Do you really want to be friends? An argument against relationship marketing

“Like us on Facebook!”, “Follow us on Twitter!”, “Join our super-special VIP friendship group!”

Whether they are in the business of making coffees, selling clothes or providing car insurance, it seems as though every brand wants to have a relationship with its customers.  No longer satisfied with simply extracting money from transactions, businesses want to take their relationships with customers to ‘the next level’.  The logic is understandable: as consumers engage more with the brand, they grow to like it more, become more loyal and tell their friends etc.  Thus, the brand becomes ‘stronger’, the marketing department is vindicated and shareholders are happy.

This seemingly prevailing logic is not surprising.  Given the well documented expenses of generating new business, customer retention is a high priority for most firms.  Armed with new technologies, in particular social media, relationship propositions are cheaper and easier to deliver than ever before.  Consciously or not, you’ve probably encountered various relationship propositions numerous times today.

However, what happens when things go wrong and when the brand doesn’t deliver on the relationship as promised?  If a customer has agreed to enter into a social contract with the brand, they will inevitably feel more let down.  It’s this existing contract which makes transgressions feel worse.  A faulty product isn’t simply shrugged off, repaired or refunded; it’s considered a breach of trust and an insult.

Furthermore, these social contracts can make it harder for a brand to deliver hard news to consumers when they have to.  As a bank manager, would it be ‘easier’ to tell a customer they had defaulted on their loans if they were seen as a friend of the bank, or simply another account?  One can think of many more examples when ‘friendships’ between brands and consumers can make the normal course of business harder.

No matter the cause of the brand-consumer relationship failure, consumers often complain loudly, tell their friends and vent on social media.  Like gossip among friends, people are hurt and reputations are damaged, and often irreparably so.

Often by making relationship propositions, brands are offering a social contract that they can’t fulfill and are setting themselves up for more costly failure.  Repairing lost relationships is often more costly and than cutting and running from acquaintances – it’s why getting into an argument with a friend feels more emotionally charged, as opposed to one with a complete stranger.  Business is often easier when the transaction isn’t complicated by a complex social relationship.

Many brands should re-evaluate if they are willing to invest building relationships with consumers beyond business transactions.  Sometimes, simply offering a good service at a good price is enough to build a successful brand.

// Alec Schumann

About AnthonySchumann
Subtle Bravado // Creative Boutique. Ted Anthony - Vision Alec Schumann - Creative Follow @AnthonySchumann

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