Friendship and personal relationships are built upon trust, shared experiences, common interests, the enjoyment of being together and an array of other connections. These are bonds that unite us and often deepen over time. Business relationships, on the other hand, are formed and held together primarily by three specific bonds: financial, emotional and structural.
A financial bond is the most obvious—it’s the transactional quid pro quo, the exchange of money for a set of features and benefits that are deemed worth the investment. If the cost is worth the value derived (real and perceived), the financial bond is sufficient. If the value far exceeds the price, the bond is strong.
Emotional bonds are also known as social bonds. Insurance agents, physicians, great customer service agents and membership directors know that a social bond is necessary for a successful customer relationship. Social bonds are often individual, not institutional, so be sure your social bonds are not only strong but are also made stronger by your brand relationship, not only an individual.
My favorite, and the most strategic of the three, are structural bonds. Amazon Prime, the ExxonMobil Speedpass and frequent buyer programs are good examples. If you’re an Apple customer, you know how strong the structural bond is to Apple. Imagine switching your music, apps, photos and re-establishing new settings.
A structural bond creates stickiness beyond price and relationships. A Speedpass user buys more gas from ExxonMobil than a traditional credit card customer. An Amazon Prime member is more valuable than a nonmember. Greater share of wallet, deeper loyalty, less switching and greater top-of-mind awareness are just a few of the key benefits.
What are your organization’s structural bonds? What inextricable links do you have with your members? What investment have your customers made in your organization that make it difficult for them to leave?
It’s not your magazine, a membership card or a VIP reception at your annual convention. Ask yourself, “What can’t our members get anywhere else, and how do we codify it with a clear structural bond that makes us indispensable?” Structural bonds are often trademarked and patented. They are difficult or nearly impossible to copy.
Financial bonds are always susceptible to a same-value or lower-price alternative. Social and emotional bonds are hard to build and even harder to maintain, but are almost always worth the effort.
But my money is on structural bonds. They require imagination and awareness of what your customers value, which makes it easier for them to work with you and harder for them to leave you.
Structural bonds are the glue that keeps business relationships strong, sticky and secure.