At this level, you and your consumers are not exactly friends, but you have a deeper relationship. An emotional tie begins to develop. Belonging to the neighborhood creates a bond and a point of specific relevance. You are cordial to one another when you are both out in the yard and sometimes you talk for a few minutes over the fence line. You will help each other by providing advice or recommendations. Sometimes your neighbor (customer) will even ask to borrow something, perhaps a tool or a helping hand, which your brand is happy to lend. And perhaps, after a while, you will move on to the next level of relationship. Developing a “neighborly” relationship with your customers will provide significant benefits to both you and your customer.

Friends. This is where reciprocity becomes interesting. There is greater emotional connectivity leading to “altruism.” You do things for each other without expecting anything in return. If a consumer needs something, they expect you can provide it, without expecting something in return. And equally, you can go to your passionate “friends” among your fans and ask for help on a project, or for input, or for the all-important pass-along on a key piece of content, and they’ll do it without even asking for a small gift in return. Developing a friendship relationship takes many years of interacting with your consumers. The benefit of this type of relationship is tremendous.

Family. There is no quid pro quo at all expected here. You can always borrow from your mom, and she will always lend it, even if you don’t pay her back. Most brands are never going to make it to this level of relationship with a consumer. Here there is complete trust and open sharing and giving, with no need for reciprocity at all. And you can talk about anything, anytime. The Holy Grail. A member of the family will actively support another member, no matter what. And will want to share experiences with them, too. How to get into that tribe? Can a Brand develop a Family relationship with a consumer?  You will be surprised how powerful some Brand-Consumer relationships can be.

Driving deeper relationships is not easy.  It takes time, effort and sustained commitment.  Developing a deeper consumer relationship is not much different than developing personal relationships.  If Brands really want to drive to Brand Advocacy; they have to first focus on building relationships.

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