Over the past 17 years I have worked with some of the best people, minds, and companies in the world. I have honed my sales skills and acquired insightful and effective marketing skills along the way. I started as an entry level sales and marketing associate and worked my way to various positions in senior management. Climbing this ladder has left me with the scars from numerous mistakes and fond memories of the many rewarding successes. I look at the failures as the badges and the victories as the awards.
I would like to share some lessons and strategies I have learned along the way. Successful companies, those that market and sell most efficiently and profitably, invest in developing meaningful relationships with their customers. This requires a commitment from senior management and all divisions, departments, and teams within the company. Meaningful customer relationships are the backbone on which all other strategies and tactics can be built. Any company, new or well established, that does not invest in a customer focused infrastructure will fail to develop meaningful relationships and more importantly, they will eventually experience depreciation in their brand’s equity or, for new companies, they will not establish the trust that you need to launch a true brand. Neglect your relationship with the customer and you run the risk of becoming obsolete, your employees experience low company moral, and you watch earnings decrease, most often very rapidly. I have witnessed this first hand and it is a lesson you prefer to learn through education, not experience.
In 1998 I was hired to work on the management team that took over operations for the well known publishing company Golden Books. These are the famous children’s story books with that unique golf spine. Mothers in the 60’s and 70’s made this brand one of the most recognized in the world by purchasing them at the checkout counter in grocery stores. They later became available in every book store, mass merchandiser and club store. Up until the late 90’s Golden Books was a brand recognized and thought of as much as Hallmark.
So why did Golden Books need help from this new management team? The relationship between the company and their most important customer, mom, had deteriorated to a very critical point for the brand. The meaningful relationship the brand had with mothers across the country was neglected for far to long and was in resuscitation. The brand equity, while still in the minds of many mothers, was at a tipping point. There was fear that it was becoming irrelevant and approaching the point where it might become obsolete. In the end we were able to salvage the brand and reposition the company in the eyes of moms but we were never able to reignite the passion and relevance the brand once had with its core customer. The major lesson learned was that it is much easier to build a brand and maintain the customer relationship than it is to resurrect a dead or failing relationship.
If you are a business owner you need to ask yourself this question, “Do the products or services that I am selling have a meaningful relationship with my core and perspective customers? Do my core and perspective customers trust me?” Enduring products and brands are driven by consistent and meaningful engagement with their customers. A customer relationship is no different than friendship, marriage, or a partnership. If you are not consistent in your efforts to maintain your meaningful relationship, it’s just a matter of time before the relationship suffers.
Simply put, companies need to invest in relationship building with their core and perspective clients. The advent of social media brings new opportunity to develop and influence these meaningful relationships and should be included in the overall plan for the business. Right now you are experiencing some half hearted efforts in the social media arena, but keep an eye on the big brands; I guarantee most of them are already starting to recognize the power of social media marketing. Short term commitments will eventually fail. Those that invest the time, effort and resources will succeed. We are in the learning stages now and the bean counters want a measurable ROI that is just not available yet, at least not in the form of charts and graphs. Score carding social media investments can be tricky. Senior management needs to recognize that relationships are not developed overnight and trust, the most important part of a meaningful relationship, takes time to build. There are many levels of trust too. I can trust that you won’t light a fire in the movie theater but isn’t that a different trust than leaving my children with you? Social media will require commitment and patience. You can measure the results by watching shifts in the way the customer is engaging with your brand(s). It won’t just be measured by numbers on a spreadsheet.
So don’t waste anymore time. Make a commitment to establish, maintain and or enhance your relationship with your customers and clients, it’s the only way to build an enduring brand and remember, it’s all about the brand!