The 4 Stages of Relationship Marketing Explained


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 martech and advertising 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 messaging 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 mega-retailer Salling Group, as well as 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. This is the first step in building a relationship. 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, you should ask questions to understand them as an individual; learn their wants and needs. Offer a value exchange utilizing surveys while tracking digital body language signals 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.

You can also append other data streams to their profile such as an individual’s web browsing behavior, their transactions with you (online and in-store) or their engagement in your app, site or loyalty program. This practice not only grows your audience but it enriches their profiles while giving you the data needed to personalize offers and messaging later in the cycle. And reduce your advertising costs to reach audiences month over month with ads hoping they click-to-buy. Use a portion of those resources in an acquisition strategy to get them into your database so you can learn more about them and message them across owned channels such as email, sms/ms, in-app, website messaging, among others. But earn the right to do that by starting the relationship.

TO SUMMARIZE: Stage 1 is about acquiring contacts and enriching the data you have on them continuously.

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’ve made contact, got them into your marketing mix and continue to learn about them, start engaging them across all channels. The owned channels include email, sms/mms, website, apps, wallets, chatbots as well as direct mail. Utilizing your data and delivering a cohesive message across multiple channels is the key.

But beyond ‘cast and blast’ campaigns sent when you, the marketer, think is best, use real-time signals and create journeys for your audience and deliver the best message at the best time. Also strive to create dynamic segments of audiences based on what you know about them when you are sending mass messages. Scale is also a critical component of your engagement strategy and making sure deliverability is optimized. You need a platform that breaks down silos, gives you a single view of your customer data and can activate seamlessly. When you can analyze, understand and activate in one platform your efforts are streamlined and foster more intelligence.

TO SUMMARIZE: Stage 2 is about establishing an intelligent messaging strategy

IDEAS: Maximize your messaging impact by instituting A/B testing across email and sms. Determine if browsing behavior can trigger abandoned cart, win-back or other journeys across channels. Use intelligent segments for mass messaging and track the results in preparation for machine learning and other predictive capabilities available in stage 3. INtegrate more mobile messaging and data collection into your communications and transactions.


You’re building your database, continuing to enrich their profiles and have established a basic level of messaging and communication. Now you can take it to the next level by adding next-gen personalization tactics. There are so many options here we couldn’t possibly cover them in a single blog, but here are some ideas. Start delivering intelligent journeys that meet the customer where and when they want or need your help. Listen to signals and trigger messaging, content and offers based on their own individual path. Respond in real-time with contextual experiences that drive results. That includes triggered sends in email/sms, personalized content for known contacts on your websites or apps along with intelligent offers to mobile wallets or in loyalty programs.

This is also where you apply advanced machine learning to your data to produce predictive and prescriptive outcomes for your audience, either in real-time or via batched processing. Real-time marketing builds upon the captured real-time events, triggers, and batch data and further leverages an underlying decisioning engine to understand consumer behaviors and activities across the channels. In addition, a flexible rules engine can further help define, manage, and target offers consistently across multiple channels. The goal is to use ML, AI and your great data to offer better journeys, smart activation and apply advanced decisioning.

TO SUMMARIZE: Use your data to create truly personalized experiences

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.

Also visit these pages to learn the 8 most common use cases we solve for in the market. These have been developed from years of working with enterprise brands and SMBs alike. No matter how large or small your brand may be, and no matter which industry you serve, we have you covered. Explore them to understand hwat’s possible and identify the areas you need to shore up first to succeed:

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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