The World’s Most Effective Relationship Marketing Strategy (for any sized company)

By: John Ruhlin

Relationships. They’re at the core of everything.

Without them, you and I are out-of-business. Key relationships have built Fortune 100 companies. They’ve made people into billionaires. They’ve changed trajectories for careers, lifestyles, and generations of familes.

And yet some leaders remain oblivious to their importance.

In a world where attention is expensive, skepticism is high, and we’re all at the mercy of invisible algorithms – savvy leaders might be thinking:

‘I don’t need a marketing agency. I need more relationships.’

It’s not WHAT you know. It’s WHO you know… and WHO likes and trusts you.

The myth of relationship marketing

There’s a cute, fuzzy term that exists in the industry known as ‘relationship marketing.’

A Google search, however, will quickly reveal nothing of substance:

  • “It is a facet of Customer Relationship Management (CRM).”
  • “It focuses on improving customer interactions for better brand loyalty.”
  • “Provide exceptional customer service and launch a repeat business program.”

Hmm. These people must be a hit at parties.

Relationship building is not a tactic

You can’t gimmick your way to be known, liked, and trusted.

And yet companies that sell CRM (and gifting software) would have you believe in clever affinity strategies. Little gestures that endear customers to faceless companies.

Some examples would be:

  • Capital One reimbursing for TSA fees
  • Patagonia encouraging shoppers to buy used Patagonia clothing
  • GE creating sci-fi content for their youtube channel
  • Dominos pizza launching a wedding registry (and bringing back AVOID THE NOID)

I might love each of the above. But leaders should not confuse brand affinity with human relationship.

  • Human relationship is one-to-one. Brand affinity is one-to-many.
  • Relationship is no strings attached. Brand affinity has a not-so-secret purpose.
  • Relationship is deeply emotional. Brand affinity lives on planet “oh that’s nice.”

And all that’s ok. But let’s not be coy about it. We’re not going to put our arms around a Capital One executive and say ‘thanks for saving me a hundred bucks at TSA!’ 

We won’t pave-the-way for Capital One to land a massive enterprise account just because we like their credit cards. For most people, such marketing is little more than a fleeting thought.

Who WOULD we bend-over-backwards for? Our neighbor, sorority sister, or Jim – the funny guy in our mastermind who has a third baby-on-the-way and trying to have his best sales year ever.

“Is my relationship marketing actually building relationships?”

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it require some aspect of self-sacrifice? If not, it’s just marketing.
  • Is it personalized and unique to each individual? If not, it’s just marketing.
  • Am I building up the brand or building up a person? If a brand, it’s just marketing.

Humans aren’t loyal to logos. They’re loyal to leaders.

Despite every brand trying to manufacture butterflies with big media spends – a brand-to-human relationship will never be as deep as human-to-human. Sorry, heartfelt super bowl ads.

There is an obvious fear for companies investing in human relationships. Wasted resources.

If (or when) a key relationship builder leaves, the relationships leave with them. Yes, that can happen. Which is why companies should invest equally to prevent key employees from leaving.

If the primary question being asked is: “how do we get people to like us?” – then it’s just marketing.

Case Study #1: A top 100 relationship campaign

We recently finalized a ‘TOP 100 GIFTING CAMPAIGN’ for a rapidly-becoming known tech company.

The owner’s ROI goal was lead flow (first) and acquisition (second). The lucky 100 individuals were:

  • 30 circles of influence (the people who KNOW people)
  • 40 current clients (who could be referral partners)
  • 20 prospects (that could pay for the investment 5x over)
  • And 10 referral sources who has provided numerous leads in the past.

100 recipients, 3 gifts each, spread out every 4 months.

  • Total gift investment for the year – $49,850
  • This individual was considering 2 gifts each, which would have cost – ~$34,600.
  • Another option would be to spend twice that (~70K) if they wanted to go bigger on gifts.

So as you can see? There’s wiggle room based on goals and budget spend.

  • We’ve done campaigns that cost $5K and campaigns that cost $250K.
  • Most of our clients hire us to be their agency partner (more on that below).

And when they do, we hear things like this:

“We’ve shifted our entire marketing budget to gifting and looking after customers. Revenue has catapulted as a result. Anybody who has had the chance to read the book can consider themselves lucky and fortunate. Fantastic work.”

-Jonathan Goodman, founder of The PTDC

Note: if spending 10K or less seems out-of-your-league at the moment, consider DIY gifting.

Relationship building is an essential system regardless of business size.

The importance of relationship marketing (hint: it’s not the marketing).

The goal is to create uncommon, human connection:

  • People that care more about you than the business
  • With many stakeholders: prospects, customers, partners, and employees
  • And extending beyond the walls of the business into the core of the builder’s network.

Does that sound like something you can do with fancy shmancy software?

Traditional agencies create marketing experiences that interrupt and annoy:

  • Advertisements, sponsored posts, commercials, billboards, and other easily ignored methods.
  • Believers in GIFT∙OLOGY –like Darren Hardy, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Tim Sanders– call this approach outdated and tone deaf.

