Customers aren’t commodities, they’re friends

James Lawrence, co-founder, Rocket
By James Lawrence, co-founder, Rocket | 3 October 2019
James Lawrence - Supplied

Years ago, we came across a list of age-old rules of friendship. At the time, we jokingly said the rules should apply to the way that businesses run their email marketing campaigns, given the poor quality of so many of the emails we were receiving in our inboxes.

What began as a throwaway line led to formalising these rules as a framework for effective marketing communication. Today, we encourage clients to reference the following rules when building out their own nurture strategies. These rules apply equally to channels and activities like email, content, social, messaging and frontline sales.

Friends Show Respect
Most marketers we encounter wish they had a larger and better organised customer database. If you are lucky enough to work in a business with this kind of setup, we urge you to respect your community’s data. Treat customer data as you would want your data treated; keep it secure, update it when customers change subscription preferences and never redistribute without permission. Don’t mismanage it by sending out messaging at an inappropriate frequency or offering nothing of value in the messages you do send. Put yourself in your recipients’ shoes at every turn. Are you nurturing them in a way you would want to be nurtured? Are you showing your community the respect they deserve?

Friends Give
Giving is more important than taking. Sure, you can send all kinds of bulk emails, make all kinds of phone calls and send messages asking people to buy your product. But eventually, members of your community will start switching off if you’re not giving back anything of value. Friendship is a two-way street, and the relationship between your business and your community should be too. Give members of your community genuine bits of value, and don’t expect a dollar in return every time you send an email or post something online. Over time, your generosity will be repaid with a loyal community that has a positive connection to your brand. This loyalty will have a long-term commercial value to you.

Friends Listen
In friendship, listening is more important than talking. It’s the same with your community. Listen to them. If they tell you something about your business you don’t like, take note. Be open-minded and actually want to receive confirmation about what is working, as well as where you need to improve. Running detailed surveys as well as a regular Net Promotor Score (NPS) can be great ways to receive and listen to the sentiment of your community. You want to be ready to say thank you when you receive positive feedback and, conversely, repair the relationship when your community is upset.

Friends Don’t Hide from Tough Conversations
The most meaningful relationships aren’t those without any problems, but typically those that experience ups and downs and still last. To build these lasting friendships, both parties involved need to be transparent about problems. In your business, you might have to let people down, or they might need to tell you a hard truth. In such instances, be transparent about mistakes you make and accept constructive feedback when it is deserved.

Years ago, in a previous business, the content management system powering thousands of our client websites had a catastrophic failure, resulting in a twenty-four-hour outage. Our Customer Success Manager emailed our client database throughout and was completely transparent with them at every turn. He explained what was happening and what we were doing to get things back online. He explained that their data was safe and we would eventually be up and running, but that the timeframes initially were unknown. We feared this could be a business-ending disaster, but we barely lost a single client. We didn’t get a single negative review about the event. Had we shied away from those tough conversations, we believe we would have lost significant revenue and patronage, but our transparency paid off. If you aren’t transparent when something goes wrong, you’ll likely have more of an issue when a cover-up is discovered.

Friends Respect Difference
Just as different friends have different levels of commitment, different people in a community do too. Don’t treat all members of your community the same. Those with the greatest commitment, your most loyal customers, should receive different treatment than a wider group of less committed prospects. With a segmented database, you can reach different parts of your community with different messaging and frequency.

Friends Are Honest
Honesty and sincerity are key in any friendship. If you use trickery or manipulation, the friendship is not going to last. The same applies to how you should treat your community. Be true to who you are as a brand and who you are not. Facebook, one of the biggest companies in history, lost huge amounts of business and goodwill when Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of users in Facebook for political purposes. This was not how Facebook users thought their data was being used, and the initial response from Facebook was underwhelming. Millions of users in the Facebook community felt they hadn’t been dealt with in an honest way, and the fallout from the scandal caused massive damage, financially and reputationally, to the brand.

Friends Aren’t Self-Serving
Business leaders can sometimes be short-term thinkers, and the result is marketers feeling pressure from management to generate short-term sales. The result can be hardline promotional messaging going out to a community segment that simply isn’t ready to buy. This kind of messaging will not support the bigger vision of developing a relationship with the community.
By applying the rules of friendship to how our clients perceive and treat their community, they not only build a loyal group of brand evangelists, but also lay the foundation for long-term profitable growth in their business.

James Lawrence, is author of Amazon’s best seller new book Smarter Marketer, and co-founder of Sydney digital marketing agency Rocket.

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