Levels of Relationships

Kotler and Keller distinguish five levels of relationships that can develop between a company and its stakeholders, depending on their mutual needs:
  • Basic transactional relationship. The company sells the product but does not follow up in any way (Target).
  • Reactive relationship. The company (or salesperson) sells the product and encourages customers to call if they encounter any problems (Men’s Wearhouse).
  • Accountable relationship. The salesperson phones customers shortly after the sale
  • to check whether the product meets the expectations and asks for product improvement suggestions and any specific disappointments. This information helps the company continuously improve its offering (Acura dealers).
  • Proactive relationship. The salesperson or company contacts customers from time to time with suggestions about improved product use or helpful new products (Verizon).
  • Partnership. The company works continuously with customers (and other stakeholders) to discover ways to deliver better value (Nordstrom’s Personal Shopper).18
  • Different stakeholders require different types of relationships. The relationship a com- pany seeks with a customer is different from the one it seeks with its suppliers. However, there is often significant overlap in stakeholder roles. An employee may also be a customer and a stockholder.
The number of stakeholders is also important. The more there are, the more difficult it is to develop an extensive personal relationship with each. Some customers may not want anything more than a transactional relationship.19 Most people wouldn’t want a phone call from a store-label soft drink company. But Mtn Dew believes its customers do want a rela- tionship with the brand. As a result, the company has encouraged users to design new flavors and bottle designs. This is because of the potential for interactive customer relationships which makes it easy for companies and customers to communicate in digital media. In such relationships, companies encourage consumers to “feel like they’re a part of your brand in a unique way.”
Mtn Dew also places a great deal of emphasis on creating a “Dew-x-perience” for its customers. Using guerilla marketing tactics (guerilla marketing involves using unconven- tional, inexpensive marketing tactics) to reach out to urban youth, it employs a variety of hip-hop and Latin recording artists in various “street marketing” efforts to distribute bottles of Dew. It also sponsors extreme athletes and appears at sporting events such as the Gravity Games and ESPN’s X Games with vans full of merchandise and giveaways.
The final consideration is the profit margin. High-profit product or service categories make deeper, personal relationships more desirable . Low profit margins per customer suggest that the marketer should pursue basic transactional relationships aug- mented by brand image advertising.
IMC is both a concept and a process. The concept of integration is wholeness. Achieving this wholeness in communications creates synergy—the principal benefit of IMC—because each element of the communications mix reinforces the others for greater effect.
This idea of wholeness and synergy was illustrated in the Green Threads vignette earlier in the chapter. Sharon perceived that all of the messages she received about Green Threads reinforced one another. This made credible the big idea that the brand is both attractive and socially responsible.
  • Tom Duncan, an IMC scholar, has pointed out that IMC is also a process in which communication becomes the driving, integrating force in the marketing mix and through- out the organization. Consumers are part of that process too. In the age of social media, brand marketers must “assess their IMC capability and understand how to leverage the consumer’s voice.” In other words, for IMC to retain value, it’s capability must be fluid rather than static.