The Evolution of Relationship Marketing
Has relationship marketing evolved?
To make a long story short, yes. The fact that relationship marketing is evolving alongside technology isn’t surprising – but discovering that you no longer control your brand can be.
The old days
Back in the day (aka, pre-Y2K), businesses didn’t need to develop relationships with their customers in order to keep their business afloat; they simply needed to have the largest, boldest ad in the yellow pages. Starting your business name with four A’s didn’t hurt, either.
Whilst this is a broad over-simplification, there was no information superhighway in the 20th century. Consumers fulfilled their needs using businesses they found in the phone book, on the radio, or through a commercial on television. Because channels of communication were so sparse, marketers were able to simply talk at consumers.
Furthermore, marketers were able to retain a very large amount of control over what information consumers had about their brands. One upset customer might tell five of their friends about a bad experience, but there was no medium available for them to amplify their message.
Enter the Internet and the Days of Baby Google
The evolution of relationship marketing began to pick up steam when search engines made the sharing of information a very real thing. No longer were businesses the only source of information about themselves – customers, competitors, and essentially anyone with a computer and Internet access was now competing with businesses for consumer attention.
At this point, businesses were forced to begin listening to and building better relationships with their customers. However, businesses were still able to maintain a fair amount of control over the information consumers received; many consumers were still not Internet-savvy, and so traditional marketing remained the dominant means of information dissemination – but not for long!
In the early 2000s, a shift took place in the marketing landscape – the voice of the customer became more important than ever before, and word of mouth marketing became the de facto king of marketing methods.
What incited the shift? Social media.
With the advent of social media as well as the ever-increasing ubiquity of Internet connectivity, consumers began to talk to each other more than they ever had in the past. Information sharing about their lives, preferences, likes, dislikes, and favourite businesses became a way of life.
Naturally, customers began to trust each others’ opinions and information much more than the perceived propaganda that businesses put forth. In addition to this shift in customer trust, the communication methods between businesses and customers also rapidly shifted – customers now demanded open communication that flows both ways. Because customers can just as easily hijack a marketing campaign or communication method to disburse their own opinions or information about a company, businesses are now no longer in control of their discussions.
Relationship marketing now means that businesses must engage with customers and offer meaningful, useful (not to mention authentic!) information or be left behind – customers no longer want to be talked at or marketing to. Instead, savvy marketers must understand that businesses no longer control the conversation surrounding their brand.
Customers hold the reins, and brands can’t wait another minute to begin building real relationships and entering into the conversation when and where the customer demands it.