Storytelling’ and Creating a ‘Relationship’ are a Load of Marketing Codswallop


Do we really believe that our customer’s want to have a ‘relationship’ with us?

I’ve spent a lot of time in my career meeting actual customers face-to-face and talking to them. It always strikes me that their world is a little more prosaic and mundane than we marketers envisage while talking about creativity or storytelling.

If you could get inside the head of any CEO or board member at any company I have worked for, I’m pretty sure you’d find that as far as they’re concerned, it’s not all about the big idea, the creativity or the storytelling. It’s almost always about the money. I always remember a former CEO boss of mine telling me that working on the marketing side of the business was the only interesting bit that dragged his mind away from the constant daily hassles of being CEO – and this was a very profitable business.

I was talking to a newish member of the marketing team recently, trying to explain to them that it was okay to communicate directly with customers either on the phone or by email, and that it was our job as marketers to talk directly to customers.

It got me to thinking that marketing thought of as a relationship is quite different from marketing deemed as a creative endeavour with creativity, storytelling and what have you. Sustaining a real relationship requires doing real things. Updating a Facebook post does not constitute a ‘relationship’ with our customers. Even today, I would imagine that most would-be suitors have to bring real flowers, instead of instant messaging an Instagram photo of a bunch of flowers.

This should not mean that we should be under an illusion that all our customers really and truly want a ‘relationship’ with us. Or that they want to interact with our brands. That way lies folly. Indeed, it is one of the consistent paradoxes we face as marketers: building our brands is essential to our career, and central to many of our lives. But our customers are too busy trying to get the kids to school, keep the boss happy, pay the bills and surf the Mail Online or Facebook to have time to think about a relationship with the brand.

It is no secret that word-of-mouth marketing is the best way of generating business and creating brand loyalty. We marketers go to a lot of trouble and expense struggling to get our customers attention, but we appear to forget that building a relationship with the sort of customers who could provide word-of-mouth marketing is a fundamental priority.

The common golden thread is that marketing is not a functional process for extracting money from people: our brands should only exist if we continue to create value. So direct communications should be treated as another opportunity to create value – particularly for real loyalists.

And, ideally, keeping it real, as in writing a letter. Yes, a real physical letter written on actual paper minus the corporate speak, not an email. You might think it is quaint but do not be fooled. It is the one guaranteed way I have found to build a real fan, not a fake like.


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