The 4 Stages of Relationship Marketing Explained

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Welcome to the next generation of marketing strategies that actually work.

Navigating today’s marketing landscape is a tricky task and marketers are feeling the pressure to increase results while the infrastructure they’ve come to lean on disintegrates around them. Cookies and third party data are crumbling by the hour creating havoc for those trying to map a real ROI from their advertising dollars. Data is easy to get but it’s rarely clean enough to properly activate, and any bartered or purchased data usually has known fidelity issues. Personalizing across multiple channels feels impossible sometimes and retaining customers can be a difficult task without the right loyalty foundation. It’s time to transform how we build relationships with our audiences; both current and future customers.

Changing your strategy to one rooted in Relationship Marketing, which puts the customer at the center of everything, has outperformed the traditional tactics based on creepy marketing practices or cast and blast campaigns that fail to deliver the desired results. Pivoting resources (dollars, labor, technology) to a Relationship Marketing strategy has provided sustainable yields for our clients such as Starbucks, American Airlines and Salling Group, and across all industries. Let’s look at the four stages that are the foundation to this approach and how you can start to make small changes that will deliver big results.


No matter what business you are in, and no matter how you derive your revenue streams, you need to engage an unknown contact and turn them into a known consumer. Even before they become a customer you have an opportunity to start a relationship with any consumer by starting a conversation. And like meeting a new friend in-person, ask questions to understand their wants and needs. Use surveys and trackable actions to gather zero-party data along with their basic contact details. Map all of this to your database (CRM/CDP/etc) and start a new record on each and every person who engages with your brand. This practice not only grows your audience but gives you the data needed to personalize offers and messaging later in the cycle. Stop paying to reach audiences month over month via advertising when you could be engaging them directly. But earn the right to do that by starting the relationship.

IDEAS: Use your ad dollars to offer a value exchange to unknown audiences. Rather than focus on ads that hope to drive directly to revenue, get them to fill out a survey and opt in to your marketing mix. Maybe it’s a sweepstakes survey that collects zero-party data on their behaviors, budgets or other psychographic data that can’t be inferred or derived from cookies or digital behavior. Offer an experience that complements your products or services (giveaway a trip to the Tour de France for a bicycle company, for example). Create a sweeps offering, a 10% discount or some added value (fast tracked warranty access) via email to your existing audience in exchange for them answering 3 questions that would help you make better personalized offers. Use that data to simply explain how your products fit their lifestyle and deposition your competitors.


Now that you have Sally and Joe in your database let’s learn more about them. With a true platform like our Customer Engagement Platform you can add tags to digital properties and utilize first party cookies (not going away!) to track key signals on your site, in your apps or even in your stores. Map that data to their profile while continuing to engage on owned channels asking even more questions, offering more ways for them to learn about you and provide details that make their experiences with your brand more personalized. Acquisition is getting them to opt in for your marketing campaigns but never stop the conversation.

At the same time, view this data at both aggregate and individual levels to understand your personas. You can create dynamic segments and view KPIs while arming yourself with the data to go beyond segments or cohorts and personalize at scale. Be sure to have a platform where this is easy to do without a degree in data science. That means less tech vendors and heavy IT support. Build a stable ‘martech stack’ that is wider than it is tall. A solid foundation rather than a house of cards. Avoid silos or delays in getting batched data in one view where you can also activate, not just slice and dice.

You are also now able to turn on the machine learning and AI engines to find the opportunities to engage (Stage 3). Keep your data clean, purge any questionable data strings and feed the machines with real-time info that will help you optimize the engagement and retention stages.

IDEAS: Offer post-purchase surveys or product registration forms that collect even more psychographic data. Learn when they think they will need an accessory or second unit. Don’t guess, ask directly. Create exclusive events or sweepstakes where engaged consumers and customers can provide feedback on how, when and where they need your help. Look at conversion data in aggregate and learn which offers and tactics are most engaging. Use webtags and other first party cookies to bolster the intelligence you gather. This will only strengthen the machine learning and AI efforts you’ll want to use in stage 3!


