The advantage of digital marketing is reach. You can reach so many people so often, so fast, and (if you know what you’re doing) so effectively. But at what cost? And I don’t mean financial cost. I’m talking about the potential relationship cost.
We’re social creatures after all. So, what can happen to relationships—personal and business—when we allow people to remain perpetually at arm’s-length? Or worse, allow those relationships to become virtually mechanized (emphasis on “virtual”)?
Digital marketing: efficiency… but at what price?
So much of my work is accomplished in a virtual environment, with a large percentage of my day-to-day business interactions taking place through email. It’s fast, easy, and efficient. It’s the way business communicates today. But its efficiency discourages talking with people face to face.
When more time than I’d like separates in-person meetings, whether they’re with clients or coworkers, I tend to start questioning the status of my professional relationships. Are our clients still happy with what we’re doing (e.g., what are they saying among themselves offline)? Do they still understand and believe in the success of strategies we’ve developed? Are they steering off course? Is there disconnect within my team?
I know I can’t be alone in experiencing these misgivings—however unfounded they may be.
Without regular authentic conversation, it’s hard to know what one’s digital “audience” is genuinely feeling. Existing in a virtual cocoon can lead to skewed perceptions of reality on both sides of the relationship.
Emerging from the cocoon of online marketing
Email communicates through words, but conversation involves so much more than that.
What I’ve found, without fail, is that reuniting with a client in person forces a heightened level of communication that answers any questions I have about our relationship. I typically find that everything is good, and that most, if not all, of my worries were unfounded. And if there is a concern, conversation brings it out faster, when the issue is smaller and easier to address. Even better, clients are actually more likely to reveal their satisfaction in conversation rather than through an email. Many people (especially busy executives and business owners) don’t have time to gush over email.
There’s another advantage as well: You’ll be reminded of how much you really like that client (and vice versa). Strengthening relationships that way, beyond the obvious benefit of human interaction, can result in all sorts of unforeseen business opportunities down the road. And if the opposite happens, and one of you rubs the other the wrong way? Well, that can be valuable information, too.
What do you really know?
Think about the relationships you have that are based almost entirely online and through digital media. Maybe they involve people from high school that you’ve kept in touch with through Facebook but who you haven’t seen in many years. Maybe they’re with vendors you contact exclusively through email.
What do you really know about these people? Probably not a lot (though that can partially be remedied with active social media listening). In your business, you probably know 50 or more people who fall into this category. These are people who say they prefer the efficiency of doing business digitally but reserve disclosures of their utmost preferences and feelings to in-person conversations.
How many of those people could be incredibly beneficial to your business if you invested the time and effort in getting to know them better?
Business relationships thrive on real, not just virtual, nurturing
Perhaps you’ve heard of the 7-38-55 rule? According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, in “like-dislike” messages involving feelings or attitudes, 7 percent is conveyed through words, 38 percent comes through certain vocal elements, and 55 percent of what is communicated comes through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.). When you’re relying on words alone, you may be missing out on 93 percent of the true feelings and attitudes being conveyed.
Digital marketing moves products, and email moves more business communications faster and more efficiently than phone conversations ever could. But phone calls, face-to-face conversations, and well-crafted digital communications (the kind that feel as if they’re coming from a person, not a brand) can move mountains. They can fortify those business relationships that encourage real people to prefer buying from you.
That’s why both are so essential for successful relationship-based marketing.