Building Customer Relationships: The Marketing Hourglass

Building Customer Relationships: The Marketing Hourglass

News flash: your yarn/paper/fabric/craft shop is not unique. Sure, there are some aspects that are a little different from your competitors, but there are a thousand shades of that perfect red, countless varieties of paper punches, and more options for amazing organizing bags than we can count on our fingers and toes. So why would a customer choose to buy from your shop, rather than an online retailer, the big box store 15 minutes away, or on Amazon? Because you’re providing a better customer experience. Really, that’s it—the one differentiating factor you have control over.

If you’ve read a marketing book, you’re probably familiar with the Rule of Seven. The idea is that a consumer has to “hear” your marketing message seven times before they buy. But in the age of multiple competitors, blasting your message aimlessly and hoping you’ll hit your target consumer isn’t going to cut it. In fact, when done improperly it’s likely to cause brand fatigue. Consumers want to purchase from their “friends” (people they know, like, and trust), not some faceless conglomerate. This is the area where even if the price is better online, you have a leg up as a small business. 

In the beginning, we referred to this journey of converting potential customers to loyal consumers as the KnowLikeTrust funnel. In recent years we’ve come to learn this transition is less shaped like a funnel than it is like an hourglass. Beyond KnowLikeTrust exists TryBuyRepeatRefer, which encapsulates not just the initial interaction between your business and a customer, but also describes a prolonged relationship with far-reaching potential for additional customers. The book Marketing Metrics states that you have a 60-70% chance of selling to an existing customer, while only a 5-20% chance of selling to a new customer, aptly illustrating why your marketing should be an hourglass, and not a funnel. Yes, securing new customers is incredibly important, but maintaining those customers through a sustained relationship has proven to be even more valuable.

Getting to Know You

This is when customers first hear about your company, your brand story, and what you sell. Making a great first impression is important. So where do people get to know your company?

  • Print and digital advertising
  • Earned media (print and digital articles/blogs/social media posts about your company)
  • Social media
  • User generated content
  • Referral from friends or family

All of these areas lay the foundation for converting potential customers into returning customers.


Getting to Like You

At this stage, people are still getting to know your company. This could be anything from your elevator pitch at a booth to a customer walking into your store. In recent years, it has likely meant clicking a link that directs them to your website, or following your social media presence for valuable insight. These are valuable spaces in which you can show the customer who you are, what you believe in, and why they should buy from you.

Where do people begin to like your brand online?

At this stage, it’s important that you convey to customers how your product/service fulfills a specific need in their lives. Does your product make their lives better, easier, more beautiful, or more creative? Your customer is really shopping because they lack something—how are you filling that void?

Getting to Trust You

How do you build trust with people you meet outside of business? By being authentic, caring, and generous. The same rules apply in marketing, so make your messaging about the consumer: connect with them on a personal level, provide value to them, and show them that you understand their pain points. Where can you build trust with potential customers?

  • Testimonials (on your website, in social media posting, in the form of reviews)
  • Newsletter
  • Endorsements from people your customers already trust; user generated content


Of course, there are overlaps between all of these categories. Also keep in mind that converting from liking to trusting may take a long time and require many exposures.

It’s important to remember that good friendships go both ways – you get to know your friend, and they get to know you. Tell them about you and your brand and your values, but also communicate that you understand their pain points, their passions, and provide them with solutions via your product/service.

Getting to Try You

Once you’ve earned the trust of your customer, it’s time for them to try your wares. The ‘try’ stage is really a forwarding and continuation of the ‘trust’ stage. You’re building rapport. This is the point at which your customer is just about to make their first purchase—the top of the thin neck of the hourglass, reflective of the most delicate area. Customer service and satisfaction is paramount at this juncture. 

The ‘try’ stage is all about how you’re fulfilling the needs of your customers.

  • Do you provide informative content (videos, blogs, etc) to supplement your product offering? 
  • Does your social media support your products with tutorials and testimonials? 
  • Are you responsive within a reasonable time frame, whether in person or online? 
  • How engaged and reachable are you as a presence? 

Brands that provide a meaningful experience and are seen as making the world a better place outperform in the stock market by 134%. (Vivendi). Providing a meaningful experience beyond a product is invaluable to your business strategy.

Getting to Buy You

This point is as delicate as the previous stage, because a single customer conversion may not translate to additional future purchases. We’re firmly in the lower middle of the hourglass, when a customer has made their first purchase. As we stated previously, retaining your new customer as a future loyal consumer is invaluable—the one-time purchase should not be your goal. Make the buying process as seamless and easy as possible. If you’re operating online:

  • How easy is it to check out? 
  • How many different forms of payment do you accept? 
  • Do you send out thank you confirmation emails as well as shipment detail emails? 
  • Is it easy to get in touch with customer service? How fast is your response time?
  • Do you employ abandoned cart notifications? 

These are all questions you should ask of your business to enhance the customer experience.

Getting to Repeat Purchases

As we’ve said, studies have shown that a repeat customer is more valuable to your company than a new customer. You’ve built up trust, introduced a new customer to your products, and sold them something that fulfilled a need. Now what? How do you convert a one-time customer into a loyal customer? How do you show your new customer that you can fulfill more of their needs? 

