Interview by Irma Kubisty, for Social Enterprise 2012

You have been talking about the ROR at various conferences and your book under the same title is coming out in November. So what is Return on Relationship about?

Facebook fans, retweets, site visits, video views, positive ratings and vibrant communities are not measureable financial assets—they aren’t reflected on the balance sheet and can’t be counted on an income statement—but that doesn’t mean they are valueless.  Instead, these are leading indicators that a brand is doing something to create value that can lead to financial results in the future. In addition these relationships can be leveraged through initiatives, campaigns, and events to create real dollar value for a brand. In other words, ROR – Return on Relationship. Simply put, it’s the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship. R.O.I. is simple dollars and cents. R.O.R. is the value, both perceived and real, that will accrue over time through loyalty, recommendations, and sharing. This is all about the return you get from building relationships and emotional connections and trust and loyalty, and then the sales that come from that.

How does ROR change a brand’s communication with its consumers?

Communicating with consumers can be compared to parenting a teenager. If you want to get through to teens you have to look for moments when they’re receptive, tamp down the desire to push your opinions on them, and just listen. As a marketer you have to be watching for those “moments” with consumers—whether they’re customer service opportunities or in-store opportunities or just a discussion via social. Listen to your audience. Help them. Give guidance and provide information. Pay attention and when those moments occur, learn to recognize them, immerse yourself in them, and build that connection.

A good illustration I like to use is from the old movie, Miracle on 34th Street, where the Macy’s Santa sends people to another store because Macy’s doesn’t have what they’re looking for. The store manager was incensed, but R.H. Macy thought it was brilliant, because he saw the opportunity for Macy’s to become the “good guy.” Rather than trying to steer the customer to something she did not want, they listened to what the customers really wanted and helped them get it. The result was relationship and advocacy building at scale. The story spread like wildfire because they put the customer first. And like our teenagers, those customers were more likely to come back for help later and do business with them, simply because the store listened to them, held back from selling, and helped them out selflessly when they most needed it. To me that’s a “moment,” and we need to make it our business to be on the lookout for them, discover them, and figure out how to make them happen more often.

Any practical tips for those wishing to implement the ROR approach?

There’s no lazy way out of this. If you want the eyes and ears of consumers focused on you, then develop a “giver’s gain” philosophy. Developing fruitful relationships in social channels, or anywhere else for that matter, requires the willingness to give before you receive and continue giving throughout. Get to know your customers by actively listening to their needs in social channels and reach out to others without waiting for them to “Like” you first. Contribute to conversations where you can provide value, and not a sales pitch. Always be thinking of ways to help others solve problems and, above all, be genuine in your responses and outreach.




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