Build direct relationships between brands and customers

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have traditionally been unable to develop direct relationships with their customers. They prioritized their relationships with retailers above all else. After all, retailers designated shelf space and actually purchased their products. Consumer advertising was not designed as a tool to connect with customers, but as a way to convince a consumer to choose one brand’s product over another.

In many ways, that pattern and that thinking still exists. However, the boom in direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales over the past decade has caused CPGs to rethink and redefine their relationships. Consumers can buy deodorants, razors and cleaning products directly from the brands. Even Post, a grain company founded in 1895, offers D2C sales through its website, though it supplies orders through local retailers.

In light of the online shopping models that have emerged during the pandemic, it’s easy to imagine a growing number of brands reaching out directly to consumers as they attempt to develop their own D2C relationships and sales channels.

Why build relationships?

E-commerce has had an interesting effect on retail. Online stores have depersonalized the retail experience. Shoppers didn’t nod to the neighborhood kid filling the shelves, talk to the clerk behind the deli counter, or choose the checkout lane where their favorite cashier sat. They clicked, ordered and waited for delivery.

Paradoxically, brands have used the same online tools to personalize their own relationships with their consumers. For the first time, they had direct access to chat with consumers, find out what they liked and disliked about their products, and promote products through one-on-one conversations.

These relationships, and the data that accompanies them, have guided brands in their product development initiatives. Off The Eaten Path, a brand developed by PepsiCo, was created after the brand realized that consumers were looking for healthy snacks. Unilever uses a Tinder-like swipe feature called Idea Swipe to directly engage consumers in its product development decision-making phase.

Ultimately, these brands are looking for information from their relationships that can improve their products or create long-term customers.

Three ways to build relationships that add value

Surprise and delight

While there are many ways to surprise and delight customers, they generally fall into one of three categories: personalized offers, exclusive events, or random acts of kindness.

Personalized offers allow your brand to demonstrate that it knows the customer. The offer features their name and possibly a birthday or anniversary message. If you have data on their buying habits, it could be an offer for their favorite product or activity.

Exclusive events, on the other hand, can be delivered to a certain number of customers. Events are usually special sales that only special customers can access or early access to new products and services.

Random acts of kindness are an extremely powerful method in the surprise and delight category. We’ve seen fantastic examples of this with Kleenex’s Feel Good and Kotex’s Woman’s Inspiration Day. Tide takes it to a new level. The laundry detergent brand is offering free laundry services to first responder families during the health pandemic.

Random acts of kindness help build emotional connections between consumers and brands, and lead to user-generated content and social media buzz.


Brands can create value in their relationships in several ways. Nestle Toll House shares its commitment to improving the lives of cocoa farmers on its page, while Post welcomes web visitors to breakfast and shares recipes using its cereals. Kraft Heinz, which has more than 200 brands, shares its vision for a more sustainable environment, animal welfare and human rights on its website.

All of these brands, and millions more, create content that helps them connect with their customers. Some share their vision for a better world, while others show innovative and unexpected ways for consumers to use their products. At the center of all this activity is the desire to develop relationships through shared activities, values ​​or desires.

Connected packaging

In 2013, Domaine Ponsot, producer of Burgundy wines, launched its smart boxes on the market. These cases track the temperature of the wine and connect to a mobile device using an NFC chip to notify users of the temperature status of the wine inside the case and the impact that the temperature may have had on the quality of the wine.

Pinea, another wine producer, includes a QR code and an NFC chip on each bottle. Users can scan the code or press the chip to validate the bottle’s authenticity. Once connected, Pinea has the ability to engage consumers with contextual and personalized experiences.

Malibu Rum bottles help the brand connect with customers through an NFC chip in the bottle cap and a QR code printed on the bottle. Consumers can connect with the brand using their mobile devices to get drink recipes, enter sweepstakes or participate in special events, such as the 2019 Malibu Games.

These connected packages offer brands direct relationships with users of their products, helping them develop stronger brand affinity.

Final Thoughts

CPGs have the ability to engage with more customers to create better user experiences and more innovative products. Relationship building has the potential to open up new avenues for GICs that could lead to better brand reputation.

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