Oxford Learning Lab - Marketing Communications: The Marketing Communications and Relationship

The Marketing Communications and Relationship

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In this lecture, the role of marketing communications within the development of buyer/seller relationships is explored from an audience perspective. The first part of the lecture considers a range of forms of communications, and the second examines a range of exchange preferences. The final part brings these two elements together in the form of a marketing communication/relationship dynamic. This video shows how understanding an audience's preferred relationship with a supplier should shape the type of marketing communications mix used to communicate with them.

Course expert

Chris Fill

Author & Consultant - Marketing Communications


This part introduces the main ideas that will be discussed in the Marketing communications and relationship chapter: the principles of relational exchange, the main forms of communication and the marketing communication relationship dynamic. We will also learn how we can adapt the marketing communications mix to the general needs of the audience and how we can further develop relationships that we value with respect to consumer markets and B2B markets.

There are several models of communication and we are going to pass through some of their brief descriptions. One of them is the one way model of communication based on the idea that we have a source for a particular message which is encoded in a specific format, considered relevant for the receiver. This message is sent through a signal, in various forms, which is eventually decoded by the receiver. The effectiveness of this model depends on a number of variables. The source must understand the receiver and the receiver must have sufficient information to decode the message in terms of signs, symbols and words as means of expression. The communication is enhanced by our realms of understanding but could also be perturbed by elements such as noise. The second model is the Influencer model of communication which, similarly, has a message source that sends communication to two types of target audience. One of these target audiences does not receive the message directly from the source because, for several reasons, the message has been blocked on the way but they eventually receive the message from other sources called influencers. These can be opinion leaders or opinion formers. Opinion leaders are unofficial experts, people who have informal knowledge and qualifications about a particular topic and are willing to share that knowledge with members of their peer group- this is how word of mouth generally works. Opinion formers have a formal qualification and expertise in a certain field and are often paid to communicate with target audiences about a particular topic; these are usually journalists. The next model is the response model of communication which enables the receiver to respond to the message it has received. Therefore, the receiver becomes the source of the next segment of communication and this takes the shape of interactivity which is a critical activity for marketing communications to stimulate and maintain. Interactivity can be mediated through technology but it is also often based on human interaction. All in all, we can notice that there is a wide range of communication forms starting from one way communication to more complex means such as interactive dialogue and it is important to understand their specific features and to know when to use them in our marketing strategies.

Trust and commitment are two important pillars in any type of relationship, therefore a Model of Trust and Commitment was developed by Morgan and Hunt in 1994 and has been frequently used in marketing strategies as well. According to this model, the three essential elements- trust, commitment and cooperation undergo the impact of ten other variables, one of them being communication. There is a positive relationship between the level of quality of communication and the amount of trust. If we take a look at our relationships we can see that they vary a lot from intense, active and dynamic relationships to passive, latent ones and this feature also applies to business relationships; that is why we need marketing strategies to exploit each type of relationship and to maximize the stronger ones. In fact, we have a category of transactional exchanges which do not imply a relationship with the supplier; we are interested only in the functionality, benefits and price of the product. At the other end of the spectrum, we have collaborative exchanges where we focus on a sustainable relationship with a particular partner or supplier and we value this relationship especially for its intangible benefits. Nevertheless, all transactions contain a level of relationship orientation and, to reinforce this theory, we have the concept of social capital which refers to the body of knowledge that people hold within relationships. We can identify two types, bridging social capital when we have the ability to communicate with other networks but the ties that we establish are weak and bonding social capital when we find a small number of very strong ties with a specific network. Research has shown that individuals with bridging social capital skills had more chances of finding a job because they were able to extend over a large number of networks comparing to the ones with bonding capital strengths. No matter the type of relationships involved though, marketing communications should shape the relationships that those parties want. Similarly to marketing communications’ objectives, relationships should be also audience centered not supplier driven, adapting to the needs of the parties.

In order to understand the marketing communication relationship dynamic we need to pay attention to the functional elements of communication. When are building relationships or we are trying to communicate with future audiences we need to consider elements such as the speed of the communication, the direction of communication, the frequency, the environment, direct or indirect contact and finally, the formality of the message. By considering and controlling these factors we can shape the way we communicate with our business partners. In terms of relationships’ preference, we have those relationships where a lower level of engagement is actually preferred by customers and consequently our communications should be more infrequent, one way oriented, usually direct and very formal. On the other hand, a relationship based on a fuller level of engagement requires more frequent and supportive contacts, more spontaneous, indirect and informal interactions and a two way oriented communication. Trust and commitment are also important components of this type of relationship.

As a general conclusion, marketing communication should be used to complement the preferences of the parties within a relationship. This means that organisations should undertake an analysis of their customers and the relationship that they want and need and consequently develop coordinated marketing communications to reflect the relationship dynamics. In real life, usually a blend of these types of communications is necessary in order to obtain the right result.

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