The GIFT∙OLOGY GROUP creates marketing experiences that shock and delight:

  • Companies hire us to be their relationship building department.
  • We create gifting campaigns on behalf of our clients (whom, yes – work for brands).
  • Item selection, personalization, administration, and a half dozen other details that most business leaders miss – we take care of it all.
  • While our clients receive the relational equity from sending world class gifts.

Relationships got you where you are today. And you were so good at building them? You now have too many to manage.

And that’s to say nothing about all those future leaders you’re meeting/will meet:

  • People that can take you to the next level
  • Open doors, drive the business, or create insane opportunities
  • …but only if you have the partners in place to handle the work for your busy self.

What is a relationship agency?

For those unfamiliar, the agency model is hundreds of years old:

  • A group of people get together and specialize in something
  • This group (the agency) focuses on only this one thing
  • Clients pay some type of fee for these services

It’s impossible to be great at everything. So companies hire agencies:

  • To create snappy taglines, creates assets, and publish ad campaigns
  • To write their scripts, hire actors, and make their commercials
  • To identify VIP relationships, build campaigns, and get world class gifts delivered

(Spoiler alert: that last bullet is what the GIFT∙OLOGY group does.)

An agency’s goal is to turn $1 into $1.50. Or better yet, $150. Which is why, regardless of their super power, agencies only take on certain clients. Agencies, too, can’t be great with everyone.

(Which is why we recently revamped our work-with-us page).

Case Study #2: Multi-tiered relationship campaigns

Business leaders preach the 80/20 rule. And yet many gifting budgets are ‘same size pie slice for everybody.’ Because it’s easier. It requires less effort. It can be delegated.

But relationships are NOT created equal. Value potential is NOT equal. Customer ceilings exist at wildly different heights. Why wouldn’t your relationship efforts reflect these facts?

Relationship potential is identified by four variables:

  • Possibilities – are we priming the relationship for a specific purpose? (upsells, promotion, etc)
  • Past actions – have previous behaviors made this relationship stand out? (LTV, referrals, etc)
  • Permanency – how vital is this relationship for the business in the next 3-5 years? 5-10? 10+?
  • Perception – what could happen if we had 110% of this individual’s loyalty?

When you analyze a list of, say, 40 potential recipients against those four yardsticks? Winners, BIG winners, and ‘maybe next times’ emerge.

One client that has embraced a multi-tiered gifting strategy breaks it up like this. They have identified five different tiers of intentional relationships:

  • “Chrome” is a two-year gifting strategy. Year one is an $800 relationship investment.
  • “Silver” is a one-year gifting strategy, with a $400 relationship investment.
  • “Bronze” is a lower-level tier. Less planning. Less spend. Likely triggered by some type of recipient action (follow-up to a zoom call, for instance).
  • And then two other one-off gifting strategies for large clients. Surprise and delight, shock and awe, type stuff. These clients will then be integrated into “chrome.”

Recipients in the bronze tier are not thinking “oh man, I’m only a bronze.”

And even if they WERE aware of such things? Like an employee campaign – where Pam from accounting is bragging to Jared in marketing, unaware she received a superior gift? Wouldn’t bother me one bit.

In fact, inequality actually works in your favor here. You can probably guess why.

So that’s what a multi-tiered campaign looks like: different spends, different timespans, and different ways to assess value.

“Our referrals went up 105%. We’ve run this event for the past 5 years and haven’t changed a single thing, except this year we sent your gifts to every single [attendee], and followed your program to include the spouse as well. I would have been elated with a 10% increase in referrals, let alone 10 times that.”

-John Bowen, founder CEG Worldwide

Your organization probably doesn’t think about relationship building that way.

But it should.

“Is gifting relevant for people whose love language ISN’T gifts?”

There are five ways human beings experience relational love:

  1. Words of affirmation – saying kind, encouraging things.
  2. Quality time – sharing happy experiences, face-to-face.
  3. Gifts – it’s NOT that thought that counts. 😉
  4. Acts of service – doing helpful things to care for the other.
  5. Physical touch – skin-to-skin, baby.


THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES was written by my friend, Pastor Gary Chapman, in 1992. It has sold millions of copies. It’s the most practical handbook ever written for romance cats, intimacy seekers, and love-in-action relationship builders.

GIFT∙OLOGY isn’t only helpful. It’s necessary.

Because what we teach (in the book, course, and youtube channel) is that gifting incorporates multiple elements:

  • The gift itself – an artifact that lasts forever (like the relationship).
  • Acts-of-service – send something practical, that makes their life easier.
  • Words-of-affirmation – say encouraging things in the handwritten note.


Sometimes (with our love bomb gifts) we create a quality time experience as well. Like if the gift is capping an event or hangout. See: Aubrey Marcus love bomb.

We’re still figuring out the touch thing. LOL. Likely inappropriate for your employees.

GIFT∙OLOGY is complete, powerful, and hard-as-heck to execute.

