Monday, February 21, 2011

7 Ways Not to Screw Up a Marketing Relationship

This time of year, I can’t resist pointing out marketing’s penchant for love-and-courtship metaphors. We woo and engage. We remain faithful to brand promises. We build relationships.

Let’s push the metaphor a step further. After a sale has been — dare I say it? — consummated, day-to-day demands can consume our attention, causing us to unwittingly take for granted those who matter most.

It can wreak havoc on any relationship, business or personal. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are a few tips for keeping customer relationships alive. (Who knows, maybe these tips will prove useful at home, too.)

1.Don’t shy from the expected: Some marketers fear that an appreciation strategy may be expected and appear contrived. Indeed it may, but that’s hardly an indictment. The greater risk is failing to do the expected, as anyone who served time in the doghouse after forgetting Valentine’s Day or an anniversary can attest.

2.Next, go for the unexpected: One day I received a note, seemingly out of the blue, from the president of a mail-order book club. A free book coupon was enclosed. “You’re a good customer,” the note said. “I wanted to say thanks.” Though I know a hidden-points trigger program when I see one, even I felt recognized and flattered. I also bought lots more books.

3.Make it personal: Perhaps ironically, today’s technology can make mailings of any volume feel personal. Take advantage of that! Address your customer by name. Shoot for a warm tone. And for once, resist the urge to blather about a commitment to excellence.

4.Remember the power of just “thank you.” When I left a surprise bonus check with a note of appreciation on an employee’s chair, he choked up — because of the note. Yeah, he’d seen the check. “But,” he sniffled, “the note…!”

5.Be picky: It rarely makes economic sense to send remembrances to all customers. But acknowledging the 20 percent who likely account for 80 percent of your success can pay out big.

6.Keep going: You can’t build and reward loyalty with infrequent contact. To remember hearing from you at all, most customers will need to hear from you often.

7.Give yourself reminders: Whether you set up a database-driven trigger system or just mark a calendar, showing due appreciation only happens when you make it part of your routine.

I suppose I should concede that marketing doesn’t limit itself to love metaphors. We also seem to like war metaphors. We aim at targets, use guerilla tactics and wage campaigns. Maybe we’ll talk about that on Veterans Day.

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