Collaborative marketing: building meaningful relationships between brands and people

How do you build a meaningful relationship between a brand and a consumer? Rebekah Mackay Miller, MD of trnd UK, offers tips on adopting a collaborative approach to marketing.

Does anyone really want a relationship with a brand? According to Edelman’s brand share study, the answer is yes: 87% of people want “meaningful relationships” with brands. (They are mostly disappointed.)

The important word here, of course, is ‘meaningful’. How do you build a meaningful relationship between a brand and a consumer?

A good place to start is probably to ditch the word consumer. Instead of seeing people as passively consuming your products, start thinking about how you can work effectively with them to create stuff that they really want. Get them involved with the brand, so they feel a real connection to it. Not a like on a Facebook page, but a real feeling of involvement with and investment in the brand.

Collaborative marketing is the idea of putting people (rather than products) centre stage in your marketing and development plans. It takes a big shift in thinking for many companies. But it pays big results, too.

There’s nothing like launching a product knowing that it’s going to fly off the shelves. If you’ve collaborated ahead of launch with not just the people who’ll buy it, but those who influence them to buy it, then you’re a long way towards guaranteeing success.

But collaboration requires openness from a brand, and the willingness to listen and learn. If you ask for people’s feedback, you should be prepared to act on it. It could open up new product ideas, that you could co-create with the people who suggested them, and who will influence their sales. Or you could involve people in an early launch of a product, to give them a sneak preview, behind the scenes information, or a product to test and share with their friends. (If there’s something not quite right with that product, hearing about it from the group of people you hope will buy it, before it’s gone through hard launch, could save you from making bad, very expensive decisions.)

Then, when you’re ready to launch, you’ll have an army of real people who already know and love your product, who will help you spread the word and generate the much sought after awareness once it hits the shelves

There’s no marketing that’s more effective than people talking to each other about great product experiences. We love to share good stuff we find. It’s a natural human behaviour. Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report tells us that 92% of people trust recommendations over any other form of advertising. So for a brand to build a relationship with people that results in genuine advocacy, where real people talk about their experience with a brand – and actively encourage their friends and networks to buy from that brand – is the holy grail of marketing. But it is achievable.

Technology means you can scale the process of building those relationships, seeding conversations, and gathering insight. Social media might be great for people who want to share information about your brand, but it isn’t necessarily the place where the brand can build any kind of meaningful relationships with people. You need a community of influencers, interested in your brand, who actively want to connect with you. And according to a recent Forrester study, consumers want this too, and are far more likely to engage via a branded platform than any social media site.

But technology can only go so far in building a relationship. You still need to add a human touch, to make people feel part of something. That might be as simple as sending products to try in their own home, or interesting titbits and insider information they can share with friends. By offering up such fodder and putting them in the know, you give something valuable to share with friends – what could be more human than that?

And while technology can help you sort and prioritise the feedback data of thousands of people, you still need humans to listen, respond to questions, select the great ideas that you can act on, and make genuine connections with the people who’ll influence your success.

Amazing things happen when people work together. The brands that collaborate with their consumers will be those who really do make those meaningful relationships happen. It will be these brands who thrive and survive in the brave new era of marketing.

First published 9 June 2015 on Netimperative

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