I'm a hugger. I'm not sure when I became a card-carrying hugger, but as a teen I spent a lot of time at my buddy's house with his Portuguese family and relatives, who treated me like another son. They always had that huggy thing going on, and it must have rubbed off.

Hugging has a place in marketing, too, at least in a virtual, figurative sense. I thought about that on a recent flight home from London, while reading Gary Vaynerchuk's book The Thank You Economy and thinking deeply about customer relationships and Gary's mantra of listening, engaging, and taking care of all customers.

That flight, and what followed, helped me understand how hugging your customers can be an effective marketing strategy under the right circumstances. Stay with me through the following anecdote, and you might agree.

To Hug or Not to Hug?

I sat next to a British woman who works in Google's London office. For the next 9.5 hours, when we weren't watching movies, reading, working, or listening to tunes, she and I discussed work, European privacy issues, travel, relationships, movies, America, and my passion for English rock music. We had connected and were enjoying conversational give-and-take even though we had just met. Each of us also could sense when the other wanted to disconnect for a while.

Once we landed at San Francisco International Airport and were on our way to US Customs, I wondered whether she would be OK with a little goodbye hug after sharing so much on a 5,000-mile flight.

To my surprise, she offered a hug first as we moved toward our different customs lines. To me, the gesture signified that after several hours learning about and sharing with each other, she was comfortable enough to express her feelings with a public hug.

Have You Hugged Your Customers Today?

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image of Loren McDonald

Loren McDonald is vice-president of industry relations at Silverpop, an email service provider for B2C marketing initiatives and B2B lead-management processes. Reach him via lmcdonald@silverpop.com.