Today, the relationship between a brand and a consumer has gone from transactional to relational.

In that era of marketing before computers were personal and jeans were designer, there was a one-way relationship between brands and consumers. The consumer saw an advertisement on TV, in the newspaper, on a billboard or heard it on the radio, and they bought the product – or they didn’t.

Now, the relationship is two-way. Digital platforms have made it a more personal relationship because dialogue between consumer and business is immediate.

Business owners should know this. But do they know how to manage the two-way relationship, or just how valuable it is? Do you?

Brands should encourage customers to talk back to them, not just because “feedback” can help make the product better, but also because it can create an emotional connection, which has the potential to make a customer more than a good customer. It can make a customer a devoted customer, who will not only keep coming back, but will buy more product.

Today, the relationship between a brand and a consumer has gone from transactional to relational. “We understand connected customers will pay more money, but that is the output of connection,” says Alok R. Saboo, assistant professor of marketing at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. “There is something more fundamental than that going on. Humans inherently want to connect and these social networks are a means to that.

Believe it or not, before these things like email, Twitter and Facebook came along, customers found ways to connect with brands. “It’s an art now,” Saboo says. “Firms realized they needed to explore these two-way connections and how to use them.

The basis of this “personal relationship” between the consumer and company is similar to the relationship between family and friends. Think about that. You can make the parallel that it’s like a marriage or the dating environment.

Saboo says there are a few basic attributes you want from the other person to connect with them on an emotional level:

That sounds like a family, which is what the end game is for businesses locking down devoted customers in this digital era. They want you in the family, and that means you trust them and will do business more frequently.

The running dialogue is made much easier by social media platforms.

Does that mean the era of billboards and glossy brochures is long gone? Of course not. For one thing, those means of reaching customers never went away. Print is still valuable in the life cycle of business-to-customer.

In brands we trust

Amanda Bass heads the creative studio inside Aflac, the largest provider of supplemental insurance in the United States. Sure, print marketing leverages data collected by digital sources, but the experts in print product, like Aflac, can make an emotional connection with consumers.

Print is very much still a driver in taking a mere “customer” to a “fully connected customer” who trusts the brand.

“A lot of brands may have the data, but they are not putting the strategies in play to convert higher numbers of their audience because it does take some work,” Bass says. “Yes, you have to have the data, but you have to be able to test how those different images make your audience react. Just like in a digital world where you would do A/B testing on a banner on a website, you have the same power to do that in print; it’s just having the strategy in place and the right resources to make it happen.”

Print is valuable because it breaks through the clutter of a digital marketing world. Under Bass’s direction, Communicorp, a wholly owned subsidiary of Aflac, has received numerous awards in print, design, and innovation from American Advertising Awards (ADDY) and Premier Print Awards.

“Digital sometimes fails because there are so many communications going out through digital means that we’re distracted and not always paying attention,” Bass says. “Print disrupts that environment in a really personal way that we almost dismiss digital and almost don’t feel as personally connected to a message because it is just another email, it’s just another web banner and it doesn’t mean anything.”

Whereas if you receive a hand-written note or a direct mail piece that is customized to your needs, it may disrupt what you’re used to and make you pay attention a little bit more.

Aflac is skillful in customizing print to create a fully-connected customer because of the “look and feel” of its marketing material. “The importance of customization is that you have a message and you are trying to drive a different audience to act in a certain way than you should be able to leverage the data to customize the ‘creative’ that will be relevant and interesting to that audience,” Bass says.

“When we say customizing print, it is truly understanding your audience and leveraging what data you have to drive the creative, to drive the message,” Bass says. “You wouldn’t necessarily talk to a Millennial the same way you would talk to a Boomer.”

The advent of digital media caused a disruption in marketing several years ago making the assertion that print was no longer relevant. Aflac turned that notion on its head when it turned its consumer messaging to print.

It is an art

Marketers like Bass say that mass marketing is a totally different tactic than customizing your print to talk to your audience in a way that makes them connect.

“It’s a very different strategy,” she said. “With our policy holders we found that it is really important for them to have something tangible to serve as their product. We are delivering a promise to our policy holders that we will be there in their time of need.”

Aflac’s “Promise Packet” is a very important touchpoint in the life cycle of its customer’s journey. The Promise Packet has benefit details, but more than that, it’s an opportunity to make that connection after the initial purchase is made and to nurture that relationship over time with other touchpoints.

When the brand connects solidly with the customer, something special happens. The brand actually can make a mistake and not drive off the customer, Saboo says. The relationship is deep enough to survive a hiccup, a strain. That is what businesses mean when they “fully connect” and not just sell. Transactional to relational.

“Family gives us some extra buffer in the sense one or two mistakes in the relationship can be forgiven,” Saboo says. “The family is strong enough to withstand any temporary ups and downs. If the relationship is transactional and they don’t care about us in a more emotional way, then they will leave us.

“If you have a fight with family, they come back. To be able to establish this buffer is phenomenal for a firm.”

Just look at Apple.

“It’s amazing; people wait months for the new iPhone, and then they are happy standing in line even the next time around waiting for the newer iPhone,” Saboo says.

Here is the drawback. There is enough supply out there that firms have to constantly bring the charm. “This charm will go away if you don’t continue at it,” Saboo says. “It’s just like dating.”

5 ways to stay connected to your network

Is your emotional relationship with your family that much different than your emotional relationship with your customers? Think about that. If you want to have a fully-connected relationship with customers where they engage with your business over and over, and buy from you, it’s wise to treat them with the same respect as your family.

  1. Be happy with yourself – It’s the best place to start. As Michelle Maros says in “Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life,” your relationships outside will flounder if you don’t have unconditional love and compassion for yourself.
  2. Learn to listen and understand – Throughout your life you’ve probably dealt with this problem. Nobody listens, right? In “Pick The Brain,” George P.H. says we can connect with people simply by listening to them, hearing them out without interruption, and doing our best to understand where they’re coming from.
  3. Take the punch – You can’t always take things personally. We all have bad days. There are few things in life more selfless than taking a punch every now and then from people who are having a bad day. Sometimes they just need to vent.
  4. Follow-up – If you feel like you’ve hit it off with someone, professionally or personally, don’t wait for them to get in touch with you. If you believe there’s potential for a new relationship, make sure you follow up within 48 hours of the first meeting.
  5. Be positive – Would you rather spend time with someone who’s a downer or someone who’s upbeat? Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, says positive emotions help us “broaden and build” relationships.

Source: Entrepreneur, investor and online marketing guru John Rampton offers (Entrepreneur magazine)