By Eric Holtzclaw

Today’s focus on “relationship marketing” leaves many business owners scratching their heads as to how to actually put it into play.

Here are three ways to both market your company and establish a better relationship with and understanding of your customers at the same time:

Highlight Your Customer. One of the best techniques for establishing relationship is to actually highlight your customer instead of your product or company.  Tell their story and include subtle branding.  People love to share their story with others and are flattered when someone else wants to tell it for them. Red Bull sells an energy drink but does an amazingly good job of this.

In the process of telling your customers’ stories, you learn more about what makes them tick and why they do what they do.  This information is incredibly valuable to find the places that your company can serve them better.

Give Advice. Teach your customer how to do something that they are struggling with. If your product is meant to fix a problem but your customer doesn’t know how to use it effectively, they may blame the failure on what you have provided.  Here is a very cool list from BuzzFeed that highlights opportunities for 18 different products on things they should be educating their consumers about.

In providing advice, make sure your customer can ask you questions.  Those questions are marketing gold for future content and they can be used as the basis for product and service improvements.

Throw a Party. One of the best ways to get to know your customers better is to hold an event. Not only does it create amazing goodwill, it’s likely they will bring along a friend or two and introduce those friends to your company.  Make sure it’s not a sales event, but have something unique and worth sharing.

I was at the Responsys Interact event earlier this year and they had individuals blindfolded at typewriters.  Everyone (including me) shared this odd activity across their social media channels and tagged Responsys.

By putting your customers into a social setting, you learn about who they are when they are not at work.  Again, this provides valuable insight into your customers and what they really care about.

Relationship marketing doesn’t have to be hard or expensive.  Think about it the same way you would when you establish relationship with your friends or family, and you’ll be on the right track toward establishing relationship with your customers.

Eric Holtzclaw has advised some of the largest companies in the world, companies like… Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Yahoo!, UPS, CNN, GE and Staples. Holtzclaw has just released a new book, Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior  and has articles that have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Inc., CNN, Forbes, USA Today, Time, CMO and more. @eholtzclaw.