Rediscovering That Ancient Yet Awesome Tool of Business -- In-Person Relationships
Shared experiences and live interactions can build a bond that lasts, creating a customer for the long run.
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Think about the first business ever created. I imagine it arose out of a bartering arrangement between two people, realized after certain elements came together like complimentary skills and shared needs. But most important, the two parties knew each other.
To this day, creating a successful business relies on the ability to build relationships with people: individuals who share your passion and who become valued employees, those who love your product and who help you spread the word or give you feedback to make it better. And then there's the key people who buy from you.
But building relationships with people is becoming harder. As the tools to create things are increasingly arriving in the hands of anyone who wants to reach out and grab them, more products are being created now than ever before. This means more people are trying to spread the word about their particular thing -- whether it's a blog about cheese, a store on Etsy, a shop down the street, a collection on Medium or a startup poised to be the next Google.
So the competition for those relationships is fierce. As a result, new methods of building relationships with people are being quickly adopted by people trying to create a brand for their product.
For a long time, advertising has been a significant method of communication for a business wanting to build relationships with people. But the depth of connection between a company and a person who becomes a customer from its advertisement is pretty minimal. Social media has opened up new doors, allowing companies to talk directly to their customers, with a more human-sounding tone. Content marketing has helped, too. If a company helps me learn something while I'm on my way to becoming its customer, certainly the connection is stronger than if I had been interrupted with an ad.
Yet the absolute best way to form a relationship with another person is to share a unique experience with that individual in person. Those early human barterers built their relationships in person and had customers for life. Consider this as communitas or community, the sense of connectedness that two people feel while sharing a unique experience together. This might be a bond that forms at an event and that could extend beyond what typically emerges from a single tweet or a blog post.
For example, when Yards Brewing Co. has a smoked-ribs event and invites members of Philadelphia's beer-drinking community, the organization is forming connections with those people (myself included). The next time I'm at a bar and Yards is on tap, not only am I more likely to order it, but I'm probably going to tell the friend I'm with about the time I met the head brewer at Yards and he explained to me the origins of the India Pale Ale.
It's easy to understand the theoretical value of events, but how can it be measured? First focus on experiences and engagements: the tally of event goers and the number of online interactions created because of the event. Assess the sense of community created. You don't calculate the return on investment of a customer based on an initial purchase, but rather on the lifetime value. When the sense of community at your event is high, you can create lifelong customers and word-of-mouth marketers.
So throw events, fun ones, interesting ones. You'll build something that all great businesses have: a great community. It's that community that will be your best source of customers and employees and that will serve as the vehicle to spread the word to build relationships with many more.