Raise your hand if you’ve heard of relationship marketing. Now keep it up if you know what it means.
Lots of hands still up, huh? OK. Fine. You, there. You with the iPhone and the I’m Kind of a Big Deal on Twitter t-shirt. What does relationship marketing mean?
Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. I tuned out at “creating authentic connections” and “establishing many-to-many connections that foster meaningful dialogue.” DING DING DING. You are WRONG, my tweep, my Facebook friend, my FriendFeed flunkie.
Let’s talk about what “relationship marketing” really is, shall we?
According to Wikipedia, and Len Barry who coined the term, “relationship marketing is a form of marketing which emphasizes customer retention and satisfaction, rather than a dominant focus on point-of-sale transactions.”
1. Relationship marketing is not about relationships. It’s about marketing.
As a relationship marketer, I focus on making sure you not only buy my stuff today, but you keep buying it over and over and over. “Relationship” refers to the customer’s purchase history, not some deep interpersonal connection.
We do not take moonlit walks on the beach. We are not friends. We are not acquaintances. As a matter of fact, we couldn’t pick each other out of a police lineup.
As a business, I’ve simply agreed to listen to you — or, more likely, people demographically similar to you — for long enough to know what you might buy. Then I make it and sell it to you.
If this is our relationship, we both need therapy.
2. Relationship marketing is not about authenticity.
I could tell you I’m just an ordinary person who happens to be exactly like you. I could tell you I’m the reincarnation of Cleopatra’s pool boy. I could tell you I’m a one-eared lumberjack.
It doesn’t matter a whit. If I get you signed up for my advance discount list and give you a good enough deal, we both win.
3. Relationship marketing is not about transparency.
Transparency is nice, and sometimes necessary, but it’s not what this is about.
It’s fascinating when Rand Fishkin tells me how much money he made last year, but it doesn’t affect whether or not I keep my SEOMoz membership.
4. Relationship marketing is not about connection.
Just because Steve Jobs doesn’t know your kid’s name doesn’t mean you’re going to buy a Dell next time.
5. Relationship marketing is not about being social.
Social is Sunday morning brunch with your buddies. It’s not Twitter.
And frankly, you’ll have a tough time selling anything in either place.
6. Relationship marketing is not about equality.
The only thing that’s equal about you being my “fan” and me begging you for money is that we’re equally codependent.
7. Relationship marketing is not even about communication.
I buy apples every week and the things don’t even have a label, let alone a communication strategy.
You joining my Facebook fan page is not a relationship.
You following me on Twitter is not a relationship.
You commenting on my blog is not a relationship.
Let’s face it, if your boyfriend treated you as badly as I do, your mother would tell you to break up with him.
Relationship marketing is about marketing.
The touchy feely, Summer of Love, gosh-aren’t-we-great-friends stuff is nice. Sometimes it’s even necessary. But it’s not what relationship marketing is actually about.
Relationship marketing is about getting the customer to stick around long enough to keep shopping. And it’s about making sure that customer comes back next time to buy more stuff.
Don’t fall so in love with the relationship that you forget about the marketing. Like talking about benefits and not just features. Like having a halfway decent market position. Like a real call to action. Like, you know, selling stuff.
All the authentically transparent connections in the world won’t fix those if they’re broken. But stick a Wheaties coupon on the back of every box of Wheaties and you’ve got it nailed.