Let’s get on a first-name basis, i.e. what relationship marketing is all about

September 15 2022

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In any company, the customer is the boss. It is them that all internal company processes should be tuned to, because they are the ones who bring money into the company. Relationship marketing, examples of its application and lessons learned from organisations that have implemented this approach clearly show that the key to success and increased sales is to personalise the offering, personalise the marketing message and build a long-term relationship with the customer. What does this mean and how to approach it?

What is relationship marketing?

If you want to understand what relationship marketing is, you need to understand its essence. I’ve coined a quote for the occasion: “Do you want to know why, as CEO of the company, I built myself such a large office at home? Because I wanted my children, when they come asking for an increase in their pocket money, to feel intimidated and give up on their intention”. Contrary to what one might think, it is not just a strange analogy. This is how business used to be done, and physical signs of social and business status only emphasised a person’s prestige and importance.

Today it is done differently. Today, the distance between the company and the customer must be shortened. Relationship marketing is a marketing strategy that involves building valuable relationships with customers to ensure their long-term satisfaction and to create brand loyalty. It is just like interpersonal relationships. By treating others like pawns in your game, you will not gain their trust, you will not build relationships. Let us remember a very important thing. According to a well-known aphorism, people may not remember what you did (or didn’t do) for them, but they will remember how they felt at the time.

Relationship marketing is the answer to this problem. According to this strategy (we will come back to this word in a moment), every customer should be treated and served properly. It is not a matter of exaggerated emphases. It is about simple respect and consumer empathy. This is where the concept of touchpoints, or points of contact between the customer and the brand, comes in. The idea is to make each such point (website, helpline, physical point of sale, etc.) a place where the customer feels comfortable. You can read more about what touchpoints are in my article for “Gazeta MŚP” (page 36).

Is relationship marketing a strategy?

And here we come to a perhaps controversial thesis. Well, for me, relationship marketing should not be a strategy, but part of the mission of any company. If we want the other person to treat us humanely, why do we think our company has the right to treat the customer differently? This is absurd, it should be exactly the same. And business is maturing to understand it.

Let us translate it into the language of practice: it is not a matter of saying the customer is right every time, even when they are clearly not and are trying to play us. Nor is it about offering exaggerated discounts or artificially lowering prices. It’s about the core, i.e. about connections. Efficiently answering product-related questions, clarifying doubts, accepting complaints when, out of spite, the product decides to break down a few days after the guarantee period expired… These are real examples of what can be done to help.

Relationship marketing is not always about selling. This comes with time, when the customer trusts you. It’s about building a paradigm where the customer, given a choice of very similar products, will buy from you rather than the other company. This, in turn, requires a long-term investment and long-term thinking about the company as a brand. Here, not only an effective marketing strategy is required, but above all solid branding. Defining the company’s vision and mission and the means by which they are achieved.

What does relationship marketing offer?

I have already partly answered that. Consumer loyalty is a key issue, but there are other benefits as well:

  • easier creation of brand awareness among other potential customers
  • naturally emerging whisper marketing
  • your company will become the first-choice destination in the purchasing process
  • a potential increase in the value of the shopping basket (loyal customers trust the company and are willing to risk buying unfamiliar products)
  • emergence of a dialogue between the brand and the customer and the resulting honest feedback about products, services and the level of consumer relations
  • easier to get forgiveness for any slip-ups, cheaper handling of image crises, less damage and quicker return to status quo

Interestingly, there is a good chance that all these factors will emerge among a large number of people at the same time. This is confirmed not only by theory, but above all by practice. If a customer discovers a new company and its interesting product, there is a good chance that they will share this discovery with family and friends. From there, it is only a step away from whisper marketing, one of the most effective types of such activities. It can be stimulated artificially, but this will never be as effective as when it occurs naturally.

Once in place, the company will start to be trusted by more people. This, in turn, will increase the chances of a particular product being sought first from you. Since the customer has convinced themselves that the product is good and at a good price, they will also want to make their next purchase here. Whether this will happen depends on a mass of other factors (price, actual quality, knowledge of market alternatives), but the first and most important step has already been taken. “Point zero”, as I call it, will be selected, i.e. the first place for purchase searches. And this is potentially a huge competitive advantage.

Bots can be really useful but it’s not what customer relationship is all about

Relationship marketing tools

The opposite of relationship marketing is transactional marketing, based on the simple “buy-sell” principle. There, the following relationship is communicated: advantage + product price = worth buying. Easy-peasy. Unfortunately, relationship marketing requires something more than that. That something is an individual approach to the client. Even when the marketing message is oriented towards masses and aimed at many potential stakeholders. How is this even possible? A good example is a product niche, such as lovers of a less popular video game genre or fishing enthusiasts, who, after all, we do not meet on every street corner. Here the individual recipient paradoxically becomes the collective. It is easier to reach a group of people if they identify with the same values on some level. They then become a group made up of similar individuals, and this facilitates the construction of the marketing message.

Regardless of “how to do that”, there are certain things that need to be addressed. Instruments of relationship marketing include:

  • customer database to identify and reach a specific person with a specific, personalised message
  • personalised customer service
  • personalised marketing messages
  • personalised commercial offering
  • multi-channel marketing communication
  • creative and valuable content, which above all has an educational aspect and inspires creative use of the product
  • benefits for regular customers (discounts, content available only to them, etc.).

