Building a relationship one transaction at a time

While riding the escalator into the upper regions of the shopping centre I saw the billboard pictured here. The copy reads: “We want to build a relationship with you, one amazing outfit at a time.”

I liked it – a well-defined exchange of value (cash, for “an amazing outfit”), a deal between two free agents, in a highly competitive market.  

I especially liked that the retailer did not imply that one purchase created a relationship. Rather, the brief message speaks of “building” a relationship, through repeated events, where the same input (cash) has the same outcome (“amazing outfit.)

The relationship emerges because the shopper’s experience creates trust in the intention, capacity and actions of the retailer. The retailer implies a commitment to be there for the shopper for some time to come. If the implied promise is consistently kept, then the relationship gets stronger: Loft becomes the go-to choice of the fashion-savvy woman who needs a new amazing outfit. Within the limits of retail, the basis for the “relationship” seems very sound.

The paradigm is instructive for fundraising. The relationship we crave with donors is not built because we have shared values, or worldviews, or are troubled by the same thing. Donors may be highly simpatico with what we are trying to do and never give a nickel. Just as Loft and many shoppers agree that great fashion is a priority: shared values do not guarantee sales.

Instead of standing only on values, beliefs and convictions, we need to craft an “offer” that encourages an action (donation) which we then turn into a result. And again and again.

Therein lies the challenge of course. The retailer has it easy: Loft needs only to deliver something that can arguably meet the standard of “amazing” in outfits – a far easier task than defining repeatable outcomes for donations. 

Yet in today’s competitive market we have to try. If our product is changed lives, we better show some people whose lives are changed. If it’s a cure for a disease, we must show some progress or at least define some research benchmarks that must be met along the way. There’s very little room in today’s environment for funding a noble effort with no defined outcomes.

And remember -- one or two donations do not a relationship make. Loft is not looking for the person who drops a few dollars at a clearance table at Christmas: they’re looking for the people who want a fashion impact, and come to depend on Loft to deliver it.

So, if you were writing such a billboard, what’s your offer? And can you deliver?

- Larry Matthews