As I start to see other marketers’ predictions for 2012 that highlight coming trends from the forthcoming Facebook IPO to the continued rise of mobile social media, I think about some of the fundamental marketing principles that I’m hoping will change in the coming year. Like many marketers, I would like to see us move away from thinking of people as customers. Obviously, I’m not the first to see the trend among brands to become more human in their approach. Humanization has been top of mind for many companies, and they have all struggled to overcome their traditional mindsets.
But, as I see it, nothing has really changed. Fundamentally speaking, marketing has always been about growing a relationship with prospective customers – moving them through a simple continuum from awareness to conversion to affinity. Maybe humanization is just a slight change in mindset with a major change in terminology. Instead of thinking about customers, it is time for us all to simply foster relationships and categorize them much like we would our personal relationships. As marketers, we should do away with the traditional marketing continuum and create a relationship continuum that looks something like this:
• Acquaintances – Much like our personal lives, this group is aware of our existence but doesn’t know the full story. They are interested in learning more and may even give us some rudimentary personal information to further the relationship, possibly a phone number or email address. This will be the largest pool of people we can connect with in the hope of fostering longer-term relationships. It would be wise to learn as much as you can about this group and provide the most relevant information that addresses their needs as a collective.
• Colleagues – This group has taken the next step and has a vested interest in your brand. For pharma marketers, this means they are a patient, caregiver or health care professional. In any case, your brand has provided them with something of value that is relevant to their personal situation. This group is open to a long-term relationship but, as the name implies, it will be all business. Your brand will be expected to help them more than they will help you. You must prove that your brand can be a valuable resource. As long as you are willing to address their needs, they will be loyal.
• Friends – The difference between friends and colleagues has to do with expectations. Yes, friends will expect you to address their needs and concerns. But their expectations will go deeper. They will take the relationship beyond the business of your brand and expect preferential treatment. In return, they will tell their friends about your brand. As long as you pay attention and handle their needs on a one-to-one basis, they will be strong advocates of your brand. They expect to know the people behind your brand and find that connection to be extremely important. It gives them credibility among their friends and allows them to feel like they have an inside track with your brand.
• Family – Obviously, this is the smallest pool of people to engage with your brand. However, they are absolutely the most important. This group wants to be involved with your brand. You have proven to be a valuable resource to them, and they want to do the same for you. Any time you need help, they are there. These are the people you should listen to and collaborate with to make your brand irreplaceable to others.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the influence on this continuum from Google+. I haven’t spent a vast amount of time organizing my social graph into Google+ Circles, but if I had, my circles would most likely follow this schema. This is how I think about people – not just as a marketer, but also as a person. Granted, I try not to refer to myself as a brand, but in reality the metaphor works. And if more marketers adopt this human approach, I see many profitable years to come… far beyond 2012.
Whether our focus is on multichannel, mobile or relationship marketing, one thing we can all count on is that the marketing landscape will change in 2012. The coming year holds the potential to be a redefining time for all of us, and I look forward to seeing exactly how we define the future of our industry.