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Relationships are more powerful than marketing. Jessika Phillips lives by that credo, making it her life’s work — “on a mission to return relationships to the forefront of business marketing.”

Phillips founded NOW Marketing Group in 2010 and built the company incrementally, offering free social media training workshops online and within her community. She talks excitedly about relationship marketing, even calling herself an evangelist, which raises a few eyebrows.

“Yes, I get asked that a lot,” she said. “A relationship marketing evangelist is someone who is passionate about helping brands build deeper relationships with their ideal audience while increasing their visibility online.”

As Phillips described it, relationship marketing is the art of truly understanding who your ideal audience and client base is. You want to build a valuable relationship with them over time instead of a one-off quick sale.

She explained to sales and marketing expert Aaron Kilby how relationship marketing means focusing on the entire journey. That starts from before someone is a customer, then while becoming a customer and after being a customer — and at each stage serving the customer’s needs.

“I love relationship marketing because it allows brands to work like a magnet, not a bullhorn,” she said. “They’re able to draw in the right people to them through the content they produce, which is the experience people rave about.”

Relationship marketing also lets the brand focus more on client retention instead of continuously focusing on earning new business.

“I became passionate about relationship marketing after working to help a small business with a small budget try to stand up and compete against bigger brands with larger budgets,” Phillips said.

“I could see how relationship marketing allowed brands to have a level playing field,” she said. “They could leverage word-of-mouth referrals and social media. They could out-educate, out-serve and outperform bigger brands just by talking to their customers and responding.”

Create and deliver

She also talked about the difference between relationship and inbound marketing compared to content marketing.

“Content marketing is what you create,” Phillips said. “Inbound marketing is how you deliver it. Relationship marketing is the art of showing up to understand, build and keep your clients.”

From the start, Phillips and her staff tell clients not to think short term.

“We tell clients it will take a minimum of 12 months to truly get there,” she said. “It takes time to earn trust and attention. Relationship marketing focuses on long-term growth with your customers, not just the quick one-off sale. It means you’re in it to do the work — earn their trust and referrals.”

There are different ways to interact with customers, including email or face to face over coffee. Phillips said the approach will vary.

“It depends on your industry and goals, but in short, nothing beats an in-person experience,” she said. “If you can’t do in-person, at least make it personal.

‘We use BombBomb for video emails,” Phillips said. “There are also personalized cards and notes along with progressively profiling clients so we can build content and experiences.”

Social media is an integral player.

“Engagement like this creates relationships with customers along with featuring their content, collaborating with them and personalizing experiences,” Phillips said.

As she explained, inbound marketing “drives traffic from online mediums through your sales funnel online, mainly your website. It’s a process of gradually turning your online presence into a salesperson for you.”

Conversely, content marketing creates specific content focused on solving a specific goal or helping someone solve a pain point. Content marketing stimulates interest in a product, service or brand.

Value trumps tradition

Relationship marketing can work for brands small and large, according to Phillips. “It’s truly in how they C.A.R.E. for their customers,” she said, spelling out the letters:

  • Captivate their hearts.
  • Answer their questions.
  • Respect their relationship.
  • Enhance their experience.

In Phillips’ eyes, relationship marketing commands great value over traditional methods.

“Traditional marketing is rented attention,” she said. “Relationship marketing is earned attention, and that turns your customers into your marketing army.

“Traditional marketing is one-way advertising, also known as the bullhorn approach,” Phillips said. “Relationship marketing is having a dialogue with your tribe and drawing them in like a magnet. Relationship marketing is more cost effective and has less churn.”

The upshot is that relationship marketing drives more team buy-in as people are more involved and serve through their jobs.

Involved with care

Phillips practices what she evangelizes, using relationship marketing with her own clients. She feels this makes them more inclined to be brand advocates for her services.

“They feel involved with the process, and they know we care,” Phillips said. “We feature clients in our work and online. They like it because our product features them, and they share it out. Our whole biz has been word of mouth and online.”

Through that, brands will get their audience involved. The engaged community will produce its own user-generated content.

“The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing,” Phillips said. “A good example is Allen County Board of Developmental Disabilities. We had them start telling their client stories online instead of just talking about their services. Now the community shares their content out instead of pushing boring messages.”

Couldn’t companies just come out with new products, make money off of them and eliminate what doesn’t work?

“Yes, but they rely on people coming back, not just new biz,” Phillips said. “Repeat customers spend more. That’s why a lot of brands use rewards and gamification marketing to win loyalty.

“Today, malls are competing with Amazon,” she said. “If shoppers don’t care and don’t have a reason to come to the store, they won’t.”

With that in mind, relationship marketing is about being as sincere as humanly possible.

“It’s also making it helpful for your audience and personal to them,” Phillips said. “Then they’ll want to care and share your content and come back to you.”

Most relationship marketing boils down to know, like and trust — to which Phillips adds respect.

“Respect through engaging with others online, taking time to show you care,” she said. “Treat your long-time clients and customers like VIPs instead of only giving special offers to new deals.”

Investing a few minutes

Just as with personal relationships, both parties need to have the ear of the other.

“To truly strengthen a relationship, brands must show up to be active listeners and engagers,” Phillips said. “I recommend that brands dedicate 20 minutes-plus per day just engaging with others online and taking notice of who is engaging with you.

“Truly listen to your customers,” she said. “Take their feedback seriously so you can continuously improve over time and stay relevant.”

Before any listening and engaging takes place, Phillips said companies need to have a good idea of what they hope to do.

“To get started with relationship marketing, brands need to stop and plan,” she said. “Write out what they want to be known for, who can they help, why would someone choose them, how can they clearly and accurately communicate what they do, and how can they out serve, out educate.”

One of the biggest areas to focus on is who a company serves.

“Brands must know their audience — what do they read, who do they listen to, what are they searching,” Phillips said. “The more specific they can get on who they help, the better they can create content that serves them.”

Social media aficionado Kristina Beard readily endorsed the audience focus.

“Know your audience, and engage on their level,” she said. “Your content needs to reflect the needs and wants of that — not your idealized version of what you think they may want.

Automation and scheduling have their place, but you always need to be aware of what is happening in your community and the rest of the world,” Beard said. “Otherwise, you miss out and may find yourself in a lot of trouble. An ill-timed tweet can have lasting consequences.”

To that, Phillips replied, “Amen!”

“We’ve seen all too many times where something went out on a brand as a scheduled tweet after a national disaster or tragedy — or an old article with broken links,” she said.

Customer focus

Looking to the future, Phillips sees how relationship marketing will help brands prepare.

“Walker, Coca Cola, Intuit and others have done research,” she said. “They found that soon, the №1 reason someone will choose your brand over the competition will be solely based on the experience you provide. Relationship marketing focuses on the full customer experience.

“With a relationship marketing plan, you create an online sales and service funnel to help you maximize your time,” Phillips said. “You will gain Increased loyalty of your client relationships, which means more overall revenue and growth for the business. That saves time and money.”

About The Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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