Return on Relationships

One of my favourite shops where I live is Marie Curie . Not just because I can get never worn Balenciaga or Birger et Mikkelson for less than £50, but because they have got it completely right when it comes to small business marketing.

I’ve only been in the area a few months now, however the lady who runs the shop knows me by name, my size and the style of clothes I like. Because of this information, she holds things back for me and when I walk past (which I do most days) she taps on the window and welcomes me in.

Her approach – relationship first, sales second – has not only made me quickly feel welcome in the community, it has resulted in me regularly buying the items she picks out. And, having spoken to my neighbours about her approach, I’m not the only person she does it for.

For her, relationship marketing is how she will generate value and raise funds for such a wonderful cause. Unfortunately however, in small business, this approach is somewhat underused.

Having worked in or with small businesses for the past 10 years, I find the vast number are relying on cold marketing – flogging their wares before they have even earned their right to do so. A product-led website. Weekly bulletins encouraging you to buy this, that or the other. Daily tweets providing you with a ‘one-day only 10% off’ which is repeated for the next 365 days…

Yes small businesses may not have the resource or budgets to invest in grandiose marketing campaigns, however that doesn’t mean they need to be rash about their marketing either. Any business, regardless of shape or size, has the opportunity to become a connected brand, one which:

  • Connects with the people who matter most

  • Contributes something meaningful

  • Cultivates relationships

  • Collaborates with likeminded people and businesses

And, in my experience, it takes very little investment to turn your marketing function into one to be proud of; one which empathises, educates and empowers its audiences. So much so that the sales come naturally.

To do so it’s about focusing on a return on relationships rather than investment. Here’s our three top tips:


Too many businesses assume they understand what their audience want to know and so they create marketing calendars filled with what they believe is of interest. However the first step of any relationship marketing programme is to get to know the people who are most important – your customers, influencers, employees – and find out what makes them tick. The easiest way to do this is to talk to these people. Then create personas detailing their typical likes, dislikes and pain points and use these when you’re planning any marketing activity.

Make it about THEM

The easiest way to engage someone is to speak directly to them. You want to be answering the question ‘How can I help YOU?’ If you can prove that you understand their challenges and give them the information they need to tackle then it’s far more likely they will return. However you must first earn the right to tell them how to resolve:

  • Create and curate useful content – People buy based on the information they can access so become a knowledge source within your specialist area. You want to be helpful and a great storyteller. One of our clients, HR consultancy Purple Cubed, is excellent at this. Not only have they created a quarterly magazine filled with useful information on talent, leadership and HR, they host popular breakfast events with great speakers. And, they never out rightly mention their products…

  • Drive the conversation – whether that’s carrying out research in an unexplored field, contributing your opinion within magazines and newspapers or getting social; you want your voice to be heard. Have three clear messages and use these to guide the types of communication you want to get involved in. For an example, take a look at this survey by employee benefits consultancy, Davidson Asset Management, who are conducting research which will help HR professionals future-proof their benefits strategies.

  • Create a network – we are becoming far more social and with that we want to feel a sense of belonging. As such, your goal is to create the vessel through which your clients can come together to like, share and offer their views. Social media has made this far easier, and cheaper, with many businesses using things like LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. There are many tools available however, so it’s about being clear with your aims and what your audience would be most receptive to. My favourite example at the moment is the Vanish Tip Exchange – whilst carried out by a bigger business, it’s an easy idea for smaller organisations to replicate.

Aim for ongoing engagement

Relationship marketing is a long term commitment; it’s not a one night stand. It shouldn’t be about creating quick leads, that’s the nice to have which comes when you are getting it right. It must be about cultivating the relationship. Just don’t take three steps backwards. You want your audience to become advocates, so this is about making them better at what they do. Not bombarding them with offers now they’ve bought something or shown an interest.

#relationships #business #SME #communications #contentmarketing #connectedbrands #brand

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