Seeding the Conversation- How to Engage in Relationship Marketing

Throughout history, it’s been said that failure often teaches us more about ourselves than success. Mastermind Thomas Edison, once said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The uncompromisable Ms. Oprah Winfrey said “Failure is a great teacher, if you’re open to it, every mistake has a lesson to offer.”

But when it comes to branding, I say why wait to make a mistake, before you can learn from it? In branding, making avoidable mistakes can cost thousands and even millions of dollars.This is something I often have to explain to some of my clients who are seeking out their ideal audiences and creating the brand of their dreams. There is one school of thought that believes in waiting for one’s ideal audience to come to them and to their brand… they think that when people do need your product, the quality of your product will simply draw them to it, and compel them to make a purchase.

Well, chance would be a fine thing! But I have to tell you that this isn’t the way things generally pan out. Branding is about much more than making sure your lemonade is delicious, then setting up a stall on the sidewalk and then waiting for people to just come along and buy a glass. It’s about choosing the right day to set up your stall — because on a cold and windy day, a kind uncle may buy a glass, but the neighborhood kids aren’t going to be tempted by a cold glass of tart sweetness on such a day. It’s about getting the neighbors and the family and friends into the loop ahead of time. It’s about making sure that there is something a little more interesting about your lemonade stall than others around: maybe it’s grandma’s secret recipe ingredient, maybe it’s the reusable glasses instead of disposable ones that make a green statement…let’s extrapolate this lemonade metaphor to your brand.

Stand out. Attract. Grow. This is the correct progression for your brand.

There is a lot that goes into building up that brand — ways to help a brand stand out, attract customers and grow. Top companies such as Apple, Starbucks and Nike use such branding practices; but they are not the only people who do this. A lot of my clients are plucky young companies that are just starting out; looking to make a mark in what is essentially a really tough neighborhood! In this ‘neighborhood’ the ‘wait and watch’ attitude during the brand’s infancy can be particularly harmful. Gaining visibility, honing your message — these are all vital to steering your brand in the right direction. In other words, that lemonade won’t sell itself!

So, when my clients ask me, how will my customers seek me out, I tell them rather categorically customers will not do this. Because they don’t need to! You have to seek them out! You have to bring together purpose, vision, customer service, passion, operational excellence and strategy to deliver remarkable customer experiences; but the timing is vital too. Remember your ideal audience is not waiting to hear from you. Right now, they might not be interested in having any kind of conversation with you because right now they don’t even want what you’re offering. Your high-quality product, seamless service or money saving device is irrelevant to their reality right now. If your would-be customer is not ready to buy, they are not listening to you!

As I explain to my clients, ideally you need to seek out and initiate a relationship with your customers up to three years before they may want your service or product. In other words, before they even think of buying from you, they need to know you, they need to be familiar with you and feel connected to you. When you’ve spent time and effort in creating this connection with your would-be buyers before they even need you, by the time they do need what you offer, you’ll be the first name that comes to their mind.

Seed the conversation, start relationship marketing.

Here’s something that will help create a mental map of your ideal audience in your mind: there is a 3% rule that divides your market into two basic groups. If a triangle represents your market, the top 10% of the triangle consists of your buyers. The remaining 90% consists of people who don’t need your service or product right now and anything you tell them will fall on deaf years. So there is that top 10% … the people who need what you’re selling and are willing to put their hands into their pockets to buy. Within this 10% there are 3% who are actual, active buyers. They have a requirement. They are looking for changes and they are literally shopping for solutions for their specific needs.

The remaining 7% of your ideal audience is your potential buyer. They are the fence sitters. They are toying with the idea of change. In fact, they probably acknowledge that there is a need for change and given the chance they will do what is needed to take that logical next step. So, what about the remaining 90%? These are the people you need to start a relationship with.

The ProVision IT story about the “Hot Pockets” email newsletter.

ProVision is a major IT staffing firm in Canada. According to CEO Bob Spiers, the company’s vision was to become the first thing that companies thought of, when they needed to hire; to be the first recourse of the professional looking for a job. To be able to do this, proper market positioning for the ProVision brand was vital. The company devised the Hot Pockets email campaign to start a conversation; to engage with and start a relationship with those 90% of their market. Yes, that 90% who isn’t interested in buying from you; who isn’t even listening to you! The Hot Pockets email campaign was about starting a conversation with them. The email wasn’t telling them about using their services at that point; merely offering useful, relevant information that their target audience found interesting. The content of the newsletter centered around IT jobs, hiring trends and the fluctuations within that space.

One particularly relevant and successful email issue was the March 2014 issue that spoke about a Hiring Freeze; detailing how extreme weather was impacting hiring processes, causing illnesses and other disruptions. This started a conversation around the issue because it was relevant and timely; because it was a particularly severe winter that everyone was reeling under. That issue of Hot Pockets experienced record click-through rates.

But that isn’t even what I am trying to get at here. The point of telling you about the Hot Pockets case study is to demonstrate to you the importance of building relationships with your ideal audience before they even need you. What ProVision was able to accomplish with their Hot Pockets newsletter is to become familiar, trustworthy, useful to their potential customers. These were the people, who, when they were ready to buy, already knew about ProVision. They already had a relationship; they already trusted them to know what they were talking about!

Relationship Marketing — start early!

So, this is what I tell my clients — they have to start having conversations with their ideal audience up to three years before they envisage being needed by that ideal audience. Have them know you already, so when they have a need to buy, they already have you in mind. Look around your organization — what are your strengths and talents? How can you engage with your audience in a way that they will find relevant and useful? Find various ways to do this. Technology places so many affordable and easy ways at your disposal… ways to reach out and stay in touch. You can be inventive, play to your strengths.

Maybe you have someone in your team with a great social media following. Perhaps there is a talented meme maker in there or someone who writes really well. You could create a blog, create an old-style newsletter or even write a book! You can ask one or two whom the camera loves, to create podcasts or vlogs. Good public speakers can represent your brand at seminars or similar industry related events. If there are graphic designers, photographers or even hobby artists on your team, they could create art, illustrations, infographics and other interesting visual material that can be shareable; which may even become viral. This way, people know your name, they know what you do. They know a little bit about your story, and what you stand for.So when the time comes to buy, they already have a goodish idea about you. So that is social media doing your relationship marketing on the cheap right there!

Create long-term relationships; don’t aim for a one-night stand!

So, here is your pen and paper, or keyboard, task. Right now, make a list of the ways in which you can engage with that elusive 90% of your market. What are their interests? What is relevant, or useful or exciting for them? What is going to grab their attention? Make a list: from pop culture, movies, music or actual industry related stuff.

Now look around your organization and identify team members who would be the right people to get the ball rolling. Remember, individuals engaging with your ideal audience on a personal level, is much more valuable than a company talking at them. Don’t worry about being clever or refined or sophisticated. Go with your gut and think about how you can be relevant to your non-buying audience. Opportunities to engage the Lower 90 Percent are endless. With a little creativity and experimentation, you can develop marketing programs that build relationships three years before your services are needed and create a First Call Advantage.

I’ll just leave you with one last thought: Tom Fishburne’s is an oft quoted phrase, but it bears repetition: the best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing. When you’re reaching out to the 90% it’s not about marketing, it’s about relationships. That 90% may not want to buy right now, but they can still get to know your brand. Like I said, they’ll buy when they are ready. You make sure your brand is already relevant to them.

Remember, build relationships to build a brand. And always, love what you do and love how you do it.

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