One of the promises of interactive marketing has long been its ability to create intimate relationships with our customers. As a promise, it has been largely unfulfilled. The consumer experience of these relationships is typically lackluster, and the marketers' gains have been on the whole unremarkable.

This begs the question, “What are marketers doing wrong?” The answer is not simple, but it can be readily found with some detailed analysis of the problem.

In general, the harsh situation of relationship marketing today is the result of widespread poor execution rather than a lack of true potential.

The first problem with many relationship programs lies in their misunderstanding of relationships between people, which work best when there is a feeling of reciprocity by both parties. This does not mean that the program needs to be set up to have an economic parity between the marketer and the consumer, but consumers need to feel that they are gaining at least as much as they are giving away in the relationship.

Too often, relationship programs are set up with the arrogant assumption that consumers should be happy in a relationship where they just sit around and receive marketing messages. This is a mistake. Relationships need to be structured around a strong vector of involvement for the consumer, where that vector provides an ongoing consumer-centric value.

A short time ago, I did a quantitative analysis of a relationship program whereby users would register at a Web site and upon their return see ongoing product recommendations personalized to their needs. When I looked at the site's data, it became clear there was a major problem with the program. Consumers would visit once or twice, and then they would never be seen again. (Less than 10% of consumers returned to the site after a week!)

Although consumers found value in the site, the strategist who thought up the concept failed to understand that the vector of involvement for consumers was very short lived. Consumers would visit the site, find out what they wanted and move on. There was no good reason for consumers to stay involved with the site once they were done—a difficult idea to understand for the marketers who created the site.

They found it strange that consumers would not be as involved in the brand as they were. The end result was thousands of dollars wasted to create relationship tools that no one beyond the brand mangers would ever value.

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image of Matthew Syrett

Matthew Syrett is a marketing consultant/analyst—a hybrid marketer, film producer, technologist, and statistician. He was vice-president of product development at the LinkShare Corporation and vice-president at Grey Interactive. Reach him via syrett (at) gmail (dot) com.