The Rise of the “Relationship Era”

A figure walks through an illustrated field, where two signs point in different directions. One sign reads "Consumer Era" and the other reads "Relationship Era"

A figure walks through an illustrated field, where two signs point in different directions. One sign reads "Consumer Era" and the other reads "Relationship Era"

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More so than ever before, our lives are defined and dominated by the relationships that we choose to nurture. Despite a growing sentiment towards collective individualism, it is the relationships we form with others that shape our personal life experiences. As social interactions continue to morph within the constantly changing landscape of new media, what effect will that change have on the relationships consumers have with the companies whose products and services they buy?

In a recent article in Advertising Age, authors Bob Garfield and Doug Levy have dubbed the post-Consumer Era as the “Relationship Era.” They argue that due to the rise of the internet and the (relative) decline of mass media, organizations must confidently, consistently and effectively market their core values and personality to customers, as opposed to focusing solely on peddling their products and/or services. In the Relationship Era, companies that successfully engage customers in a genuine manner will be repeatedly rewarded. Meanwhile, companies that treat customers merely as pawns in their revenue-generating games will be marginalized (and even penalized).

Garfield and Levy couldn’t be more correct. Because social media empowers customers and businesses to interact directly, the substantial information gap that defined the Consumer Era has been rendered obsolete. Now, the lines between friends, customers, organizations, thought leaders and CEOs (and all others) are blurred, almost beyond recognition.

At Otherwise, our social media practice is designed entirely for sustained engagement, guiding our clients through the challenging landscape of this new brand of marketing. With our commitment to purpose-driven branding, we have stressed that a social media program must provide utility to fans beyond what is already known and/or readily available. Our philosophy is that engaging, useful and productive content is what defines an online relationship, ultimately strengthening the ties between an organization and its supporters in the real world.

We expect the the Consumer Era to continue to unravel in 2012 and beyond. Thanks to Google Wallet, 5g speeds, Foursquare and the virtually endless crop of communication innovations, consumers have an ever-growing number of tools to become both connected and engaged at all times, demanding even more from their online relationships.

It’s time to embrace the Relationship Era. It’s time for progress.

Peter Lillis is Social Media Manager at Otherwise Incorporated.

Illustration credit: Josh Epstien, Designer at Otherwise Incorporated.