Relationship Marketing: Dialogue and Networks in the E‐commerce Era

Louise Canning (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




Canning, L. (2004), "Relationship Marketing: Dialogue and Networks in the E‐commerce Era", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 38 No. 8, pp. 1031-1032.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As the apparent role of marketing has shifted from the planning and execution of the marketing mix in order to trigger exchange, to one where the principal concern is to establish and maintain long‐term customer relationships, so the approaches that a company might adopt to enable such relationships have grown. One such approach is that which has become known as customer relationship marketing (CRM). Companies can use information systems such as relational databases to conduct so‐called customer relationship marketing programmes. If the customer is simply a recipient of a targeted “communication” campaign and has little opportunity to engage in dialogue with the supplier, then are such marketing programmes really designed to encourage relationships between suppliers and customers? The central argument presented in the book is that if information technology is to be of any value in supporting buyer‐seller relationships, then it should be used to facilitate interaction and dialogue between parties. The contribution of the book lies in its effort to place the use of information communication technology (ICT) systems in the context of relationships and the communication which might take place within those relationships.

Clearly, rethinking the use of ICT systems to support relationship marketing requires some clarity about what exactly a relationship is. Varey provides a broad review of academic literature on relationships from business‐to‐business, services and consumer contexts. He posits that the ultimate goal of suppliers and customers should be to enjoy relationships that are characterised by mutual interest, shared understanding and high levels of trust and commitment (the content of the book is built around this). This might be true in some instances. However, in others, market conditions and the interests of the suppliers and customers themselves means that this is an unrealistic and perhaps undesirable objective and consequently relationships might be more discrete and transactional in nature. The book does not account for this alternative in its discussion of relationship marketing programmes.

Relationships include various forms of exchange, Varey's principal interest lying in those exchanges which are interpersonal in nature and are linked to communication and dialogue. The book provides an interesting view of communication, arguing that much of it has traditionally centred on the transmission of information, on the use of programmes that are essentially based on the “stimulus‐response” model. Varey proposes that to support relationship marketing, communication should be viewed as a social process. In this sense, it is a process in which individuals act and react to one another, where common assumptions, shared understanding and “meaning‐making” develop via dialogue between individuals. This is a valid point, one which is readily recognised in relationships where interpersonal contact is prevalent (in many business to business and service contexts, for example) but which perhaps, as Varey argues, has been overlooked in previous work on customer relationship marketing.

Varey goes on to discuss analytical tools and processes to facilitate the management of relationship marketing and the use of ICT systems to support exchange. Ironically, in discussing these ICT systems, what is not obvious to the reader, is how they will enable the dialogue that the author identified as being necessary for real and meaningful relationships between suppliers and customers. In spite of this, the book will be of value to managers by providing a broader perspective for CRM and will be a useful addition to reading lists for postgraduate students on relationship marketing courses.

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