This week, we’re taking a look into the future of marketing at the FutureM Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

What’s FutureM?

It’s five days of planning, debating, and celebrating the future of marketing, and is an event that brings together some seriously innovative minds from the marketing and technology sectors.

Constant Contact is a proud sponsor of the event and will feature a lineup of speakers and panel participants from our team of innovators.

Relationships: the future of marketing

Two days at FutureM, and one reality seems truer than ever: relationships matter.

For most business owners (especially those who own small businesses), this is far from a revolutionary idea. It’s a reality you’ve been living with since the day you broke ground for your business and opened the doors to the community.

But how have technological advancements and changes in social connectivity impacted consumers’ shopping activities? That’s the question businesses need to answer before they move forward with their marketing efforts.

Here is a snapshot of what businesses will need to do to continue to foster positive customer relationships in the future.

1. Work to understand the deeper needs of their customers

No matter how far you’ve gone to understand the needs of your customers in the past, you’re going to have to continue to dive deeper.

This doesn’t mean delving into the personal lives of those who shop at your store or sign up for your services—it means making a renewed dedication to letting your customers drive your marketing decision making.

Remember: marketing isn’t only about growing your business; it’s about providing an experience that brings value to your customers. And that will make them think of organization when it comes time to buy or sign up for a service.

2. Understand it’s not about the mic

To steal a line from Chris Brogan, CEO  & President of Human Business Works: when it comes to engaging with your customers, it’s not about the mic.

For your business, that mic may be Facebook or Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, email marketing or a combination of them all. But Brogan argues, what are most important aren’t the networks or tools you use, but the way in which your business connects and engages with customers. Or to put it bluntly, people won’t care about what you tweet, if they don’t care about your business.

Being on social, adapting to mobile, and delivering quality content through email will be valuable in developing a strategy to help grow your business, but won’t be the be-all and end-all in determining your marketing success.

3. Make the buyer the hero

Another trademark-worthy quote from Brogan: “Make the buyer the hero.”

This doesn’t mean praising everything your customers do, or overwhelming them with your undying appreciation. It means understanding your role in helping your customer grow.

Businesses can’t be the hero in their own stories yelling, “Look at me! Look at me!” It isn’t going to get your brand more attention. What will get attention is focusing on what you can do to help your customers achieve their goals, and letting that guide the stories you tell.

(Check out a great post from Chris Brogan’s blog about “How Do I Get People to Care about What I’m Doing? – Tell Bigger Stories”)

4. Celebrate their customer’s success

Stacey Howe, Director of Global Digital Marketing and Brand Management for New Balance, said it best when talking about what her brand’s customers value most:

“People don’t care about our products; they care about what our products enable them to do.”

What their products enable customers to do is run races, set records, and overall—achieve goals they may have never thought possible. These success stories are extremely personal to their customer base and telling those stories have enabled them to not only connect with their target audience, but also reach a new level of social engagement.

Or as Stacey put it, “nothing is more social than a successful experience.”

5. Offer a more relevant experience

Relevancy isn’t a new idea for marketers, but it will continue to be a driving force in how brands engage with their target audience in the future of marketing.

Delivering more relevant experiences to customers starts with better understanding your customer’s needs and interests, and ends with addressing them with the products and services you promote and the content you create.

Today, 72% of small businesses are maintaining a presence on social media—delivering relevant content that allows you to stand out and get the attention you’re looking for.

6. Respect customer privacy

Permission-based marketing will continue to have a place in 2013 and beyond.

In fact, with the growing influence of mobile and data-driven decision making, it will become more important than ever.

To illustrate this point, John Caron, Vice President of Marketing for Catalina told the story of a car dealer that sent him a personal text message just a few hours after he walked off the showroom floor.

John had never given that dealer permission to use his contact information to send him a text message, and more importantly, the dealer never thought to ask.

In the future, it’s vital that marketers don’t mistake the level of connectivity they have with customers, as permission to invade their privacy with promotional content.

7. Turn social engagement into in-person communication

Some may argue that the new level of social-connectivity that exists in today’s world has, in fact, made us all less social.

And in a lot of ways—they’re right.

That’s why, as we move into a new age of marketing, it will become increasingly important to change the way your brand measures marketing success. Comments, “likes,” and shares are great, but social impressions alone, doesn’t pay the bills.

As marketers, we all need to reshape these success metrics and bring a renewed dedication to generating personal relationships from that social activity.

8. Make relationships their North Star

Ahh, how I would love to be able to take credit for the idea of relationships being the North Star for marketers.

Unfortunately, that credit goes to Corinne Munchbach, Analyst for Forrester Research.

While mobile, social, and ecommerce have had a profound impact on the way brands grow their business, they do not define who you are and what your business represents. Instead, they present an opportunity to reground yourself and your brand in the relationships you have with customers, and use that to inform your marketing decision making.

Looking back and moving forward

As we look into the future of marketing, it’s important you don’t forget to look back and remember what concepts have allowed you to get your business where it is today!

Innovate, adapt, and stay ahead of the curve, but don’t forget what matters most—your customers.

Follow along with everything happening at FutureM on Twitter. Search #FutureM and join the conversation!