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Today’s biggest marketing challenge is not getting attention in an distracted world or building loyalty in a sea of choices—it is remaining relevant in the face of changing values and increased customer expectations.

For many companies, relevance will be the key to success in the next decade. Relevance is about embodying values that resonate with your customers and building reciprocal, beneficial relationships with them. It requires listening to customers, paying attention to the context of their purchases, and becoming a “living business” that constantly adapts to changes.

Here is what marketing experts have to say about relevance and its role in building an insight-driven business. 

Be ready for constant transformation

In Harvard Business Review, Accenture’s John Zeally Robert Wollan and Joshua Bellin argue that marketers need to stop focusing on loyalty and start thinking about relevance. The “loyalty era” of marketing, according to the authors, is in now in decline.

“To succeed in this era of relevance, marketers and companies must be continuously willing to abandon the old,” they write. “As new technologies shift customer journeys and expectations, they can (and should) also enhance companies’ abilities to engage with customers in the most relevant ways. Often, the greatest roadblock is a company’s lack of willingness to transform their processes, organizations, and mindsets as needed.”

According to the authors, while loyalty programs are a popular way to try to increase customer retention and lifetime revenue, customers cannot easily be “bought” that way anymore. They will happily drop even the best rewards program if the company does not meet their expectations. As the article mentions, “71% of consumers now claim that loyalty incentive-programs don’t make them loyal at all.”

Zeally, Wollan and Bellin suggest that companies focus on their “relevance to their [customer’s] needs in the moment”. But this mindset requires a shift in how organizations approach change. When companies are too slow to transform, they lose their relevance. As their habits and needs change, customers will go for companies that change along with them. Adopting agile processes and methods will allow businesses to keep up with the fast pace of social and economic changes around them.

Build emotional, not just instrumental, bonds

Psychologists know that memories that are linked to strong emotions are stronger, more easily recalled and last longer than more instrumental memories. According to Jean-Luc Ambrosi, author of Branding to Differ, brands who forge strong emotional bonds with their customers are a step ahead of the competition.

“Relevant messages, relevant products and relevant interactions foster emotions that touch the psyche of customers in more ways than one,” Ambrosi writes. “Managing the customer experience by enhancing emotional bonds, not simply meeting functionality, will bring customers closer to your brand and your offerings.”

If you have ever felt invested in a fictional character’s fate in a movie, TV series or book, you know exactly what Ambrosi is talking about. Simply meeting the narrative’s need for a character is not enough: viewers and readers need to feel an emotional bond with the character to keep watching or reading. Nothing is more boring than cardboard characters that just serve as plot devices.

Don’t let your company become a plot device in your customer’s story. By staying relevant, you become a main character, someone in whom the customer becomes invested. Your fate becomes linked to theirs, and they have an emotional interest in building positive relationships with you.

Strike the right balance

It is possible to be “too relevant.” According to research from Accenture, brands need to strike a delicate balance between delivering personalized experience and maintaining customer trust.

The consulting firm found that close to 50% of customers are concerned about how companies use customer data for personalization. That said, consumers are more likely to share their personal information if they can trust companies to protect this data.

Transparency is also important in building trust. According to our own research, 66% of consumers in North America would feel more comfortable sharing their personal information if brands proactively told them how it would be used. Only 17% of consumers are comfortable with brands using information acquired indirectly through third parties for personalization efforts—an important finding given the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Robust digital privacy safeguards and an ethical approach to collecting and using customer data is essential for success in relevance marketing. Be transparent with your methods: customers will trust you more if you can tell them, in plain language, what you will do with their information.

How are you staying relevant today?

Experts agree: relevance is the key to successful relationships with customers. Data from traditional marketing research, web analytics and insight communities can help you provide the right message to the right person at the right time. Are you using them wisely?

A Turning Point in Data Collection

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