Build Better Business Relationships

In our book Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences People Want to Share, Kirby Wadsworth and I posited that all marketing is really about relationships. Let’s pretend for a moment, that we hit the nail on the head. With that said, though, a question remains: “how do you develop deep, lasting relationships with people when you are an organization?” Especially through digital technologies that allow organizations to act like people? Thankfully, we have that covered as well. We propose that there are nine characteristics every deep and meaningful relationship has. What we’ve done is translate those characteristics into how organizations must operate digitally to capitalize on them and form the kinds of relationships that beget life-long customers and advocates.

  • Need—if there isn’t a need, there isn’t a relationship. It may seem self-serving, but ultimately relationships are. They provide us something. It may be emotional support. It may be social standing. Something. In the digital world, this is especially important. Most organizations want to form relationships with people without satisfying this basic expectation. Organizations have to be clear about what they are giving to their audience members. Perhaps one day it’s a laugh on Facebook. Another day it might be a case study in a blog post. Different people want different things. Thankfully with all the data (explained below) organizations have a good chance of starting to figure out what people really want from them…and when they want it.
  • History—relationships without history are casual. They are flimsy. They are shallow. Deep and meaningful relationships, whether they are positive or negative, are formed over time and through meeting the mutual needs of each party in the relationship. Thankfully, in digital, history is easy to establish. We are tracking and retaining a minutiae of data about online activities, so much so that we are getting to the point where we can predict and recommend based on what we know. Organizations need to use this data, to mine it, in order to create the kind of history with online audience members that will provide an opportunity for one-on-one engagement.
  • Curation—part of the reason we have relationships with people is they have something we need. We covered that, right? Maybe it’s a record collection. Maybe it’s certain skills with wrenches and pliers. Maybe it’s just a set of deep knowledge about a specific subject. But it’s not just that they have something we need, they have a collection of what we need. When relationships are strong, curation means we don’t have to visit lots of different people to get what we need. We go “to the source.” The same goes for digital. Amazon does a fantastic job of curating products for us. We don’t have to visit lots of different websites. And that (along with their ability to generate history) is why so many people have formed a relationship with the e-commerce giant.
  • Faces—there’s a lot of scientific data that points to the fact that faces play an intrinsic role in our ability to form relationships. They provide a reference point for establishing authenticity and credibility (more on that later). Surprisingly in the digital world, it’s not hard to draw on this powerful relationship characteristic. Through video, we can mimic face-to-face interaction thereby helping to deepen the relationship. Organizations, regardless of intent or purpose, must use video more often if they hope to deepen the relationships they have with their online audiences.
  • Stories—stories are the oldest forms of communication. It’s how we told our fellow humans that there was a lion in the bushes and a better place to live over the next set of hills. Without stories, relationships have little meat on them (shared stories help to cement people together even more). The problem is that most businesses don’t tell stories. They just talk about their capabilities and their products. What they have to do is tell stories about the challenges their customers and prospects face. By doing so, people have a chance to connect with a character or an idea that does not come across as patently sales-focused.
  • Authenticity—we can instinctively tell when someone is lying to us. Something just doesn’t “feel” right. And we don’t like to deal with liars. Perhaps it’s why we hate salespeople so much (especially at car dealerships). The same goes for the online world. Too many organizations hide behind the shiny veneer of “digital” keeping the real world from interacting with its employees. That doesn’t do anything for establishing authenticity. Look at what Dell has done with their social media outreach. They have empowered over 10,000 Dell workers to speak on the company’s behalf. When you are tweeting with someone from Dell, you won’t be tweeting with someone named “Joe Dell” (although if you are lucky, it could be Michael Dell…).
  • Consistency—what happens when our friends and family become inconsistent? One day they behave one way, another day something opposite. We get confused. And that confusion begins to undermine the relationship. We call them less; we interact with them less, because we just don’t understand what version of their personality we will get next. The same goes for digital. We live in a multi-touchpoint world now. Consumers are increasingly engaging with organizations not only on different devices but through different channels. Social networks. Email. Phone. Blogs. Chat. Organizations must present a consistent personality and engagement through these different channels or they risk becoming that crazy uncle we all seem to have.
  • Credibility—when we forge relationships that are based on a tangible need (i.e., “I need to find a mechanic”), we do so because the other person knows something we don’t. They are the experts. Of course, in our run-of-the-mill lives that expertise can take a lot of forms like knowing all the Beatle songs by heart (great for “phone a friend” in Who Wants to be a Millionaire). It’s no different in the digital world. Organizations need to present their credibility right away. For example, it should be clear on the website what the company does. But it should also be clear in one-on-one engagement. People want to know that the person they are tweeting or Facebooking with is capable of answering their questions.
  • Helpfulness—we all have (or have had) friends that just take and take and take. Everything from your gum to your last dollar. But the instant you need something, they’ve got empty hands and pockets. Relationships that aren’t helpful in some way, from emotional support to power tools, don’t last long (they are more acquaintances than anything else). And the same goes for the digital world. People don’t want to be sold to 24/7/365. They want to be helped. The best thing an organization can do is to develop content that helps their customers and prospects. As Jay Baer said in his book Youtility, “You can sell something to someone and make them a customer today; you can help them and make them a customer for life.”

What are you doing to deepen your relationships with your online audiences? How are you translating the relationship characteristics we demonstrate in real life to the digital world?

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

Jason Thibeault is the senior director of marketing strategy for Limelight Networks. In this role he helps direct Limelight’s corporate messaging and positioning, develops whitepapers and e-books, blogs, and evangelizes the Limelight solution offering to audiences around the world. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine Honors Program and a M.A. in English, with distinction, from California State University, Northridge. Jason is the co-author of the marketing thought-leadership book Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences People Want to Share (Wiley), the middle-reader chapter series Marmalade (Dime Novel Books), and rethinkeverythingblog.com. He is an inventor on a number of technical patents with Limelight Networks. Follow him on twitter @_jasonthibeault.

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