KEY RELATIONSHIP MARKETING TRENDS IN 2018
The concept of relationship marketing has transformed hugely in recent years due to the evolution of digital technology. The focus and purpose of this essay is to outline the key relationship marketing trends which have the potential to change business and consumer interaction. The essay will first provide a brief and concentrated description of what the concept of relationship marketing refers to and how digital technology has enhanced its usability for modern organisations. Finally, the essay will provide an extensive list of actionable recommendations for modern marketing managers based on the findings streamed from the research, analysis and discussion carried out in this essay.
What is Relationship Marketing?
Gamble (2006) explains that relationship marketing is a process of managing better customer relationships for an organisation to retain existing customers and attract new ones in the future. Similarly, Gummesson (2011) states that relationship marketing refers to the set of activities engaged in by organisations to build trust between them and their consumer base. Differently, Smith (2011) suggests that relationship marketing is a strategic initiative implemented by an organisation to engender a more customer-orientated approach to outbound marketing activities such as branding and advertising. Relationship marketing has the capacity to add significant value to an organisation because it increases the potential for an organisation to foster longer lasting customer relationship (Gamble, 2006).
Relationship Marketing Through Digital Technology
Recently, the concept of relationship marketing has become increasingly relevant due to the emergence and rapid evolution of digital technology such as big data and social media platforms (O’Connor & Galvin, 2001). Suphan (2015, p.38) asserts that ‘The main focus of marketers in post-2000era has been shifting towards relationship marketing’. O’Connor & Galvin (2001) explain that social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have enabled organisations to narrow the communication gap between them and the global consumer base. Similarly, by comparison, Smith (2011, p.3) suggests that ‘in this digital age, social media is quickly becoming crucially important across the globe’. To build on this line of thought, Stokes (2011) further theorises that to put the customer at the heart of the organisation in the modern world of commerce directly involves utilising digital technologies such as e-stores and social media platforms.
Gummesson (2011, p.129) explains that fostering an effective customer relationship using digital technology is now known as a strong ‘e-relationship’ between the organisation and the consumer. To complement this view, Lee (2018) further explains that relationship marketing using digital technology therefore becomes a sub-form of e-marketing. Suphan (2015, p.38) additionally, states that the evolution of digital technology has enabled relationship marketers to store useful behavioural data on their customer base which helps them to form a better understanding of their needs, wants and desires. This information is then fed back into the organisation which uses it to better construct marketing campaigns to assist them in forming closer and longer lasting customer relationships (Stokes, 2011). Lee (2018) adds that with digital technology relationship marketing opportunities emerge almost daily thus underlining the considerable importance of devising an effective relationship marketing strategy. Similarly, Morgan et al (2015, p.240) state that ‘the digital world provides more opportunities for this practice as customers function as part time marketers’.
Key Trends in Relationship Marketing in 2018
-Increasing Importance of Brand Aesthetic
One of the biggest relationship marketing trends in 2018 is the increasing importance of brand aesthetic e.g. how visually attractive a company’s brand is (Lewis, 2017). Lewis (2017) states that in 2018, brand aesthetics will become increasingly important because the modern consumer culture is rooted in responding to brands based on their visual appeal. Kuldova & Sanchez Jankowski (2018) explain that this recent trend has manifested itself on digital forums such as Facebook and Twitter where organisations are increasingly devising visually-appealing brand liveries. The importance of this trend in relation to the context of relationship marketing is that a brand with a strong visual element is more likely to foster a lasting customer relationship than one which does not (Kuldova & Sanchez Jankowski, 2018).
Wheeler (2017) states that even brands which are not considered upmarket, upscale or premium high-end still benefit from being attractively liveried. The aesthetic of a brand can also be boosted by new, novel packaging designs and visually-attractive merchandise vendors (Wheeler, 2017). For relationship marketing, the increasing importance of brand aesthetics is likely to have a profound effect on how relationship marketers try to engender stronger customer relationships. Similarly, research carried out by Kuldova & Sanchez Jankowski (2018) suggests that modern consumers are more likely to trust a brand which they consider to be visually striking than one that is not.
