The Power Of Direct Relationships

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The one with the direct relationship wins.

As a customer, who would you prefer to share your personal information with in exchange for a discount or some value-add from a brand? Is it directly with the brand or with an online social network? It’s a little tricky to answer that question, isn’t it? On one hand, we’re happy when retailers that we like provide us with discounts and bonuses because we’re valued customers and, on the other hand, we’re willfully sharing (some might argue over-sharing) so much information via social media that we’re simply more comfortable there.

So, who wins?

From the news item, Share And Share, But Not Alike, featured in MediaPost‘s Research Brief today: "According to the e-tailing group and MyBuys, in a joint online survey, consumers are more comfortable sharing data with retailers than they are with social networks, especially if it enhances the shopping experience. The majority of survey respondents (55%) responded that they are ‘mostly willing’ to provide shopping preferences to trusted retailers in exchange for an enhanced shopping experience… In contrast, 52% of consumers responded that they are “much more concerned” or “somewhat more concerned” about sharing the same data on social networks."

Direct relationships are everything.

It’s one of the main focuses of my next business book, CTRL ALT DEL (out in May 2013). It’s something that I have been actively blogging about since 2010. It’s something that most brands have yet to understand, embrace and deep-dive into. As more and more people connect to share their lives and more via social media, these hubs, channels and platforms act as a disintermediation of the relationship that brands have with their customers. Think about it this way: if your customer is following your brand on Twitter, who has the direct relationship with them? You or Twitter? It’s not semantics… this is important stuff.

When you walk away.

When you walk away from Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, YouTube or whatever, your data and connections do not come with you. They’re still there (and so are your consumers). They may not be connected to you anymore, but they’re still connected in these channels. Don’t you want to take them with you? Shouldn’t you be allowed to take them with you? Data portability and a unified/portable avatar are deep conversation points in their own regard, but what matters most is not the data or your avatar. What matters most is the relationship with the people you are connected to.

Own the relationship.

Data can be skewed and who knows if the online survey above is one hundred percent accurate or truly indicative of our current business environment. What is, abundantly, clear is that you – as the business owner and brand steward – must engage, connect and own the direct relationship with your consumer. My personal take is that the online survey above is a little off. People are, generally, more concerned about sharing data on social networks because of security lapses, bad moves in terms of handling the data, the desire for these brands to pass that information over to third-parties and a general fear that the mass media reporting on these issues have caused. Oh yeah… one more thing: the greed of marketers.

The greed of marketers.

Consumer data is chum at the fish farm for marketers. One little piece of it and they start flying and flopping all over one another to get at it. This can be amazing for consumers (when done well) and terribly bad for consumers (when malicious marketers dive in). For my dollar, this is less about where people are sharing their data and much more about their concerns of what brands are doing with their data. There is probably less concern that a retailer will do anything more than give a consumer related offers than with social media – or anywhere else online – because of practices like retargeting, cookies and behavioral targeting. As long as those tactics deliver better results than standard run of network advertising, marketers will think that it provides better results when – in reality – it’s probably freaking out consumers much more than anyone cares to admit.

When you control the direct relationship, you control the bond and sanctity of where this data flows. 

In short, consumers would prefer the devil they know versus the devil they don’t know. The opportunity is to turn that devilish relationship into a divine one. As with everything, it’s something that requires a strong strategy, patience and dedicated resources to get it right. The brands that do this well are the brands that wind up surprising and delighting customers. The brands that abuse it are the ones who are complaining that their social media advertising isn’t all that effective.

What’s your take? 


  1. Timely post Mitch as those of us Down Under (Australia) are seeing some key brands and the brand managers asking themselves “should we be in the social space” as they feel the wrath of consumers complaining online about service levels or simply about products that retailers are offering that are not suitable for the target market (ref Qantas and Target). Their responses are way short of satisfactory and somewhat motherhood statements at best. “We take our customers’ feedback seriously…” then no action follows.
    Experienced direct marketers the world over have known the science of 1-to-1 marketing and the “customer lifetime value” but with the power now in consumer hands they feel out of control and don’t know how to deal with the “rage in social”.
    Strategy, patience and dedicated resources are absolutely fundamental to start owning the relationship.

  2. Great post Mitch – I’ve been reading a lot of books about networking lately and came across a great quote by Ivan Misner that sums up the need you outline for direct relationships: “High tech never replaces high touch”.

  3. …and a shift in DNA and command/control measures. You are somewhat lucky, as those nascent stages have been slightly more developed in North America. Look there for case studies and strategies to get the fast-forward (and avoid the pitfalls).

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