We've all been hearing a lot about how the old way of doing marketing—talking at consumers ("broadcast marketing")—is over. That because there is so much noise in the digital space, no one is paying attention.

But even if broadcast marketing reaches 1% of its intended target audience, it has succeeded in generating some awareness, attracting some prospects, and converting some customers. Sure, it may be wildly inefficient, but it's not a complete failure.

I would argue that it's a (partial) success even when measured against the standards of the new way of doing marketing. And that brings us to what this article is about: What marketing is now really all about.

Relationships Are the New Currency

Let's go back to that 1% idea and pretend that it represents a single person out of 100 (admittedly,not a great conversion rate). Why did the other 99 people ignore the messaging? Of course, it could be for various reasons: the messaging was wrong, it reached those people at the wrong time of day, it reached them in the wrong channels, they weren't in the market for that product or service, they deliberately ignored it, etc. Whatever the case, the message produced the wrong reaction (i.e., they didn't click or read or share or follow). It only produced the right reaction in the one person who converted.

Let's take this a step further.

What does a reaction really mean? Some current brain theories, like those explored in Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman, propose that our brain reacts the way it does based on social connection. Everything that we do is about how we connect—or don't connect—to other people. We imagine what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why they are doing it. Of course, all of that happens in the blink of an eye, but it happens.

A reaction to marketing, then, is the response to an attempted connection. Those 99 people know, deep in their brains, that someone crafted that message to appeal to them, to get them to do something (like click or read or buy a product). But it didn't do it in the way that those people wanted it done. Hence, the reaction is to shun the attempted connection.

What about that one person, though?

Exactly the opposite. Something about that marketing message and the way it was delivered resonated. That person's brain, for whatever reason, saw a connection between himself and the person who created the marketing message. (We have a natural proclivity to personify everything with which we interact; deep in our brains, it's all about the people).

What marketers today need to realize is that they deal in relationships. Every piece of content that they create, ever banner ad and every email, forms some sort of relationship. Now for many digital channels, that relationship is very fleeting. Those 99 people may not remember the marketing message an hour after they saw it (unless it evoked a very strong negative response at which point the reaction may move from short-term, working memory into long-term memory, thereby deepening the negative relationship), but a relationship has been formed regardless.

What Builds the Best Relationships?

It's important to understand a key distinction here—"forming a relationship" (which happens with every interaction a person has with your messaging) and "building a relationship" that occurs through repeated engagement.

Let me say that again. Engagement builds relationships.

Digital provides marketers a very unique environment—a way to engage directly with their audience through social media. In fact, social media has made it easy for people to react to marketing, to express their feelings about a relationship that has been formed through interaction with some message. Still, forming relationships isn't solely about social media. Remember the slight distinction.

Forming relationships happens with interactions. Building relationships happens with engagement and being able to build that relationship only occurs when the forming part happens in a positive manner—people get the kind of message they want in the format they want, when they want it, and where they want it.

Not Everyone Wants the Same Kind of Relationship

Remember that single person who reacted positively in our thought experiment? Clearly the marketing message that was broadcast at them resonated. It's what they wanted. Not so much with the other 99 people. That should lead us to believe that not everyone wants the same kind of relationship and perhaps not even at the same time. This is where content marketing really comes into play. It allows us to provide the same underlying message in a variety of formats—bullet point lists, numbered lists, videos, images, stories, etc.—that could appeal to a much broader swath of those 99.

Ultimately, the best kind of relationship is giving the user the message they really want, when they want it, where they want it, in the format they want it. It's about "customizing" the interaction as much as possible to produce the desired result—a positive reaction that forms the basis of a relationship, which, over time through repeated positive reactions and engagement, builds a long-lasting and deep relationship.

The Three Golden Keys to Building Better Relationships

1. Re-purpose content

Just because you created one piece of content doesn't mean it's going to appeal to your entire audience. You need to give it to them in different formats that match to the different kinds of ways that people want to interact with you. Some want narrative. Some want video. Some want bullets.

2. Cull the herd

If you don't have any semblance of a successful content strategy, you won't have the resources to engage with everyone one on one. Use social dashboards like SocialBro to identify the relative reach and "influence" of those people who want to engage. Target those that seem to have the most value (and that may not be those that have the most influence).

3. Don't rely just on personas

As marketers, we want to make things as neat as possible. That's why we love personas. They give us buckets into which to segment people so we can develop marketing programs more easily. Unfortunately, we don't form relationships with personas.

Relying on Just One Kind of Marketing Will Always Fail

Broadcast marketing isn't dead. Transactional marketing isn't dead. New forms of marketing, like reciprocity marketing, relationship marketing, influencer marketing, and more shouldn't replace the incumbents.

What marketers have to realize is that people want to connect with them and that happens through their messaging. That desire to connect is hardwired in all of our brains. We want relationships. But we don't always want the same relationship as someone else. One day, someone may want just information. The next? Responses to Facebook posts.

Marketers must stay nimble and agile in the way that they interact with their audiences to capitalize on what digital enables—one-to-one relationship building. That means using a variety of different marketing techniques simultaneously (growth hacking, social selling, traditional marketing) to form as many relationships as possible, through positive interactions, and maximize the opportunities to build deeper relationships over time through that one-on-one engagement.

Failing to do that is what will lead to ruin. Because in the new digital world, relationships are becoming the true differentiator, the one element of competitive success that can't be copied, re-created, or stolen.

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image of Jason Thibeault

Jason Thibeault is the senior director of marketing strategy for Limelight Networks and the co-author of the award-winning marketing thought-leadership book Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences People Want to Share.

LinkedIn: Jason Thibeault

Twitter: @_jasonthibeault