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  • April 26, 2013

Q&A with Bob Garfield, author of Can’t Buy Me Like

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with renowned marketing and advertising commentator, Bob Garfield, who we’re lucky to have as a keynote speaker at Responsys Interact 2013. Host of NPR’s On the Media and author of new book, Can’t Buy Me Like, I spoke with Bob about why consumers will win in the relationship era.

Q: Interact 2013 is about coming together to move marketing forward. One of the themes we’ll be focusing on is why marketers need to put the customer relationships back at the center of their marketing strategy. How can marketers start doing this?

A: It’s a paradox, but the way to begin building your business around the customer is to stop thinking about the customer, and start thinking about yourself. What does your brand stand for and what are its values? In the relationship era, everything that happens in the marketplace hinges on your customers’ and prospects’ perception of you.

Once you figure out what your brand is all about, internalize it and make a decision that every aspect of your enterprise will flow from this sense of meaning, purpose and values. Then your audience does the work for you. They talk about you positively, they think about you, they do things with you, share things with you, and in a perfect world they evangelize for you in the marketplace.

Q: What are the barriers to making this shift?

A:  The greatest barrier for marketers is to simply accept that mass marketing – the old way of doing things - will no longer work in the era we’re living in, the relationship era.

It’s also difficult for people to move beyond the status quo. In our personal and professional lives, we are all heavily invested in the status quo, and disruption of this leads to denial and fear. Fear that we don’t have the expertise to adapt to the new world, fear that we’ll fail and fear that we’ll ruin what we’ve always done fairly easily, which is to get a return on our mass marketing programs.

Also, it used to be easy and now it’s hard. It used to be easy to talk to a lot of people at the same time, with a single message. Now we have to individually forge and cultivate relationships and keep cultivating them, which means a lot of work. It’s a whole lot easier to come up with some ads and a media plan than it is to deal with individuals as individuals. It’s tedious, time consuming. painstaking and not particularly glamorous.

But, we have no choice – the relationship era is here.  It’s not another marketing strategy, rather it’s the result of the digital revolution and it’s here to stay. The good news is,  I think it will be good for business, society and consumers at large.

Q: Are CMOs on board with this strategy?

A: It’s been widely reported that the average tenure of a CMO is incredibly short – about two years. As a CMO, take advantage of your short lifespan to think long term. Focusing on customer relationships will build the brand and lower promotional costs in the long term. Turn your marketing operation into something more sustainable; build a structure that will last.

Q: What do you think is driving consumers to want a relationship with their favorite brands?

A: No one thinks in terms of wanting a relationship with a brand. Do you send a birthday card to Tide detergent? I doubt it.  However, because we know so much more about brands than we ever did, everything that a brand does good or bad, finds its way through media and social media into our heads. We think a lot more about brands. If a brand gets caught doing something wrong, we find out about it quickly, if it’s doing something right, we find out about it quickly.  Therefore brands are in our consciousness for more than the goods and services they represent, but for the totality of their behavior.

As we started finding out more about brands, we started holding them to higher expectations. We started judging them and evaluating them in the way we evaluate other human beings. We put a great value on their conduct. We penalize those who disappoint us and praise those who impress us or excite us. Brands can’t hide behind a fortress anymore. They are living in a glass house and consumers are looking in.

Q: Can you give a couple examples of companies that manage customer relationships well?

A: Zappos is the poster child for cultivating the customer. Zappos makes a seamless, fun experience out of shoe shopping – not just for customers, but for employees as well.  They want to make shopping a happy experience. That was their founding idea. Before Zappos started delighting customers, they decided to start having delightful relationships with customers. Everything they do from hiring to workplace policies and training - it’s all about having those delightful experiences on both sides of the phone. They did no advertising and somehow grew to this gigantic company that sold to Amazon a couple years ago for 1.2 billion.

Nordstrom is another retail company that’s synonymous with customer service. It became that many years ago because it invested its front line employees with the autonomy to make decisions. This went a long way toward building trust and a seamless retail experience.

Q: What can Interact 2013 attendees expect to take away from your presentation?

A: I’ll be talking about why we, as marketers, have the opportunity to build sustainable brands, create more profitability and shareholder value, and have reasons to be proud of ourselves in ways that we never have before. It means re-envisioning our relationships with the people we used to call the audience, which is scary and exciting. I’ve made a living for 30+ years in the finding- fault-with-others business and the attendees will see a man that for the first time is looking at the world through rose colored glasses. The relationship era is going to be great for commerce and great for society. I mean it.

Check out our all-star line-up of keynote and customer speakers for Interact 2013: http://www.responsysinteract.com/