Now that you’ve made contact, got them into your marketing mix and continue to learn about them, start engaging them with relevant content and offers. Don’t fall back on the one-size-fits all email and ad campaigns. 55% of US consumers are frustrated with lazy marketers as they state they receive irrelevant content and offers from brands. If you’ve adopted stage 1 and 2 you should have at least a minimum level of data to start personalizing emails, sms, website messages or in-app content. Remember, you’re still building a relationship and being relevant while conveying the value of your brand is key. This is also where you start to trigger owned channel messages based on data or actions that warrant a response.

Lean on your machine learning to scale out effective customer journeys across all channels. This is also where you can start to apply intelligence in your offers and content with contacts that have lagged on providing rich zero-party data. Test campaigns base don the engaged audience and lean our your technology’s strategic services team to guide your way. After all, you are one brand fixated on your own products and services where a team like Cheetah Digital Strategic Services has the benefit of insights across multiple brands and industries. Use your vendor relationships to grow your customer relationships.

And the more you engage your audience through these channels the more signal data you get back. This keeps feeding Stage 2 with more insights and leads to an optimized marketing mix. Create journeys that are dynamic and meet the consumer where they are and where they want to go. The more flexibility you have in following them rather than forcing them onto your preferred train track the stronger your relationship will become. Trains take miles to turn and consumers are not interested in riding your rigid marketing plan. Be nimble and secure a platform that provides this necessity.

IDEAS: Ditch the once-per-year birthday email and instead trigger one that suggests the top 3 products based on which section of your site or app they visited the most this month. Dynamically inject any answer data they provided to you into a subject line to remind them you listened when they provided it.. Your open rates with skyrocket and if the content or offer inside is personalized your engagement rates will too. Send surveys and product tips post-purchase via sms or email or simply thank them for visiting your site, opening your app of visiting your store. All of these signals can trigger owned channels, along with ads, recognizing their loyalty and interest in your brand.


Congratulations. If you’ve implemented the first three stages successfully your task of fostering loyalty and retaining your customers will be much easier. That doesn’t mean your work is done. 57% of global consumers shared that they are willing to pay more from a preferred brand yet 67% claim to buy from the same brand repeatedly but are not loyal. Don’t take loyalty for granted and never assume repeat purchases equal loyalty. Now if you’ve been building your relationship, listening to your audience and delivering on your brand promise and value, loyalty is easier to achieve.

Building loyalty is about emotion and connection. It’s not a simply a discount program or a slew of points that build loyalty, although they can be components of a successful program. Lean into recognizing each customers actions, transactional or other. Sometimes simply emailing or sending an sms message acknowledging their visit to your site or viewing some content in your app is enough to make someone’s day and make them an ambassador. Determine how to incentivize your customers to take actions that are easy and trackable. Offer value above and beyond the purchase while using all of your data streams to understand what makes them tick. If you built a profile on a customer that includes psychographic data then you should have the intelligence needed to make them your best friend. This is the state where loyalty kicks in and lifetime value is measurable.

IDEAS: Use your loyalty program to continue learning about each customer’s needs. Offer up the opportunity for customers to take non-revenue based actions like choosing their favorite sauces for QSR companies, or submitting images of your products in use. Recognize those actions and call them out by name in triggered personalized emails or via pop ups and personalized html copy on your website. Make your app or digital properties easy to use, especially when it comes to customer service. Strive to make your brand experience one that your grandmother could navigate easily and if your product fits their needs loyalty will follow.


Well you know have an understanding of the basic building blocks that form a solid relationship marketing strategy. It’s a fairly simple concept but takes discipline to execute. It may also take a change in your organization’s culture or position. But once the decision has been made to wrap your marketing efforts around the consumer wholly and without reservation the pieces will fall into place.

But lean on the experts to help you. That might be exploring more about the 4 stages, or even just starting with one of them. You may also just need a pep talk from someone who can help you understand the best way to sell the strategy to the C-suite. Whether its research, execution or technology, we are here to help. Beyond the multiple links above we have a slew of content on our website that goes as deep into any stage as you’d like to dive. But you can always book a meeting with one of our experts and ask your questions. We’ll also have some for you. But that’s where relationships start. We don’t expect every viewer of this blog to buy the Customer Engagement Platform so why not give us a call and let’s build a relationship. Whether you buy from us or not, we’re glad to educate, inspire and help brands get customer-obsessed. Because that approach is better than any third party cookie based ad or irrelevant email that you may be using today. Hope you find this helpful.

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