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Why Relationship Marketing is Brand Marketing

We didn’t plan it this way. When we sat down with Optimove, the relationship marketing hub, to plan a leadership dinner based around a discussion of relationship marketing, we knew we’d invite senior marketers from a range of retail and customer-facing brands. Every acceptance came from a senior woman marketer, including two previous DMN Marketing Hall of Femme inductees and one of our Women to Watch.

This was not just somehow appropriate, coming a few weeks ahead of our annual Hall of Femme event. It also seemed to make for a refreshingly free-flowing, open, and transparent conversation among our guests, and Optimove director of new business Agathe Westad. A discussion, moreover, which ranged widely over the challenges facing modern marketers.

Editor-in-Chief Kim Davis had kicked off the conversation by asking which channels were most important for the brands attending, and the reply from Abby Spatz of Adama Partners set the tone for the evening — responsive and forthright, and raising many additional but closely related topics.

I’ve been doing this for a very long time — so long that I can’t claim to be digitally native, although digital channels are a huge part of what I do. I feel like the conversation about which channels we use converges with what we do all the time, because if we forget what we’re trying to accomplish, and fixate only on the channel by which we are trying to accomplish it then we’re not actually doing our jobs. I appreciate the question because it actually prompts that question. It all comes back to who you’re trying to talk to, what you’re trying to tell them, and why they should care. That’s the conversation that doesn’t happen enough.

Performance tracking and short-term goals become a “drug,” said Abby, and other agreed. Jessica Filipovic of Tiffany & Co., for example:

Working in direct-to-customer marketing, I would love to say our channels are the most important, but they’re not, and I totally agree with you. Something I’d like to get out of our conversation tonight is how to get the “why” into our messaging: why it’s important for a customer to open the email, or follow us on Instagram, or want to speak to a sales professional.

Stefanie Fertitta, managing fan engagement for the NBA, admitted to relying “really heavily” on email:

Mainly because it’s cheap and cheerful, but also because we’re segmented, similarly to a lot of you. Social is in a totally different department. App is in a totally different department. We have a lot of content, but the NBA is not always the first destination fans go to for that content. So what’s our value proposition, and how do we make it clear to fans that they should be coming to us for stats and stories, rather than ESPN or Bleacher Report.

Putting out a value proposition which draws consumers in and converts them into customers is one thing, but what about offering the kinds of deep brand experiences which turn them into long-term fans? And how important is it to consciously rank customers according to something like CLV? Agathe Westad responded:

The level of consumer expectations has definitely adjusted. It’s a responsibility for brands, especially direct-to-consumer, to understand what customers want. That’s a very big challenge, and it’s not about whether you’re being transactional or not, and more about listening at scale. We’ve gone from a world of corner stores where you knew exactly who your customers were, to a world where customers become faceless — where we have more data than we ever had before, but somehow understand our customers less than we ever did. 

There’s the challenge for brands today, as the table agreed: to find common ground for trust, affinity, even as one guest said “love.” But the relationship with customers, built on shared values, must be authentic, said Samantha Skey of SHE Media:

How much is the values element on our minds? It’s a strategy, it’s just mushy, it’s not hey it’s the right thing to do. I think a value system which a brand can show to the world, it’s not new, but it’s more and more important.

This is something we’re hearing more and more about, here at DMN: the connections between the experience economy, the importance of brand values, and the move from purely transactional relationships to something deeper, richer, and longer lasting. As one thought-leader in the space recently said, “Retention is the new growth.” Something to think about.

Quotes above were lightly edited. In addition to the brands mentioned, others in attendance were BareWeb, Inc, Barnes & Noble, Nicole Miller, and Refinery 29.

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