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Inside 5 big-name relationship marketing strategy examples

How does Nike form an emotional bond with sneakerheads? How does Starbucks know what latte flavors customers want? The answer lies in their relationship marketing strategies.

While businesses strive to be competitive and profitable, they need to foster positive relationships between their brands and customers to reach those goals.

Relationship marketing is a strategy to target a market, keep products or services relevant, and make customers happy. It focuses on customer loyalty and long-term customer engagement and affects sales and long-term product roadmaps.

To get ideas, peruse the five relationship marketing examples highlighted in this article: Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Nike, Sendoso and HubSpot. They show how strong customer connections may lead to brand loyalty, repeat purchases, word-of-mouth promotion or social proof.

Why is relationship marketing important?

Before analyzing relationship marketing in action, it is important to understand why companies invest in the strategy. Businesses could push for a single sale, but relationship marketing aims to build lifelong relationships with customers.

Enhanced customer experience. When a company personalizes one-on-one conversations with its customers and prospects, it can deliver an excellent experience around the product or service. Many people leave a brand because of poor customer service or a feeling of not being heard.

Businesses could push for a single sale, but relationship marketing aims to build lifelong relationships with customers.

Increased sales. Good relationship building can result in more revenue for a company. Relationship marketing leads to sales in two ways: Happy customers can spend more, and they refer other people to use the product or service.

Innovative opportunities. Customer needs and wants can lead to new ideas for products or services. Organizations can find out what customers like about an existing product or what they wish it had. In turn, customers gain a sense of partnership when they feel heard and a company responds to their needs.

Better feedback. In an age where social media is a platform to voice opinions and share stories of success -- or failure -- plenty of brands are paying attention. They're directing customers and prospects to deliver feedback to them in meaningful ways. If a business proactively sources feedback, it can react or respond appropriately to opinions and experiences. Feedback sources can include surveys, reviews and customer success managers.

More loyalty. Cultivating customer loyalty is one of the most significant reasons why relationship marketing strategies are important. Gaining new customers is a costly endeavor, so organizations should try to focus on retaining as many existing customers as possible.

Comparing traditional marketing and relationship marketing
While transactional marketing is a valuable strategy for acquiring new customers, relationship marketing is invaluable for fostering customer retention.

5 examples of good relationship marketing strategies

Human interaction is significant, even in the digital age. With so many options to choose from for every purchase, relationship marketing and its use of personalized experiences and one-to-one communications are more important than ever. In these relationship marketing examples, brands put this strategy to work.

  1. Starbucks. Despite icon status, Starbucks doesn't rely solely on brand recognition to drive revenue. In each market, the focus is on customers. Starbucks takes, engages with and reacts to customer feedback while focusing on creating relationships through digital channels. Starbucks uses its social media posts and channels to engage directly with the consumer base and sends frequent personalized emails to its subscriber base.

One major relationship marketing campaign Starbucks runs is the "What's your Starbucks idea?" campaign. Fans of Starbucks submit their ideas for new products or revive old ones and request improvements to existing products. Through this campaign, fans feel as though they are shaping the bigger picture for Starbucks.

  1. Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines excels at building customer loyalty and repeat business. It creates an entire customer experience through social channels, its website for booking flights and even into a passenger's experience during a flight.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards program promotes strong brand loyalty. Rewards program members accumulate points for every flight, from referrals and on their birthdays and other special occasions. When frequent fliers use Southwest, additional perks kick in to retain that customer.

  1. Nike. Nike faces stiff competition in the consumer athletic apparel industry and, as a result, works hard to build strong customer loyalty and meaningful relationships through emotional efforts. Its designs and messaging elicit an emotional response. Customers and prospects should feel a part of the Nike family and identify the company with their personal growth, beliefs in causes, and even holiday nostalgia. Nike portrays a world where one can accomplish their childhood dreams through hard work.
  2. Sendoso. Sendoso is a B2B company that uses its software to create lasting impressions both online and offline. It is both a relationship marketing example and a relationship marketing provider. Sendoso sells a service built on account- and relationship-based marketing that bridges the gap between direct mailing programs and digital marketing.

Sendoso learns about its prospects and customers and helps them roll out relationship marketing campaigns. Examples include sending gifts and other thoughtful items to people through the mail. The tailored experience comes from captured audience data, and thoughtful choices and messaging tie back to a digital experience.

  1. HubSpot. HubSpot's business model focuses on meaningful relationships with prospects, customers and the internal resources that support them: marketing teams, sales organizations and service departments.

HubSpot creates brand loyalty in its partners and customers, as retention is a high priority for it as a SaaS-based company. HubSpot offers three critical resources for these audiences to seek information, build relationships within its community and create opportunities for learning and growing. Their knowledge base, community and HubSpot academy all encourage a deep and meaningful relationship with the brand.

5 best practices for relationship marketing

To model a relationship marketing strategy on these examples, prioritize these key tenets of the approach.

Focus on customer needs. Listen and react to customer input to inform the company's next steps.

Be authentic and informative. Be honest and share insights from one customer to others when it benefits them. And be available to communicate when a customer needs or wants to.

Add a personalized experience. Deliver tailored campaigns specific to the interest and needs of an individual, not a wider audience. Personalized offers and gifts are good examples.

Show customers you appreciate them. Offer loyalty programs, birthday specials and rewards for customer feedback and interaction.

Offer ongoing support. Evaluate your company's return and warranty policy, customer success programs and other efforts to retain customers. Make sure the customer gets the support they need so they will want to continue their patronage.

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