29 August 2007

Listening, or Putting the Relationship Back Into Relationship Marketing

My friend Leigh blithers about Lessons from Club Penguin, and is impressed about the active listening that organization does. By "active listening" I mean being truly responsive in a way that is experienced as authentic by its young customers.

I'm impressed as well. Club Penguin - "a kid-friendly virtual world where children can play games, have fun and interact with each other" - exemplifies how relationship, and eventually trust, can be created through listening and responding in a way that does not presuppose that the organization and its marketing team know best. Especially when dealing with a younger demographic, paternalistic and patronizing responses are seen for the bullshit that they are; the organization loses credibility and effectiveness. (I think that as we get older, many of us tend to develop a taste for bullshit, and come to accept, and sometimes even welcome it.)

As another friend, Loreen Babcock (click on Contact Us and look under Bios), puts it, we need to move from a little-r, big-M form of relationship Marketing - with the primary emphasis on the marketing - to a big-R, little-m form, with the emphasis on the Relationship. Or, framed in a slightly different way so as not to be confused with traditional, marketer-driven, suck-the-information-out-of-the-consumer's-head- so-that-we-can-sell-them-more-stuff relationship marketing, I would call this new form Valence Marketing, as an aspect of my Valence Theory of Organization, that literally considers customers as an integral part of an organization. In this form, the key relationship or valence questions have to do with creating multi-way Identity, Knowledge, Socio-psychological, Ecological, as well as Economic bonds among the organization, its customers, suppliers and others in its interconnected, complex environment.

Good relationships are hard to come by, and challenging to maintain. Reframing relationship marketing as valence marketing steps up to that challenge.

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