In a digitised world, relationships are becoming increasingly fragile. Merkle EMEA's Tom Byrne, asks whether the relationships modern marketers are building with consumers are much different, arguing that it’s only a mind-set shift, not an ad stack addition that can create relationships with long-term value.

In our personal lives, it’s become the cultural norm to ‘swipe right’ for love, and ‘ghost’ when things don’t go our way. Unfortunately, this fickle digital approach has also filtered into our marketing methods; too often marketers rely on a spray and pray approach to achieve volume over quality and are slow to adapt when they don’t get the desired response from consumers.

So, how can marketers shake these bad habits, using tech to elevate not merely enable their marketing strategy? Perhaps it is time to bring back some old courting habits – working to build trust over time, showing consistency, and growing as the relationship matures.

1. Build trust over time

Trust is key to any healthy, long-lasting relationship. In a relationship between consumer and brand, this trust is built around integrity and a fair value exchange; the consumer trusts the brand with their data, so long as it is used responsibly to add value across the customer journey.

Doing this effectively depends on the brand’s ability to organise and draw insight from the data available – building up a single-view of the consumer that can be used to offer a relevant experience across any touch-point. By listening carefully to what the consumer tells them in each interaction, this trust will grow over time, creating a virtuous cycle of first-party data.

The good news for marketers is that technology is now sophisticated enough to sync and measure data from both inbound and outbound channels, allowing brands to talk to customers as people, not just generic IDs or cookies. This requires solid plumbing within the ad tech ecosystem driving consolidation into pre-integrated ecosystems like Google or Adobe but also cautious when considering shiny technologies that add glamor but erode fidelity. Then by investing the time in building individual, bespoke customer relationships, brands are empowered to share only the most relevant content, at the right time, through the most appropriate channel.

Developing this insight also has the added benefit of streamlining and maximising marketing spend; serving only relevant content means serving and spending less, whilst fostering a deeper understanding will help upsell products that correspond to customers’ specific needs.

2. Be consistent

Nonetheless, an insight itself is worthless if it’s not leveraged to create a consistent customer experience, wherever and however they interact with the brand. Being able to recognise a customer at multiple touchpoints – from mobile and email communications, to face to face and over the phone – marketers can join the dots to provide a consistent service which meets the customer’s needs.

Screwfix, the international home improvement company, does this brilliantly, as I experienced first-hand whilst renovating my house. By intelligently leveraging the data they held about my purchases, Screwfix were able to predict and facilitate my DIY requirements as my renovation progressed, even offering discounts when they were most relevant.

This is an example of a company that understands how customer needs can evolve and uses this knowledge to surprise and delight. By adapting to the customer’s changing needs, a brand can really get the most out of the tech and data they already have, creating a consistent customer experience and building a stronger relationship in the long-term.

Nevertheless, consistency is a challenge in the rapidly changing digital market. The consumer’s ability to adapt to change within the digital world is astonishing, and brands can struggle to keep pace. To help them differentiate, technology providers are building targeting features around changing consumer behaviour but the industry’s adoption of the latest innovation can be slow. As a result, marketeers can typically see greater returns from investing in integrating and exploiting the features they currently have with a more customer-centric mind-set, rather than buying new toys and hoping for the best.

3. Grow with your customer as the relationship develops

Nonetheless, the biggest challenge brands must overcome in their journey towards a people-based marketing approach will be shifting their organisational mind-set. Far from just mastering the technology or accumulating valuable first-party data, brands need to continually evolve their offering to remain relevant.

This requires an ongoing evaluation of how brands talk to consumers – moving away from how brands want to sell, towards how the consumer wants to buy. By developing propensity models based on individual consumer behaviour, powered by myriad of trigger event information they’ve collected, brands can add greater value to the customer journey long into the future.

The most successful relationships are those that remain fulfilling long after the honeymoon period. By approaching their technological toolkit with the right mind-set, and prioritising customers ahead of click-throughs and investing in capabilities over new technologies all marketers will be able to nurture the long-term relationships they seek.