Relationship Advice for the Modern Marketer

by Michael Colombo
Feb 11, 2020

In the past, marketing was about understanding the customer. The better a marketer could serve as the proxy for a customer’s response—by better understanding the culture and context in which they existed—the more relevant their ad campaign would be. But the monolithic ad campaign no longer has power. Ads are fleeting memes in a culture filled with memes. Where they once shaped the tone of our culture, digital culture today is too niche-ified for anyone to notice,  creating a cacophony within which it’s become harder to deliver content and experiences that matter, that connect, that are even noticed. 

So What’s the Marketer’s Job?

The marketer’s job is to find customers in their niches and provide unique experiences appropriate to their relationship with them. Sound easy? Of course it’s not. That’s because it’s not about focus groups or user testing. It’s not about traditional tactics. It’s about using the marketing systems you’ve invested so much in to meet customers on their terms, to create new value for them at every touchpoint. That’s the goal of your marketing infrastructure - relationship-building not hard-selling. Showing investment in the relationships you want to build are the prerequisite terms on which you trade value in a digital culture. Advertising, in that sense, is generally not an end. It’s a means to offer something for free. To show you’re invested. To start a relationship.

Does It All Lead Back to Tech? 

Of course, it does. It’s no secret that today’s marketer needs to be equal parts strategist, technologist, creative, and analyst. But there’s no marketing without technology, and there’s no value communicated by marketing without analytics. These two disciplines have continued to eat the marketing world, while creative has become more commodified, content has ascended, and strategy has remained a blind spot for many companies - specifically, strategies for tying marketing and product tightly together into one, personalized experience.  

Technology, for better and for worse, is the cornerstone of your relationship-building effort. Your marketing infrastructure should help you understand what kind of content and experiences customers want from you, whether they’ve explicitly stated it or not. It should help you pick up on the nuance. That’s what a relationship is about. Investing in the nuance of the individual. How well you can deliver on a nuanced digital experience will determine the value of your brand. 

And that’s the more difficult part. Just telling you—by fistfighting with spreadsheets and dashboards—what customers prefer is not enough. Your marketing technology has to deliver the experience as well. Consistently. Without intervention. Now that the pieces are in place, they need to work together seamlessly to deliver a continuum of individual experiences. A continuum that can begin anywhere—inside the product, on the website, at Google, on Facebook—and transfer seamlessly between contexts, becoming more relevant the more the relationship grows. 

Why Aren’t We There Already? 

The inclination has been to take these new capabilities both too far, and not far enough. Taking them too far and entirely missing the nuance damages the brand. Using your marketing systems for hard-selling as opposed to relationship-building is a mistake. And it’s a mistake that’s threatens the whole industry. New regulations will continue to curb the ability to build relationships in an effort to curb the hard-selling. 

When the technology is used to follow people into every corner of their digital lives, pressing on them a pair of jeans or a crockpot or a mutual fund that they may have glanced at in passing, the point is missed entirely. While the analytics may say that this tactic will result in some miniscule uptick in conversions (a number we can scale!!), the nuance that’s missed is the brand damage that’s been done in the minds of the unconverted. Who’s reporting that data?

Those who don’t convert, and probably even those who do, see your brand as cheapened by the experience. It’s as if the car salesman chased you home, welcomed themselves into your kitchen, sat down with your family for dinner, and continued to try selling you the damn jalopy over pot roast. It’s unseemly. It’s not a relationship that anybody wants.

Instead of using marketing technology like a feeding tube for yet more ads, we should be using it to provide better digital service. Better service leads to higher sales. This direct line has been studied and proven ad nauseum in business literature. Every decision made in the realm of personalization, for instance, should not be weighed solely on the goal of driving immediate conversion metrics. KPIs that better capture the relationship you are building should be the real focus of personalization. Lifetime value, share of wallet, retention, NPS, etc. may be more meaningful, for instance. Those are relationship metrics. 

Use the technology to provide a better service, and in providing a better service, you will build better relationships.

So What Do We Do Next?

We jump in. We tie product tightly to marketing by using the same technology where we can—both on the front end and back end—and the same design and storytelling systems. We build a common customer profile for marketers to store preferences, behaviors, and needs across marketing assets and communications, product onboarding and learning, and sales and support interactions. And we centralize content, digital assets, rules, and analytics into a single set of systems that integrate and automate experiences that matter to various niche audiences. 

We want the technology to provide more nuanced and more memorable experiences. A concierge service, not another car salesman. Because if it’s all part of one experience, and if that experience is great, then it will grow the business. Naturally, organically. Without crossing the line. That’s the real power of the technology. It turns marketing into a service for your customers, not for your boss.

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Mike is the founder of Maark and has served as the agency’s strategic, creative and technology lead in programs ranging from complete digital transformation of Fortune 500 clients, end-to-end relaunch of category-leading brands, and strategy, design and development of new digital products.

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