Marketing: All About the Relationship
by Ian Doescher
My first job, right after college, was with the Pacific Symphony in Orange County, California. I was a music major in college, and was looking for a position working in the administration of a symphony orchestra. The first job opening I found, with the Pacific Symphony, was in their marketing department. I knew absolutely nothing about marketing, but being a continual student I decided to find some books about my new trade. One of the first books I found was Relationship Marketing, by Regis McKenna. For a young person just learning about marketing, this was a fairly inspirational book. It’s something of a classic now, but if you don’t know Relationship Marketing, the gist is that marketing is about having and building a relationship with your customers.
At the same time, living on my own for the first time, I was using Amazon.com a lot. I was, therefore, not only reading about relationship marketing, I was seeing it in action with Amazon. Amazon was then and is now a master of relationship marketing. It delivers personalized recommendations based on my buying history and, nowadays, on some of my browsing history as well. As an author and as a person who supports local businesses, it’s not fashionable to think well of Amazon. I will say, however, that Amazon does a better job with relationship marketing then any local business I’ve ever seen.
I am still a big believer in relationship marketing. In fact, I think it is just about the only way to work in marketing with integrity. Only if we see our customers as people with whom we are in a relationship will we avoid the temptation to deceive our customers through our advertising. If I think you’re just a consumer—a nameless face among a million others like you—I may have no problem being a little misleading or a little tricky or a little just plain GROSS in my efforts to sell you my products or services. If, however, you are a member of my community (even if we’re defining “community” broadly), someone I have had a relationship with and expect to continue to have a relationship with, I’m going to treat you better. I’m going to try harder.
Above, I wrote that I’ve never seen a local business do relationship marketing better than Amazon. That’s probably not fair, because local businesses don’t have the resources of a behemoth like Amazon. Relationship marketing, though—at least in my mind—starts with a mindset. Do we see our customers as piles of money waiting to be tricked into using our products, or do we see them as people with the same hopes, dreams, problems, and challenges as us? The first step in relationship marketing—and, I argue, marketing with real integrity—is a commitment to treating customers the way we would want to be treated. That means, first and foremost, telling the truth in our advertising, making our offerings as clear and simple as possible, providing good customer service once a customer is on board, and following up with customers over time to make sure they are satisfied. That’s how Amazon treats me, and that’s how I want to be treated. It’s a philosophy I hope all of us as marketers can get behind.