Some key notes here: First of all lots of personalisation in the above list. For a good reason – one of the most important aspects of the customer relationship is personalised service. And this can be seen in virtually every industry. Personalisation is not a buzzword, it is a market necessity.

Secondly – content. Writing for the sake of writing doesn’t change anything. Above all, content should be effective and therefore written with the customer in mind. It should answer their questions, solve their problems, be part of their purchase path. An important and substantive part. Here, having a solid content strategy and designing a publication calendar is essential.

The problem, however, is a certain mental barrier. Well, a significant number of companies still apply restrictions on access to content (so-called gated content). The situation with COVID-19 showed that a large proportion of customers no longer want to pay for access to content. Even symbolically, in the form of leaving their email address or using the Pay with a Tweet mechanism. People pay for streaming subscriptions, but not for content, of which there is a whole lot everywhere anyway. They want to acquire knowledge, not give their details. I therefore recommend that content restrictions, if already applied, should be really well thought out and justified. If you are already blocking access to content then make sure it is worth it. In other words – really useful for the customer.

How to do this in practice?

Make sure the customer definitely wants to see the marketing message or paid advertisement in question. In other words – that they are really looking for what you are offering. The message should always follow the audience, and you need to look for customers where they actually are, not where you think they should be.

Also ask yourself why would a customer be interested in this particular marketing message? Is there something in it that meets their needs? That addresses specific challenges?

Thirdly, make sure the customer is likely to be interested in the product. Is it innovative enough, interesting enough, does it have real value? Don’t play with price, use the argument of real value for the customer. You naturally need to highlight this the right way, and this is where copywriting comes in handy. Remember, too, that not everything is innovation. This is the subject of my article on what the true nature of innovation is.

Also collect feedback from the market. Listen carefully to customers. What would they like to see in your brand’s operations? What do they expect from it? What is your brand associated with, what are the first, natural associations? What would they like you to write about on the blog, in e-books? What would they like to see in video content? What would they like to hear about in podcasts? Try to keep your brand communication channels (not just social media!) open and regularly collect and analyse feedback.

Relationship marketing tools are only as effective as the strategy you employ. It’s all about knowledge to start with and then consistency in applying the approach.

Relationship marketing – examples of application

Specific applications continued. Here are two videos showing what relationship marketing can be in practical terms. At least in terms of the marketing message itself.

This is the Tyskie beer campaign. Brilliant because it embodies everything that relationship marketing and customer relationship building is all about. It is partnership marketing, based on the image of the company, which gives you a tool to shorten the path of building interpersonal relationships. That tool is naturally beer. Let’s take a look:

What is striking from the first scene is the non-obviousness. In what other situation would a guy who looks like a biker befriend a corporate employee? In what other situation does the elder get along with the young? A deaf woman with a non-disabled man? These are stereotypes, sure, but that’s what advertising is all about. About their refutation. Shortening the distance. Building customer relations. Plus it refers to the name of the beer cleverly. It is simple and therefore brilliant. The best can be a challenge, but it is never complicated.

And here is a campaign by Domino’s. Very risky and going against what we traditionally know about marketing. It should be positive and shout about the value for the customer. This is a very shallow and outdated approach. There is a newer approach (and relationship marketing is part of it), but Domino’s abandoned even that.

What the company did as part of a campaign called Pizza Turnaround was showcase, among other things, customer feedback from focus groups. It was shocking that the company brought to light opinions such as “the crust tastes like cardboard” or “pizza is no rocket science. It’s dough, cheese, ketchup and fresh ingredients. And yet you messed it up”. Making such a radical customer position public and incorporating it into a marketing campaign goes against everything that is understood as traditional marketing. It is the crisis PR team that is responsible for handling such situations, not the marketing team, which should be selling.

And yet, it worked. Why is that? Because with this risky step, the company showed that it is not afraid of anything and listens to its customers. It goes back to the roots, to quality. And takes criticism to heart. Its relationship with customers is so good today that 70% of pizza orders come from digital channels. That is, customers either buy blind, without being able to check the quality (even a glimpse of the real pizza) or they trust the company and come back for more of what they have already eaten. Looking at the Pizza Turnaround results, the latter is more likely to apply here.


Relationship marketing is an excellent and important part of building a strong brand. It cannot be the starting point, because what matters here is the brand strategy, including vision, mission, values and products. Above all, it is how the company wants to respond to customer demand. How it wants to communicate and how it wants to retain customers is another matter. And this is what relationship marketing does.

Relationship marketing tools will not only help you build trust. They will generate more sales and, in the long run, help you maintain them. If you need support in the areas mentioned above, please contact me, I will be happy to help.

O Autorze

Jarosław Ścislak

Pracowałem nad brandingiem, rebrandingiem, skalowaniem biznesu i strategiami contentowymi dla wielu firm. Tworzyłem strategie marketingowe, contentowe, budowałem od zera działy marketingu, szkoliłem juniorów. Mogę skutecznie pomóc. Poprzez tworzenie kluczowych procesów i integrację ich w jeden ekosystem sprawię, że Twoja firma będzie pracowała dla Ciebie, a nie na odwrót. Część usług które widzisz w mojej ofercie (np. rozwój sklepów e-commerce w opozycji do platform e-commerce) wprowadziłem na rynek jako pierwszy w Polsce.