Stop Talking at Consumers and Start Listening to Them

New report highlights the need for better relationship marketing strategies

The marketer’s job specification is more complex than ever. Today’s brand marketer needs to be an expert in global privacy legislation, adeptly walk the privacy and personalization tightrope, and find a way to pivot from cookie-based strategies as Google et al. cement plans to comprehensively curtail third-party cookies.

Switching to a strategy that actually builds meaningful relationships directly with consumers, and thus drives engagement and revenue, is easier said than done. But consumers are clear that they expect it.

Data from the U.S. shows that 62% of consumers said that ads derived from cookie tracking are creepy—not cool—and 74% of global consumers have a favorite brand because it treats them as an individual. What’s more, the desire to be recognized as an individual rose 110% year-over-year according to the Cheetah Digital 2022 Consumer Trends Index published in March.

It starts with a conversation

Relationship marketing isn’t some revolutionary idea or new buzzword, but a mentality that brands need to adopt immediately as the cookie crumbles and consumer demand for personalized experiences skyrockets. In the same report, featuring responses from over 5,000 global consumers, 62% said that when it comes to messaging from brands using email, SMS or in-app notifications, the biggest turn-off was when the message didn’t reflect their wants and needs.

It’s clear that marketers are getting greedy by pushing out their own agendas rather than listening to their customers’ individual needs. Blasting one-size-fits-all promotions and offers to groups or segments of consumers is not how you build relationships. Rather, it’s how you alienate and reveal how little you actually care about them as an individual.

Imagine you walk into a bar and get introduced to someone by a friend. Most people would ask things such as: “What’s your name?” or “What do you like to do for fun?” or “Which do you like more, the beach or the mountains?” They may ask the same of you. Eventually this conversation can lead to a newfound relationship, or simply fizzle out politely because there isn’t a common bond. Conversations, along with meaningful questions and answers, are heard and absorbed. This is how human relationships are created.

The flipside is the loudmouth who gets introduced to someone new and never asks a single question, never seems to listen, but rather spouts off about themselves and their own adventures, careers and accomplishments. Maybe they are thinking that impressing new acquaintances is the way to gain friends.

Now, how many brands do we know that take the latter route rather than the former? They’re the ones pushing their ads and own agendas in their marketing efforts, talking at—rather than with—consumers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, consumers don’t give a damn about your marketing plan.

You have to really listen

Relationship marketing is about listening and providing value that goes beyond the transaction. Whether you are selling a car to people once every 10 years, or a cup of coffee to them every day, you need to treat your customers as individuals, whether they are an unknown consumer or loyal brand advocate.

Starbucks, a Cheetah Digital client, is an excellent example of personalizing the brand experience from first touch. You can’t get a coffee without them asking your name, resulting in “Grande latte for Sue” being belted out for all to hear. Stage two is the “known consumer,” where Sue provides an email, mobile number or downloads the Starbucks app. Stage three is the “engaged consumer” where Sue uses the app, providing a deluge of rich, personal information that then informs the ever-increasingly intelligent next-gen personalization engine. Stage four is the “loyal customer” who gets added value via personalized offers, dynamic messages and even moments that surprise and delight resulting in recurring revenue and a clear customer lifetime value.

The technology exists today for marketers to start listening at scale, to start understanding audiences deeper than only at a segment-level and then to deliver rich, truly personalized experiences across all marketing channels. Much like they would interact with a good friend or their favorite bartender, brand marketers need to strive to build relationships rather than to persuade and demand action from their audiences.

Anyone who thinks third-party data and advertising will continue to be the answer should download the Cheetah Digital Consumer Trends Index and consider over 100 insights such as this nugget—35% of consumers feel frustrated when they receive messages or ads based on information they didn’t provide directly to the brand.

Tim Glomb is vp of content and data at Cheetah Digital and founder of Audience Sherpa. As a 20-year brand marketer, his experience is rooted at the intersection of content and technology with senior roles in music, TV and, most recently, enterprise technology.