-Increasing Efficiency of Business-Customer ‘Touch Points’
A business-customer touch point refers to any digital platform or website-based forum which allows a business to communicate with their customer or vice-versa (Ridson & Quattlebaum, 2018). In recent years and moving into 2018, the number of business-customer touch points has increased markedly (Lee, 2018). Ridson & Quattlebaum (2018) suggest that the number of business-customer touch points has risen in recent years because an increasing number of modern consumers are flocking to online e-stores to interact with brands as opposed to traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ stores. Differently, Neuhofer & Maurer (2018) suggest that the number of business-customer touch points are set to increase rapidly in 2018 because digital platforms are becoming increasingly sophisticated with AI (Artificial Intelligence) also increasing their efficiency.
Organisations are therefore capitalising on the availability of this extremely efficient communication technology to develop and sustain much closer and stringer customer relationships (Neuhofer & Maurer, 2018). Lamb et al (2017, p.317) explain that ‘web-based interactions are an increasingly popular touch point for customers to communicate with companies on their own terms. Web users can evaluate and purchase products, make reservations, input preferential data and provide customer feedback on services and products’. Comparably, Lee (2018) suggests that the importance of increase touch points in 2018 in relation to the context of relationship marketing is that organisations are increasingly allowing their customers to shape their own experience to improve their relationship.
-Personalisation of Advertising Campaigns
Vermeulen & Lievens (2017) predict that advertising campaigns will become increasingly personalised in 2018 as modern relationship marketers make good use of digital technology to store data on consumers. For example, many organisations have adopted a big data approach to marketing in 2018 to ensure that they can tailor their outbound advertising campaigns to match the needs, wants and desires of their consumer base (Bartlett, 2018). A big data approach to marketing principally involves an organisation installing an algorithm into their company website and social media accounts which stores data on their consumers i.e. their buying preferences, activity, habits and their level of price sensitivity (Bartlett, 2018).
Differently, by comparison, Lee (2018) states that a number of organisations are beginning to engage in personalised email correspondence with consumer as opposed to distributing automated email responses. The result of this key 2018 trend change is that organisations are now able to form a clearer picture of what their customers wants, and they can thus recalibrate their advertising campaigns accordingly (Lee, 2018). A case example of an organisation which has extensively increased the personalisation of its advertising campaigns recently to further the success of their customer relationships is fashion retailer Next (Marketing Week, 2018). Next have found immense success in using personalised advertising campaigns to better target segmented customer groups with seasonal clothing ranges (Marketing Week, 2018).
In conclusion, this essay has outlined the key 2018 trends which are set to directly impact the process of relationship marketing via digital methods. One of the main, key findings of this essay is that the concept of relationship marketing has evolved rapidly in recent years due to advent and increased uptake of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. A further important finding streamed from the research carried out in preparation for the write up of this essay is that brand aesthetics have become significantly important in recent years due to the appearance-driven consumer culture. As such, modern organisations have responded by increasing the visual appeal of their brand liveries, logos and imagery. This essay has also found that a key 2018 relationship marketing trend for organisations to consider is the increasing efficiency of business-customer touch points such as SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
A key recommendation for relationship marketers to consider based on the key findings of this essay is that organisations must consider increasing the aesthetic appeal of their brand image. In an increasingly appearance-driven consumer society, organisations must ensure that their brand image and logo is aesthetically pleasing across digital platforms such as company websites and social media. A further important recommendation distilled from the findings of this essay is that modern relationship marketers must increase the number of touch points between them and the end customer. This can be achieved through maximising SEO efficiency to ensure that customers gain quicker access to the company website or their social media accounts. A third possible recommendation which could be actioned by contemporary relationship marketers is for them to increase the personalisation of their advertising campaigns. This can be achieved by undertaking a big data approach to ensure that they are updated on the rapidly fluctuating needs, wants and desires of their consumer base.
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