  • Send out a follow-up email to check in on a previous purchase
  • Institute a loyalty or rewards program to encourage future purchases (we talk in depth about customer retention through the use of loyalty programs here
  • Offer a coupon on their next purchase, or free shipping 
  • Be interested in them. Ask for their birthday when they sign up for your newsletter, then automate a friendly message with a discount on their birthday 
  • Once again, ensure your customer service is timely, friendly, and available 

Getting to Refer You

Your customer loves you and shops with you frequently, the next logical step is the referral. You have little control over how your customer talks about your services in their day-to-day lives, but the world of social media has turned referrals into an artform. The easiest and fastest way to encourage organic referrals is via social media and user generated content.

  • Innovate a special hashtag that highlights your business or product, and encourage customers to use it when featuring the product on their online profiles
  • Promote online giveaways around products and specific hashtags, encouraging reposts and asking participants to tag your business
  • Offer discounts or giveaways for supplying reviews on your website 

When planning your marketing strategy, you should consider people at each stage of the marketing hourglass. How does your content engage and bring people further down through the hourglass? What are you doing to increase brand awareness to invite more people on this journey? How are you creating a culture of community around your business? When your business begins to feel like a living, breathing entity—a trusted friend in your customer’s life—then you will truly know you have a solid customer base.

Here’s an example of a real customer journey. Tom Bihn is an American manufacturer of high-quality bags and accessories with a strong social media presence and excellent customer service track record. Here’s a breakdown of a recent purchase with Tom Bihn that followed the marketing hourglass strategy.

Know: While Tom Bihn is primarily a manufacturer of laptop bags, bookbags, and suitcases, they crossed over into the crafting sphere years ago with their wildly popular Swift bag model, designed specifically for knitters. I started seeing rave reviews of the Swift on Ravelry, the Tom Bihn forum, on social media, and in blog posts across the internet. The brand is one familiar to crafters, with a known track record of excellence.

Like: After signing up for the newsletter, I routinely received emails with informative videos on how to properly clean a Tom Bihn bag, how to effectively utilize all its compartments and features, and how to connect with other Tom Bihn customers in their forums. I followed them on social media to see more of their bags “in the wild.” Their social media proved especially intriguing as it regularly offered inside looks into their American factory with introductions to their workers, lending their social media a personal touch that made me feel like I was part of the Tom Bihn family.

Trust: Tom Bihn’s customer service and customer forums made trusting the company incredibly easy. They were readily available by email, phone, and a website chat function, and were always responsive within a reasonable time frame. I learned via Ravelry and their forums that should my product ever prove defective, a smooth returns process was ensured. Tom Bihn posted representatives on Ravelry and their website to watch out for any issues and were quick in their responses.

Try + Buy: Investing in a Swift for myself proved easy after all the positive interactions and online proof of their quality. I contacted the company to see when a particular color combination might be in stock so I could purchase it, and received a response within a few days. The response put me in touch with a real person, who I was then able to converse with via several emails. The process instilled not only a sense of security in my potential purchase, but also produced a friendly familiarity with a unique individual at Tom Bihn. I was able to pre-order the color I wanted, and received updated emails when the order was in processing, when it had shipped, and when it had arrived. The entire process was smooth and painless. 

Repeat: At this point, I now had a relationship with Tom Bihn. I trusted the company and regularly received their updates via newsletters and social media. They posted behind-the-scenes looks at their American factory, introducing me to the individuals who work for the company, which only further enamoured me with their company ethic. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, Tom Bihn completely pivoted their business model to only produce face masks. They instituted a give-one-get-one model wherein customers can purchase a face mask for themselves and Tom Bihn will deliver a face mask to a healthcare worker. Because of my previous satisfaction with the company, I purchased two for my household without reservation. They arrived within the week with complete instructions for wearing and cleaning. 

Refer: After receiving my face masks, I immediately referred the company to my family members who were also in need of face masks. I related the speed at which I received my masks, the charitable program involved, and my previous trust and positive experiences with the company. Without realizing it, I had become a small marketing bullhorn for Tom Bihn. Most importantly, it never felt that way.

Tom Bihn’s marketing strategy feels less like a strategy and more like a personal interaction with a beloved brand I’ve grown to trust, respect, and admire. The marketing hourglass is clearly at work, but the process feels natural and unforced. This last point is paramount to the success of your marketing strategy.

The Personalized Experience

The marketing hourglass is an effective strategy for converting potential customers into lifelong consumers. But it isn’t just about moving your potential customer along a static track. 

Trust is probably the most important factor in the equation, and building trust takes time and effort. A 2020 study found that a staggering 81% of people must be able to trust a brand to do what is right if they are to buy their products (Edelman Trust Barometer). The same study found that 84% of people want brands to use their social media channels to foster a sense of community and offer social support.

Brand trust is of the utmost importance especially now, when both people and brands find themselves thrust into a life-changing crisis event. Customers are looking for care and support—they don’t want to be sold a product, which can make the relationship between customer and brand feel insincere. Brands that show they are of service to the community will receive more engagement than those who don’t. I researched several companies for face masks, but Tom Bihn won out because firstly, they tied the purchase to a charitable act and secondly, they have a proven track record with me. By purchasing with them, I could take care of my needs while also helping the healthcare community at large.

Contact us today if you’re interested in learning more about how to implement the marketing hourglass into your business strategy.

Leanne Pressly
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