On Mastering Relationships

Regularly, Avantgarde CEO Martin Schnaack addresses current challenges in experiential marketing – be it changes in society, new trends, or old habits. In this post he talks about the future of relationships.

Today is Valentine’s Day. On a day like this one invariably thinks about the nature of personal bonds. In fact, in our creative sessions we are constantly debating the growing improbability of maintaining a relationship, no matter what kind. About time we explored this a little further…

These days, people seem to have a problem with long-lasting relationships. Not that long ago, an interesting infograph was posted to the FastCompany site, which illustrates the problems of finding (and keeping!) a lifelong partner. In western societies, it is now safe to say that the nuclear family (in itself only a poor copy of the 19th century extended family) has come to an end. To throw in some numbers: According to the US Census Bureau, the percentage of households comprised of „married couples with children“ dropped to an all-time low of 19.6% in 2012 (it used to be over 40% in 1970). Similar figures apply to European households.

relationships1What does that have to do with successful marketing?

Consumers’ loyalty towards brands has also been on a steady decline: In a global survey from 2012, brand loyality checked in at just under 40% as a determining factor in a buying decision. While this doesn’t sound too bad, Europeans and Americans check in a lot lower than consumers in emerging markets (24 and 25% respectively). And things did certainly not improve in 2013, as Deloitte’s annual Pantry Study shows. Just the other day we posted the Twilight of the Brands article from the New Yorker, which paints a gloomy picture of the future of brands.

 Even ultra-short-term relationships like paying attention to the TV program are under attack: Digital natives switch media venues about 27 times per nonworking hour. (figures are also from 2012) Marketers’ targets have become faster, and – to use a hunting analogy – the time you spend taking aim is very likely too long to actually hit it.

Does all of this mean any attempts at brand marketing are futile?

The good news is, relationships are important and will always remain so. What has changed is the way we maintain and foster them. Avantgarde’s Trendbüro founder Peter Wippermann sees trust as the determining factor for brand relationships. (Unfortunately, trust is on the decline, too!) In order to build trust, you have to engage with your consumers, personalise your offering, go face-to-face, and most of all: the entire consumer journey must be a singular positive brand experience. Or else your product turns into a mere commodity.

Reading about marketing trends for 2014, we mostly come across predictions about technology and online activity. However, according to Peter, a positive face-to-face experience is a vital aspect of a successful marketing campaign. This is not to say that you should neglect any of your available channels, as consistency is key to building trust. Arguably, we’re going to see consumer experiences radically integrated across the physical and virtual environment. This change in marketing and even in retail is happening, but for years we’ve listened to the swan song of showrooming.

In their recent book Money Can’t Buy Me Like Bob Garfield and Doug Levy rightfully claim that we’ve entered the “Relationship Era” where the only path for businesses seeking long-term success is to create authentic customer relationships. Involving your consumers into the stories that you are telling and actually making great things happen (instead of just talking about them) is a great way to increasing your audience’s loyalty. We at Avantgarde have built some great cases of breaking down the boundaries between consumer and brand, and we will continue to do so.