Got a favorite restaurant or coffee shop? How about a gift store? You have probably gotten to know the clerk at your local 7-Eleven if you go frequently. Just like the Norm character in the old "Cheers" sitcom, sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name.
These may not be the most convenient places for us to purchase goods, or even have the best selection or lowest prices. Yet we have ordained them as our brand of preference because we have developed a relationship with them.
That is exactly what modern marketing seeks to do: Build relationships with customers and prospects. And modern technology has given us the tools that we need in order to do so very efficiently.
Not too long ago, ours was mainly a one-way industry: We developed the most compelling messages we could, and hoped that the consumer responded. No matter how creative our story was, it was a one-way conversation: We talked and hoped that they listened. This is just how advertising worked.
Today's sophisticated marketer isn't executing a lot of advertising campaigns. Rather, they are developing marketing programs that build their brand and build relationships with their target audience. I usually get a quizzical look when I make that statement in public. A "What's the difference?" usually follows.
There's a huge difference. Advertising is a communications technique. So are public relations, social media, promotions, sponsorships, collision marketing, street marketing and so on. They're all functions of marketing. And they all (advertising included) should be used to execute marketing programs that help you develop ongoing relationships with your target.
That favorite restaurant of yours probably endeared itself to you by recognizing you when you came in, remembering your favorite drink, immediately addressing your concerns - basically being attentive to your needs. That's fairly simple when the customer is right in front of you. But, the attitude that relationships are key, coupled with modern technology, allows us to have thousands of personal relationships simultaneously, no matter what business we're in.
Let's illustrate the point by taking a look at an industry we all deal with. Grocery stores are some of the poorest marketers around. Sure, they do plenty of advertising, always trying to be top-of-mind, since we always have to eat. On Wednesday, their hot sheet will tell us all of the best deals in the store. They have a loyalty card. For increased loyalty, they'll make a donation to Reagan Elementary, if you remember to tell them you've got kids there.
And that's pretty much the extent of the marketing effort for an industry that could literally have the world eating out of the palm of its hand.
So, what is the opportunity for the smarter marketer? Collect e-mail addresses in exchange for the right to use the loyalty card, for starters. They're already tracking your purchases (that's why you get specific coupons at the end of your transaction), but they can't really use it without matching it to your contact data.
If you buy lots of raw protein products, why not invite you to cooking classes? See a lot of flour and butter in your account history, how about telling you about the cake-decorating seminar next week? Frequent fresh produce buyer? A simple message reminding you what day the peaches come in, and maybe a tip or two on how to keep them from spoiling too soon. As for the Reagan Elementary families, they're having pumpkin carving for you in October.
All the while, the store tracks your purchases, matches them up with other programs, and sends you special invitations and announcements.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce. There are recipe contests, an umbrella at the door when it's raining, wine pairings, nutrition tips, samplings, partnerships with food kitchens, barbecue contests, wellness classes - something to hook every single person in town! That is something more than just selling me three cans of tomato sauce for 99 cents once per month.
Marketing programs are more complicated and take more effort than advertising campaigns, but they're not necessarily more expensive. The result, however, is loyal customers that see value in your brand beyond your products and your prices.
As you prepare your plans for 2011, think less about advertising and more about building relationships through marketing programs. Make your brand as inviting as Norm's stool at the end of the bar.