The Ultimate Guide to Relationship Marketing

There are plenty of studies that highlight the importance of customer retention — oftentimes, customer retention has been found to be even more critical to your company's success than customer acquisition.Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company found as little as a five percent increase in customer retention can result in an increase in company revenue by 25-95%.

Adobe learned that returning customers spend more than newer customers. Why? Because existing customers understand the value of your products and services and they're invested loyally in your brand. If a customer feels satisfied with their interaction with you, it’s a no-brainer for them to turn to your business for their needs, again and again.

No matter if you’re a team of one or leading a scaling enterprise, you can cultivate a deeper relationship with your existing audience without the typical costs associated with acquiring new customers. The key is strategic relationship marketing.

“But isn’t all marketing relationship marketing?” Not exactly. Some marketing tactics are solely about gaining traffic and conversions to get potential customers into the customer flywheel. From there, you’ll have even more marketing tactics that get that potential customer to make their first purchase.

The perfect time to start a relationship marketing strategy is when the customer has made a purchase (or several). Your goal with relationship marketing is to get these new customers to become brand-loyal patrons of your business. To do that, you’ll want to take a personalized approach and become integrated into their lives in a way that feels natural and genuine.

Here, let's take a look at some relationship marketing examples and the tactics they use to make this strategy work. Then, we’ll explore how you can implement a strong relationship marketing strategy today.

1. Capital One

Capital One understands its customers deeply — all the way down to the small inconveniences that plague them most. One of those annoyances is the long TSA line at the airport.

Capital One reimburses all venture cardholders up to $100 when they pay the TSA PreCheck fee. All they have to do is pay for it with their Capital One credit card.

TSA PreCheck expires after five years, and this benefit can be used every time the cardholder wants to renew their PreCheck status. This benefit speaks to a relevant pain point for Capital One customers and makes keeping an account open with Capital One well worth it in the long run.

2. Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation

Any homeowner knows that purchasing a home is one of the biggest and most important decisions one can make. Mortgage lenders know this, too. During the process of buying a home, buyers typically shop around for the lowest rate, but they’re also shopping for a reliable team that will make the process as smooth as possible.

Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation is a great example of a business that takes the relationship marketing approach to customer relations. When the real estate market is moving quickly, Fairway stands out and offers its buyers more than just low interest rates. For example, I received a birthday email from Fairway which came right around the time I needed to make some decisions about my lender. In addition to that, the loan consultant was sure to send over some marketing documents with their value proposition and benefits for me as a buyer.

All of this showed me that the company was committed to being responsive, respectful, helpful, and most importantly — closing on time. This is a recipe for success in the mortgage industry as referrals are the “bread and butter of any successful loan officers business.”

3. GE

Relationship marketing is ultimately about offering both new and existing customers valuable content regardless of where they are in the buyer’s journey. Good relationship marketing should appeal to the first-time viewer as powerfully as it appeals to your long-term customers to ensure your customers can grow with you over time.

GE does a great job of diversifying its content, and the platforms on which it promotes, to ensure it satisfies as many people as possible. For instance, GE created two sponsored podcasts in the sci-fi genre. It seems strange, but GE positions itself as an “inventor of the future of industry,” so it makes sense that the company might dabble in the world of what-ifs in the sci-fi genre. Additionally, the company has a popular YouTube channel that features historic, innovative stories from the perspective of GE employees. Whether you’re an existing customer or a prospective employee, content like this places GE directly into the lives of customers in a natural, helpful, and even entertaining way.

By consistently offering a diverse range of quality content, GE shows its desire to satisfy its long-term customers even at the expense of short-term wins.

4. Domino's

In the past couple of years, Domino's has taken its fair share of risks for the sake of innovation and improvement, including a series of ads called Pizza Turnaround, in which they showcased a series of negative customer reviews, read by real Domino's employees, before promising a new and improved recipe.

These self-deprecating ads appeal genuinely to viewers but clearly go against any traditional sales playbook... which is why they work. By admitting an area of opportunity, Domino's re-invented its brand as transparent and honest — and who wouldn't want to buy from a company like that?

Additionally, Domino's has conducted other genius marketing campaigns like the Domino's wedding registry, in which soon-to-be-married couples can create their own pizza registry, and Avoid the Noid, where the company partnered with every state in the US to repair potholes to limit the number of damaged pizzas being delivered. Domino's has also done a fantastic job tapping into their digital audience — at one point, the company even allowed people to order pizza using a simple pizza emoji. Now, 70% of Domino's sales are through digital channels.

Ultimately, there are plenty of innovative steps Domino's has taken to cultivate a loyal, long-term customer base. They accepted short-term losses for long-term gains by slowly and strategically re-inventing their product and their brand while still engaging with their customers on their favorite digital platforms.

5. Panera

Panera’s commitment to health and convenience has resulted in 40 million Panera loyalty members.

