The Audience Relationship Mandate | Content Marketing Institute

6 min read

I’ve been thinking about something that will impact marketing in 2024: Relationships. And I mean specifically the relationships between your brand and your audience.

The idea of customer relationships has received lip service for over 25 years. Some say research and consulting firm Gartner brought the acronym of CRM – customer relationship management – to the lexicon. Others credit Tom Siebel, the former Oracle executive who formed Siebel Systems, one of the first companies to focus on sales-force automation. Another Oracle graduate, Mark Benioff, popularized the acronym in 1999 when he launched a little company called Salesforce from his San Francisco apartment.  

From a thought leadership perspective, you might consider the book by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, The One-to-One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time, which provided the idea of CRM as a marketing strategy.

As they said in the 1990s edition:

“[M]ore and more companies have realized that interacting with customers is no longer an option, but a competitive necessity. And now they have questions: How should an interactive company treat its customers? What objective should a business set for the interactions that take place at its site? How can it measure success? Should different customers be treated differently? Is it sometimes necessary to reward customers for participating in Internet dialogue?”  

Well, 25 years later, those same questions still get asked.

What even are customer or audience relationships?

Leave it to Silicon Valley and marketing and sales jargon to use “management” to describe navigating a relationship. It’s time to redefine what it means for a brand to have a relationship with potential and existing customers (or, as I prefer to call them, “audiences.”)

I love the Irish saying, “We live in the shelter of each other” because it implies all relationships are the same kind of bond, even though they form differently.

I live in the shelter of others. My strong shelters include my friends, family, and co-workers. Other shelters are not as strong, but I still value what they provide. These relationships might be with my accountant, teacher, mentor, the mailbox place where I get all my packages, or my favorite actors and bands.

In all these cases, the shelter works as a two-way street in which something is shared — value.

RELATED: Do You Treat Your Audience Like Your Marketing Database? That’s a Mistake

Develop better audience relationships

All brands should understand and commit to this concept.

From 2010 to 2015, the concept of customer relationship management peaked as social media emerged. The talk at the time centered on creating relationships with your customers through social media – engaging, entertaining, inspiring, and ultimately creating a bond with them.

I often heard brand and marketing thought leaders castigate that idea. I can’t tell you how many times I’d hear someone say, “No one opens up their refrigerator and says, ‘You know, I really want a better relationship with my butter provider.’” 

That always got a laugh. But it always felt cynical.

True, customers don’t need a better relationship with their butter provider, power supplier, or CRM software brand. But that doesn’t diminish the marketing mandate to establish stronger relationships with your audiences.

You live in their shelter for some time, and they live in yours. The question is: How strong can or should the shelter be (how much value can you offer)?

That thinking contributed to the meteoric rise of content marketing as a strategic function in business. If your brand’s product doesn’t lend itself to a stronger relationship bond with an audience, then you can and should create the kind of experiences that do.

For example, if your brand sells enterprise-grade DC power supplies, the shelter – the bond – you provide is weak. But if your brand helps customers be better electrical engineers, the potential exists for a strong bond.

Maybe the most spectacular example is Amazon Prime Video. On the surface, Amazon Prime Video might be the most unprofitable business in entertainment and media. In 2022, it earned about $5 billion in revenue and spent approximately $16 billion on content. I don’t care what Hollywood math you use. If it were a standalone business, you would say, “Put that thing out of its misery!”

But Amazon keeps Prime Video going because its business model revolves around Amazon Prime memberships. These members spend twice what non-member customers do when shopping on Amazon. Revenue from Prime memberships totaled $35 billion in 2022. Now, you can better understand the Amazon Prime Video math. Prime Video is a marketing play that entices more people to become Prime members.

Peel that idea back further, and you can see Prime Video is Amazon’s effort to develop a valuable and ongoing relationship with its audience. The relationship between any retailer and a member is weak despite the shelter of free shipping. But the member’s relationship (the value exchange) with a company that provides great movies and TV shows is strong.

How to meet the relationship mandate

As you move into 2024, you’ll have to make stronger bonds and relationships with your audiences, a core mission for your marketing.

These trends explain why that’s imperative next year:

Generative AI will make access to how-to and simple FAQs for information irrelevant. Enlightened content — content that brings a balance of experience, knowledge, creativity, and sound judgment — will be valued.

Trust in digital content will wane in the short term. The author or sources will more strongly signal value than the content itself. The storyteller will be more valued than the story.

Audiences will value personal – not personalized – communication. Personal content is contextually relevant, not driven by demographics. It’s the kind of content that makes someone say, “Wow, this is exactly what I needed.” (I wrote more about the difference between personal and personalized content a while back.)

RELATED: Key Trends in Content Marketing 2024: 67 Predictions

So what should you do? Successful marketers will focus on owned media. Every bit of content produced across every channel will help establish longer and stronger relationships with potential and existing customers.

Marketing and advertising no longer exist simply to shorten the time between when a product is finished and when a customer consumes it. Your added responsibility is to lengthen the time and strengthen the bond of the relationship between the brand and audiences.

Remember, you and your audience live in the shelter of each other. But you’re not bound to each other.

Developing better and more meaningful relationships with your audience will keep them with you longer, whether you’re in the entertainment, electrical power, or even the butter business.

Of course, my relationship with my family isn’t nearly the same as with my favorite brands. But in each, I find shelter through shared understanding, experiences, and universal truths told as stories.

And isn’t that a wonderful new purpose for your brand?

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Robert Rose consults and hosts workshops on helping marketing teams align their marketing processes to all kinds of technologies – including generative AI. Contact him to learn about those programs.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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