Brands Must Look Beyond Summer Romances & Prioritise Meaningful Customer Relationships

Why is engaging with customers through digital marketing comparable to online dating? Writing exclusively for ExchangeWire, Tom Byrne, SVP agency services, Merkle EMEA, explains that it's all about meaningful relationships.

Today’s always-on digital world has affected our lives in a multitude of ways. One of which is how we find love. With the plethora of online dating websites and apps now available, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to master the digital minefield of love.

But what inspires us to make that right swipe or click? How do relationships become more than just a short summer fling or a one-night stand? Some may live and breathe the mantra, ‘it’s a numbers game’, but is that really the best approach to finding love?

In many ways, the concept of dating mirrors how digital marketers should speak to and engage with customers. Instead of going for volume (whether in swipes or clicks) it’s time to bring back old school ‘courting’ tactics: building trust over time, getting to know who you’re speaking to, and developing your relationship with that specific individual whilst differentiating yourself from others.

Learn to love through data

The most successful relationships are those that achieve balance; there is a fair value exchange, forming a team mentality focused on shared motives and values. Crucially, even after several successful dates, if you’re still chasing lust over love, and don't put in the effort to show you care – regularly engaging in meaningful conversation, for example – it’s likely the other person is eventually going to lose interest.

For brands, if it becomes clear that they are driven purely by need to sell, consumers will rightly view them as fickle and offer a similar attitude back. To avoid this, companies should look to develop long-lasting, meaningful relationships with their desired customers, shifting away from a shallow and short-termist thinking, and looking instead towards the opportunity to grow together over time. Think less 'friends with benefits' and more 'happily ever after'.

Doing this credibly depends on the brand’s ability to listen – accumulating enough data to understand the consumer, not just across every touchpoint, but also through every changing life stage, mood, or need. It used to be the case that the brand was an organisation’s most valuable asset; now the value lies as much in customer data and how it is used to build closer relationships over time.

Thankfully, the ability to sync and measure data from inbound and outbound channels, enabled by the rapid advancement of technology, means brands can now talk to customers as individuals across multiple channels, rather than just targeting generic IDs or cookies. This people-based approach to marketing is about understanding a person’s needs, wants, and likes, then offering personalised experiences that are genuinely relevant and helpful in any given moment.

For a fashion retailer, it could mean using data to unlock a deeper understanding of the types of clothes a customer likes to buy: how their tastes have changed over time, how they might change in the coming years, or how their physical shape and size has evolved. A retailer could build and offer enormous amounts of value by accumulating that data to become a personal shopper for customers.

If brands can consistently offer this kind of value throughout the relationship, people would be far more willing to open themselves up in the same way they do to friends and family and share their valuable first-party data – which could then be used to create a virtuous cycle of ever-better experience and a closer relationship in the long-run.

A real world example of this is the relationship my parents have when it comes to shopping. My dad hates buying clothes and always has, so my mum does all of it for him. She has an eye for style, she knows his size, the colours that suit him best, and she understands how his tastes have changed over the years. As a result, he completely trusts her and is more than happy for her to take that role. It’s this sweet spot that every brand should be aiming for in their relationship with customers.

From brand-out to consumer-in

The biggest challenge in pivoting towards a people-based marketing approach won’t be mastering the technology or accumulating the data. The most difficult transition will be bringing about a shift in traditional organisational mindsets. Brands must restructure how they talk to the consumer, moving away from their historic focus on what they want to sell, towards how people prefer buy. Mum might not be able to get Dad into a suit, but she may just be able to upsell him a smart shirt in his favourite colour.

In brand terms, this means learning how to mine and connect the seemingly random kaleidoscope of trigger event information we give away freely online to develop propensity models based on an individual consumer’s behaviour – allowing the brand to add greater value, both now and in the future.

Those who manage it will not only build once-unimaginably strong relationships with their customers, but could also save a lot in marketing costs by only appearing when they are most needed or relevant or the greatest probability that the customer will care. Most people have friends who they only see once a year or so – but they still trust them in the interim because they’ve previously been there in times of need. Equally, if a brand can establish a deeper and more meaningful connection with a customer, then they won’t need to keep talking to them to win their loyalty and stay front-of-mind.

Brands need to shift towards a consumer-first mindset if they want to continue having long-lasting and valuable relationships with customers. If the fickle, time-poor consumer is constantly looking for love, then they want a brand that can know them better, help them faster, and inspire them everywhere – for longer than just a summer romance.