There are a lot of marketing terms floating around. Strategic marketing. Content marketing. Tactical marketing. Contextual marketing.

As marketers, we can easily become confused about which marketing type to use when (or what kind of marketer we are) especially when our success is so wrapped up with quantifiable business results.

What kind of marketing will work best to generate the most number of sales, conversations, acquisitions, etc.? 

But the real problem is that none of the different names for marketing make any sort of difference. Because marketing, regardless of the objective is about one thing and one thing only.


Marketing, messaging, and connecting

What is marketing really? It’s about attempting to connect consumers with a brand through specific or targeted messaging in the hopes that they will purchase something.

Sounds simple enough, but we also know that people are in different parts of a ‘buyer’s journey’. They aren’t all ready to buy at the same time. What that means for marketers is that they have to touch people multiple times with specific messaging.

But you already knew that, didn’t you? What you may not have known is that from the first time you touched someone with that messaging, you are establishing, cultivating, or even damaging a relationship.

Different strokes for different folks

When you look at it, we establish relationships everyday. When we chat with the cashier at the car wash. When we glare menacingly at the driver who just cut us off. When we sit and discuss the performance of our marketing campaign with our boss.

Sometimes those relationships are deep and meaningful (i.e., we may rely on that person emotionally at some point). Other times, they are just cursory and shallow. But they are a relationship none-the-less.

What really complicates that understanding, though, is that different people want different kinds of relationships.

Some people just want a relationship that revolves around information. Yup, that’s all that product marketing stuff that marketing-industry pundits have been telling you isn’t as important as publishing stories.

But other people want to engage with you. They want a conversation. They live for those stories…and have stories of their own to tell and share. And still others might want something different.

Here are some relationship types (in the digital world) I’ve put together purely to exemplify my point:

  • You don’t see me. For whatever reason, some people want a relationship that is invisible. You know I am here and I know I am here but I don’t want anyone to acknowledge it.

    Men like these relationships a lot. It’s the reason they never ask for directions. How does it translate to the digital world? By ensuring that you have provided all the details about how your company helps people, what it sells, how your product/service works, etc.

    This enables these people to help themselves all the while internally singing your praises for being informative and helpful.

  • Acknowledgement. Some people want a relationship that just says, “hey, I see you there.” Maybe it’s a head nod or a tip of the hat.

    In the digital world, this translates to liking their comments on Facebook or maybe even replying but never sending them a direct message. They don’t want one-to-one interaction. They want to feel like they are part of the conversation but not actually be part of it.

    This is a person that will probably click a lot on the links you post into social media.

  • Attention hound. You know these people. In grade school they always had their hand up. They always had the loudest voice in a group discussion. They want to be heard.

    How do you have a relationship like this in the digital world? You elevate them in the conversation. If they are talented enough, you invite them to write some content for you. You write thought-provoking content that enables them to comment with their ideas and their opinions.

    You empower them to hold court.

  • BFF. The top of the digital relationship pyramid. These are intimate relationships in which people have made a connection. Maybe they read a piece of content (and think you “get it”). Maybe they’ve had a few conversations via social media.

    Whatever they feel like you and your brand messaging understand them (and it helps that they love your product and rave about it to friends). In the digital world, BFFs usually aren’t Attention Hounds but they want to feel involved.

    They want special attention (i.e., a members-only section on the website or part of a special committee).

    Let’s fact it, you are asking information from them for a reason, right? Give them sneak previews. Give them red-carpet treatment. Produce content just for them (that they can send to their friends). 

Successful marketers will utilize lots of technology (i.e., behavior analytics, personalization, big data, etc.) and good-ole fashioned one-on-one communication to deliver the right kind of messaging to the right person at the right time.

Striving towards the pleasant

So what happens when you start delivering the right kind of content to the right person at the right time? You know, the content that doesn’t just map to their position within the buyer’s journey but also the type of relationship they want?

You create a pleasant experience with your brand, that’s what.

It’s simple—give people what they want when they want it and they are happy. Imagine that you are marketing entirely with bullet points and lists. You’d probably alienate a whole group of people looking for a more intimate relationship with your brand (they want to be part of the ‘tribe’).

Their experience wouldn’t be pleasant because they aren’t getting what they want from you. Oops.

But the kicker? Relationship types aren’t fixed. People may change their relationship needs daily, hourly. Especially as they get touched by your marketing messages. And that complicates our ability to run campaigns.

So maybe we need to think about marketing differently if we are going to capitalize on all these potential relationships.

A new approach to marketing

So I won’t say that we need another type of marketing. Heaven forbid. We’ve got enough all ready. But I am saying that they are all really focused on the same thing—relationships. In that case, perhaps we don’t need to change the type of marketing we employ, rather the way we employ it? 

I’ll call this new way ‘liquid marketing’.

In many ways, marketing practitioners are all about creating campaigns, running them, measuring them, and that’s it. But the world we live in is dynamic. People are fickle, their behaviors change from day to night as well as their needs for a specific type of relationship.

The campaigns marketers develop are static objects in a shifting world. In order to make sure that we are providing the right kind of content for the right kind of relationship, marketers need to be dynamic.

But I can’t take total credit for this. I am actually co-opting Jonathan Mildenhall,’s idea (he’s the VP of Global Advertising Strategy at Coca-Cola) about liquid content and just extending it to the entirely of marketing itself.

Liquid marketing enables practitioners to recognize and embrace that all marketing, regardless of the type, is about relationship.

Being liquid focuses on remaining dynamic enough to get the right content to the right person at the right time (all the time) and thereby provide a positive experience with the brand which engenders the start (or continuation) of a relationship. Whew.

A shift is upon us

Yes, sorry for using the old ‘paradigm shift’ cliché but it fits. As marketers recognize how each time they touch a person with content is part of building a relationship they have to get out of the concept of running discrete marketing activities and making all of their marketing just one big campaign.

Is this splitting a hair? I don’t think so. If you really sit down and think about it—campaign-based marketing vs. liquid marketing—you’ll realize the fundamental shift that’s required.

By defining a marketing campaign at the outset you are only delivering content and a brand experience one time. You are saying, “hey, potential customer, either you fit into one of my buckets or you don’t.”

Staying liquid recognizes that people are touching brands at different times, places, and through different channels. They are changing their relationship types like they change socks. And your campaign needs to morph, in real-time, to individually fit their needs.

What we haven’t figured out yet

Unfortunately there’s no clear-cut way to measure the business impact of relationships. As marketers, we know they are being established. We intuitively know that if we have a good product and we are making people happy, more people will probably purchase our product.

But we don’ t have a quantifiable way to represent that and this creates problems with focusing on relationships instead of the clinical and sterile way we see people today as pipeline, leads, and opportunities.

Stay liquid

Still, it’s undeniable that every time we touch someone through our messaging (video, text, tweet, status update, webpage, whitepaper, the list goes on) we are establishing a relationship. And each subsequent time, we are either cultivating or damaging that relationship.

The next time that you put the finishing touches on a marketing campaign to drive leads and build pipeline, think about the kind of content you are pushing out. Are you appealing to the different types of relationships that people may want from your brand?

Because I argue that if you do, you’ll create a far more pleasant experience that will generate more re-tweets, likes, and ultimately paying customers. And as you analyze the success of that campaign, you can start to identify and categorize people into those relationship types enabling you to better target content. 

You know what? When that happens, your plain old static campaign will become something more. It will become what you need it to be in this crazy, dynamic world where attention is becoming the currency in a relationship-based economy. It will be liquid.