In 2014, Panera issued a statement promising its customers it would remove all artificial flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives from all Panera products by the end of 2016. The company remained transparent throughout the process, publishing progress reports to demonstrate a level of accountability and transparency to its customers.

Undoubtedly, it was a risky decision to admit they'd previously used unhealthy ingredients in their food — but it paid off big-time in 2016 when the brand could officially say "100% of our food is 100% clean".

Additionally, the brand continues to focus on cultivating strong relationships with its customers through personalization. For instance, Panera alerts loyalty members about new food offerings they feel will meet the member's "flavor profile" based on past purchases.

The company also meets its customers where they are — starting an online grocery business as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Panera even offers home and business delivery, rapid pickup, and catering in an effort to better serve its customers.

6. Marriott

Undoubtedly, a 35-minute film is not the most traditional avenue a hotel can take when it wants to increase sales — and yet, that's exactly what Marriott chose to do with their film, "Two Bellmen Three".

This film enables Marriott to appeal to a younger demographic and build brand awareness on dominant platforms like Snapchat. Best of all, their content rarely resembles an advertisement and is typically focused on providing an audience with fun, or helpful, information on various travel destinations.

7. ArmorSuit

ArmorSuit's warranty policy begins like this — "Most warranties are limited to 30 days or one year, but with our Lifetime Replacement Warranty, our customers can request for a replacement screen protector for a lifetime. This way, you never need to purchase a whole new kit when a replacement is needed."

This way, you never need to purchase a whole new kit — a phrase you'll likely never hear in traditional sales transactions. ArmorSuit's lifetime warranty represents the company's steadfast commitment to keeping its customers satisfied. While it might seem ridiculous to offer a lifetime warranty, it makes sense for building strong relationships with ArmorSuit's customers — when the company's customers then need other products related to tech, they'll most likely check out ArmorSuit's website first.

Next, let’s explore how you can create a strong relationship marketing strategy for your own business.

1. Provide personalized, customer-focused service.

When you're creating a relationship marketing strategy and engaging with your customers, your primary concern should never be focused on your product or service. Instead, your concerns should always revolve around the customer — Would the customer want to see this ad? Would the customer be excited about this Instagram post? Does our new product delight the customer?

Additionally, it's critical that you create channels for direct support when your customers need help. Perhaps you implement a Facebook Messaging Bot for service-related concerns. Alternatively, maybe you answer your customer's questions via Instagram DM. By meeting your customers on platforms they use most, you're proving your willingness to help them despite the hassles it might entail for your overall business process.

2. Engage with the customer where they are.

The reason Marriott's strategy works isn't only because of the content they create — it's also where they post that content. Creating videos specifically for Snapchat enables Marriott to appeal to a younger demographic on a platform already popular with that audience.

Research which platforms are most popular for your ideal demographic. By reaching out to them through their preferred channels, you're demonstrating a level of helpfulness and understanding that will encourage those users to interact with your brand.

3. Incorporate technology to work more effectively.

Technology might seem counterintuitive to building organic relationships that are personalized, but it can be the key to solving customer pain points. As your company grows, it’ll become increasingly more difficult to connect one-on-one with each customer.

Using an automated marketing system can ensure that every customer receives communication from your business and has the opportunity to engage. Tools like HubSpot’s Marketing Hub can automate workflows and email cadences so that you never miss a customer milestone.

4. Offer incentives and rewards for customer loyalty.

To cultivate a long-term relationship with your customers and create lasting brand loyalty, continue engaging with customers even after they've purchased a product. Consider what you can offer them once they've become customers — perhaps they can get a discount on additional products, or receive personalized recommendations based on their preferences.

By creating a loyalty rewards program, Panera continues to incentivize its customers to purchase additional products and slowly forms a more meaningful relationship by gathering information about each customer and then using that information to offer unique suggestions depending on their individual food preferences.

5. Create valuable content that tells a compelling story.

If a customer has already purchased your product, they don't need to see additional product advertisements to become brand loyalists — instead, they need to feel your business offers value regardless of their purchase intent.

Marriott's film isn't meant to immediately convert a viewer into a paying customer. Instead, its purpose is to increase brand awareness, so that down the road, when that viewer is ready to book a hotel for an upcoming trip, they'll remember the compelling film they saw once and think of Marriott.

6. Collect feedback regularly.

A relationship works two ways — to truly develop a meaningful connection with your customers, then, it's vital you ask them for feedback. What do they want to see from your brand? What do they like about your product? What do they wish you wrote about on your blog? This information improves your relationship marketing strategy to best fit the needs of your specific audience.

Play the Long Game With Relationship Marketing

There’s a time and place for quick marketing wins and they’re paramount in hitting goals and KPIs each quarter. However, your marketing, sales, and service teams work much better together at playing the long game. Relationship marketing won’t score you consistent quick wins that you can measure with hard numbers in a dashboard. But you’ll find that staying the course and nurturing the customer will yield happier and more loyal brand advocates for quarters to come.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in February 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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