Is there a serious issue with the whole customer-brand relationship thing?


Share on LinkedIn

I came across this great quote from Anthony Robbins on relationship and I want to share it with you:

The only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place THAT YOU GO TO GIVE and not a place that you go to take.

Coming across this quote has rekindled the struggle that I have had with the relationship thing between the organisation/brand and customers.  Why?

We live in a self-seeking, self-interested, self-centred ideology and context. Customers are expecting companies to reward them for their loyalty. These rewards can be in terms of price discounts, higher levels of service, special privileges etc.  Brands/organisations have engaged in the relationship thing because of promises made by gurus/consultants/marketing professors. What promises?  Promises of  higher revenues, margins and profits.  How? According to these ‘gurus’ customers in a relationship will paying higher prices and buy more from the brand.

Do you see the issue?  From the brand viewpoint it is worth entering into the relationship so that the brand can take more – revenues and profits – from the relationship.  From the customer viewpoint it is worth entering into a relationship if they can get more value (price discounts, higher levels of service, privileges..) out of the brands.

This reminds me of the prisoners dilemma where the ideal course of action is for you to encourage the other party to cooperate whilst you defect.  And as such this occurs to be the use of the word/concept of ‘relationship’ masking a ‘selfishness/greed’ orientation/behaviour.  Which may explain why it is that with all the talk of ‘relationship’ there are so few brands that actually build relationships and cultivate loyalty.

Oh, if you are up for a refreshing take on the customer/brand relationship thing then I recommend the following slide deck from Martin Weigel, head of planning at Wieden+Kennedy, Amsterdam:

This is the deck that brought to the surface my unease with the relationship thing.  And it shows up for me as a great deck – one that speaks uncomfortable/unsettling truths. I’d love to hear your take on this.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


  1. Maz, thanks for sharing your thoughts and a very provocative deck from Martin Weigel.

    I agree with him, and you, that most of what the customer “relationship” industry talks about is empty rhetoric … if you expect words to mean the same thing in a personal and business context.

    When I say I’m loyal to a brand, it doesn’t mean the same as when I say I’m loyal to a friend or my family. Or to a business associate. The context matters.

    That said, I find big gaps in industry rhetoric vs. the Real World. In social media, brands think customers want to engage (and “likes” mean something) while customers are looking for discounts and deals.

    In CRM, the middle letter has been promoted as building loyalty, but the reality is far different. Companies say “relationship” but it mean “customer data” or “revenue.”

    Still, really great brands manage to hire and empower people to treat business relationships more personally. It’s so rare that when someone really seems to care and acts as a human being, not an employee looking at relationship as a means to an end (revenue), it sticks in your mind forever.

  2. Hello Bob

    “It’s so rare that when someone really seems to care and acts as a human being, not an employee looking at relationship as a means to an end (revenue), it sticks in your mind forever.”

    Upon reading your last paragraph I got a huge jolt. Why?

    a) It resonates with my own experiences; and
    b) Shows how little impact relationship marketing, 1:1 marketing, CRM, CX, customer focus, NPS, VoC – have had in what shows up for a customer in a reality.

    It occurs to me that the whole issue with the Customer thing is that whilst the words are great, and some interesting work has been done, the context has pretty much stayed the same. Take collaboration for example, management want collaboration. How do they go about it? By banging on desks, putting in technology, and demanding it. No collaboration in asking for collaboration. Same context, domination-telling-threat, new content, collaboration.

    I drew attention to the whole context-content thing in the earlier post:

    Interestingly, I got almost no response/no comments. As if like climate change I am being nutty. Or perhaps more likely, it is uncomfortable subject to listen to, be with, talk about because we are not willing to change our ways.

    Perhaps, the deepest fact is that we live in/out/from a context where it is taken for granted that: making it is the meaning of life; making it means doing whatever it takes; and doing whatever it takes includes treating people as objects to be used or resources to be hired/used/fired etc. Perhaps it is because, collectively, we say people/customers matter to hide the inconvenient truth: they do not matter as human beings, only as resources for our ends. Which is why I wrote the following post:

    All I can say that for me “People and relationships matter more than stuff, whatever the stuff.” And to live that stand I pay a price. Including being mocked for being naive. You could say that in some circles I am as welcome as a whistleblower. Why? Because I am drawing attention to what people don’t want to see, talk about? They’d rather talk good, buy technology, change processes – fiddling with the chairs on the Titanic!

    I thank you for giving me an opportunity to engage in a conversation with you. Your last paragraph speaks truth, it shocks me, it saddens me, it gives life to my stand. It reminds me that my stand – people matter, relationships matter, caring matters, humanity matters – is worth taking.



Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here