Laurie's Blogs.


Oct 2012

The Evolution of Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing refers to all marketing activities directed toward establishing, developing, and maintaining successful relational exchanges.  Papers that describe and engage in the study of relationship marketing seem to have roots in the early 1990s.  The term relationship marketing encompasses relational contracting, relational marketing, working partnerships, symbiotic marketing, strategic alliances, co-marketing alliances and internal marketing.  Commitment and trust are key variables critical to the success of relationship marketing. 

Morgan & Hunt (1994) successfully validated 13 hypotheses regarding relationship marketing:

·      There is a positive relationship between relationship termination costs and relationship commitment

·      There is a positive relationship between relationship benefits and relationship commitment

·      There is appositive relationship between shared values and relationship commitment

·      There is a positive relationship between shared values and trust

·      There is a positive relationship between communication and trust

·      There is a negative relationship between opportunistic behavior and trust

·      There is a positive relationship between relationship commitment and acquiescence

·      There is a negative relationship between relationship commitment and propensity to leave

·      Thee is a positive relationship between relationship commitment and cooperation

·      There is a positive relationship between trust and relationship commitment

·      There is a positive relationship between trust and cooperation

·      There is a positive relationship between trust and functional conflict

Their paper went further to define that commitment and trust develop when firms attend to relationships by (1) providing resources, opportunities, and benefits that are superior to the offerings of alternative partners; (2) maintaining high standards of corporate values and allying oneself with exchange partners having similar values; (3) communicating valuable information, including expectations, marketing intelligence, and evaluations of the partner’s performance; and (4) avoiding malevolently taking advantage of their exchange partners. 

An expose in Harvard Business Review (1998) challenges businesses to do better at understanding the core values behind relationship marketing: “There’s a balance between giving and getting in a good relationship.  But when companies ask their customers for friendship, loyalty, and respect, too often they don’t give those customers friendship, loyalty, and respect in return.”  The authors challenge that marketers may not understand how customers’ trust and intimacy factor into the connections they are trying to forge.  There are several fundamental rules of friendship.  They include: provide emotional support, respect privacy and preserve confidences, and be tolerant of other friendships.  To value and adhere to these rules can build the intimacy that results in truly rewarding partnerships.

Yet another study set forth to identify a set of relationship marketing activities that were appropriate in managing membership relationships of professional associations in regards to retention, participation, and coproduction (Gruen, Summers, & Acito, 2000).  The largest direct effects were simply from core services performance, which affected both retention and participation.    Membership behaviors in regards to commitment were affected by two management activities: dissemination of organizational knowledge and recognition for contributions.

Marketing has changed extensively over the last couple of decades.  Advertising is no longer effective because of clutter, lack of trust, increase parity among competitors, and the fragmentation of the media (Godin 2006).  Now the best marketing tactic is to create remarkable products that consumers choose to tell stories about, and to deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages, and treat consumers with respect.  Permission marketing works far better than blindly marketing to strangers.  This would mean that you target your marketing to those that are genuinely interested in your services (i.e. those that have signed up for your newsletter, entered your contest, liked your Facebook page, read your blog posts, or follow you on Twitter, etc.).  How do you embrace this ‘new marketing’?  Godin suggests first building a ‘permission asset’ – creating a group of people that want to hear from you who will invariably spread your word & message and second, invent AUTHENTIC stories that your customers will want to tell themselves and their friends.

Currently, social media is the most visible form of relationship marketing.  If you take Facebook as the example, experts offer the following advice:  Don’t be boring (Facebook will bury your content – and if your readers see it, they will be bored).  The best updates will be helpful, creative and may include something personal or fun tossed in now and then.  They should be relevant, compelling and charming.   When posting online, ask open ended questions to invite discussion, create updates that offer real value as opposed to sales messages, post at different times of the day (and week – don’t forget weekends), and limit your volume to no more than one or two posts a day (Handley 2012).

What are we to conclude from this?

You must build commitment and trust with your consumers, which may be achieved by providing resources, benefits, and valuable information.  The atmosphere created within business should provide and subsequently generate friendship, loyalty, and respect between the provider and the customer.  While core services are essential to client retention, ‘new marketing’ analysis tells us that we should be delivering remarkable products (or services) that our clients will want to talk about and share with their friends, and that if we gain their permission to market to them, that our strategies will be that much more effective.  Social media is one avenue in which businesses can build their relationships with existing and potential consumers. 

So now it’s your turn to share your experiences…

What have you found works for your business in regards to developing a strong relationship with your consumers? 

I’m eager to hear about your experiences, and compile the answers to share with everyone!  So please e-mail me!





1.     1.Morgan RM & Hunt SD. (1994), The commitment-trust theory of relationship marketing.  J Marketing 58 (3): 20 – 38.

2.     2. Fournier S, Dobscha S, Mick DG. (1998), Preventing the premature death of relationship marketing. Harvard Business Review Jan-Feb: 42 – 51.

3.     3. Gruen TW, Summers JO, Acito F. (2000), Relationship marketing activities, commitment, and membership behaviors in professional associations.  J Marketing 64 (3): 34 – 49.

4.     4. Godin S. (2006), Viewpoint: Seth Godin The New Marketing, in Business The Ultimate Resource.  A & C Black Publishers Ltd, 71 – 72.

5.     5. Handley A. (2012), Getting personal with B2B marketing.  Entrepreneur March: 66 – 67.