The Myth of Relationship Marketing

May 1998


The Myth of Relationship Marketing

It isn't the failproof sales tool many think

Relationship marketing is all the rage these days - a sure-fire way, many claim, to win and keep customers in an ever-more competitive retail climate. The problem is, it isn't working. In fact, it's creating a massive backlash, an upsurge of frustration among consumers who are tired of marketers' empty promises, intrusive and time-consuming questions, and overall insincerity, argue the authors of a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. They predict relationship marketing will meet an untimely death if manufacturers and retailers don't closely study what their customers really want. They must learn, in short, the relationships they seek must work both ways.

Consumers are fed up with many tools marketers use to forge bonds with them, the article says. They don't like being asked for information that is put to no apparent use; they're tired of "sales clerks who hound them with questions every time they buy a battery." They hate having their mail boxes clogged with competing offers for products and services they don't want. They deeply resent companies that sell information about them to other companies. They feel victimized by companies who feel free to call them during dinner, or nearly any other time, but don't have enough interest in them to respond to their complaints or requests for information. And they're sick of hearing marketers' cheerful vows to correct problems - promises forgotten as soon as they hang up the phone.

The article calls for a massive overhaul in marketing research methods. Companies need to get out in the field and to study the way consumers buy and use products, the authors argue.

In the meantime, though, retailers can draw some lessons from the litany of consumer complaints the authors outline:

  • Don't annoy customers by asking for information you don't need.
  • Eliminate from your mailing list people who have never bought from you and probably never will (this, of course, will save you money also).
  • Keep your communications with your customers direct and to the point, not flowery or evasive. "We want consumers' money - let's tell them that, and let's tell them why the deal's a good one," the authors advise.
  • If you tell a customer you're going to do something, do it, and soon.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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