by Colin Jowell

“Tell me about your relationships?” is normally a terrible first date question. And it possibly seems even less appropriate in a business setting.

But with customers and clients as the lifeblood of any business, there is actually no better place to start. After all, better relationships with customers means better sales today and improved loyalty tomorrow. Odd then that there is no universally recognised way to understand or measure a relationship.

If you are a large business, you might have engaged in some market research, otherwise most will simply track the sales of the business and use that as the measure of whether things are going right or wrong.

That’s all very well and good, but it’s very much a measure of a moment in time. Not good for telling you whether your success was well earned because you delivered a great service or a matter of happy circumstance. And not good for providing a lens to the future - which customers are vulnerable, which ones might do a great job in spreading the word for you.

When you think about Marketing, the tools of the trade have changed radically over the last 100 years. From broadcast advertising, the move to include direct marketing was a revolution. Digital marketing became all about Social networking, and now everyone is talking about the power of “big data”. But underneath it all is a common goal - building new and better relationships with customers.

To help make sense of it all we’ve developed a tool called “Relationship Mapping”™.

In this column, we’re going to share with you how it works.  And over the weeks to come, we’ll give you a sneak peek at an independent research study we’ve undertaken with our research partners, Stokes Mischewski, so that you can learn from those getting it right (and wrong!).

So what is Relationship Mapping? For businesses drowning in information, it’s a simple way to cut through the clutter. And for those who don’t have that luxury, it’s two basic questions that can provide a great deal of insight.

Effectively, this “Relationship Map” quantitatively measures brand relationships by looking at two dimensions:

  • Habits: the strength of the rational behaviour- e.g. how often, how long (metric differs depending on the category)
  • Attitudes: the strength of the emotional connection – the measure we use most often is the “likelihood to recommend” the brand to others as rated from 1-10

When you know those two facts, it’s relatively easy to classify four different types of customer relationships:

  • Advocates – customers with a strong usage habit AND who recommend the brand highly
  • Habituals – customers with a strong usage habit BUT who are less likely to recommend it
  • Aspirants – customers with a weaker usage habit BUT who are likely to recommend it (often the case for successful new brands)
  • Switchers – where neither strong habits nor positive attitudes exists.

So why does this matter?

For a start, it gives absolute clarity as to the task at hand for marketers.  Do you need to drive usage or drive a deeper emotional connection with your brand?

And it starts to get really interesting when you start comparing the relationships customers have between yourself and your competitors.

Or between one customer segment or another.

Or between one product and another.

But more of this in the following weeks: we will share who is winning, who is losing, with whom and why. And most importantly, how you can apply these learnings to your business.