Hitting multiple languages takes a lot of time, money, or both:

  • Time to research ideas and pick out gifts
  • Time to think of the perfect words and write the note
  • Money to do all the things. Brain cells for thoughtfulness
  • Usually capped by a frustrating journey to the post office…

It’s for this reason most people don’t gift well. And rely on the 10 worst gifts instead. It’s easier.

GIFT∙OLOGY vs 5 LOVE LANGUAGES is the wrong question.

A better question: what makes gifting special? Why is it such a powerful form of relationship building?

Answer: self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is the ultimate act of love. (John 15:13)

The sacrifice doesn’t have to be time. In fact, for busy leaders, it’s easier if it’s not:

  • “I wish I could pay somebody to take care of this for me.”
  • Well that somebody… is us. 🙂

There’s a difference between somebody who (1) acts loving and (2) is actually loving.

“Doesn’t hiring an agency put me in the former category?”

No. Nor does it put you in the latter.

Some people act like “if it doesn’t require the sacrifice of time and energy, it’s not real love.” This thinking eliminates busy leaders from strategic relationship building.

“I can only gift if I’m doing all the steps myself” is scarcity thinking.

Love-in-action is all about intent.

Question your intention:

  • Is your gifting a means to an end? Are you trying to GET something?
  • Then recipients probably feel ‘branded’ – or worse, bribed.

But if you truly have a heart for a relationship – and are simply lacking the time, savvy, or partners to execute a sincere, authentic strategy? That’s fine.

I’ve said it before. Leaders work with us for the same reason they hire personal trainers. Except e do all the sweaty stuff, while you sit in the lounge, drinking coffee and reading a mag.

And you still get all the gains.

“How do I get my leadership team on board with gifting?”

We get asked this question every week of the year. It’s not that your leadership team isn’t generous (in most cases). It’s that they don’t see the ROI.

Like with any executive conversation, you need to be a great problem salesperson. Not a great gifting salesperson. Zoom out from your current circumstance. And identify the ROI.

Which of the following issues is most pressing to leadership?

  • Client or employee retention, engagement challenges, or a need for future priming.
  • Evaporated lead flow, because your marketing is competing in a world-of-noise.
  • Weak cross-selling or up-selling, based purely on (annoying) digital outreach.
  • Talent fatigue: canceled parties, incentive trips, or decreasing entertainment budgets.
  • Customer experience/retention teams that are spread thin and under-resourced.
  • And my personal favorite: dependency on a few vulnerable channels for deal flow.

Do your leaders understand “marketing for the now?” Gary Vee can explain it to them.

One solution is to propose a test. It doesn’t have to be expensive. And if you get the timing right (say, after the loss of a key account) – you might be the change champion your organization needs.

Obviously respect the unspoken rules of company culture. And lean into your personal connections.

It also helps when your leadership team has a GIFT∙OLOGY experience themselves. Connect with us and maybe we can create an “oh, I get it now” moment.

Wise leaders get it quickly: this is not something we can do ourselves.

Why hire a relationship agency?

Reason 1: Time

Zig Ziglar once said: “to a child, love is spelled T-I-M-E.” I agree. And I would extend this to my spouse. My two or three best friends. And maybe a mentor or coach.

However, leaders need-to-know too many people for such a definition to be true.

Think about all the buckets of people whom leaders need to love:

  • Employees, contractors, clients, customers – past and present
  • Circles-of-influence, connectors, advocates and referral partners – your lifeblood
  • Providential relationships, that have potential to feed the future

The good news is your fellow leaders understand this. The bad news is we’re human.

  • Emotions, even positive ones, are fleeting.
  • Our minds (and hearts) are slaves to recency bias.

And there’s not enough time-in-the-day for all the necessary dinners, golf outings, spa dates, hangouts, hotel rooms, and airplane trips that would be necessary to ‘relationship’ with everyone who deserves it.

(All of which –ironically– rob and steal from your spouse, children, and besties.)

Reason 2: Escaping tunnel-vision

There’s a popular saying about relationships: ‘people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.’ Unfortunately, most of us are busy, focused, and stretched thin.

So the LIFETIME bucket doesn’t stand a chance.

Relationships are choked out. Like weeds. Not because of ill intent. But because of our inability to offer our best beyond what’s in front of us.

And why should we? Level 10 problems require level 10 focus.

But do you know how many stories I (and our clients) have about salvific, watershed, or exponential business moments… that were initiated, collaborated, or shared with other leaders…

…whose initial introduction offered NO INDICATION of how important that relationship would one-day-become??

In other words: life-changing moments start as unremarkable introductions.

  • Like a tiny spark. That can set your world on fire (in a good way).
  • But if left unnurtured, will fade away in a whisp of smoke.

Relational conclusion is the only possible outcome when leaders fail to feed the REASONS and SEASONS. Leaders hire a relationship agency when they’re tired of serving leftovers.

And when others are tired of eating them.

Reason 3: Unexpressed appreciation

Pastor Andy Stanley has an excellent observation: ‘unexpressed appreciation is experienced as unappreciation.’

So many people teach private gratitude. ‘Make it a daily practice!’ ‘Sit down and make a list.’ ‘And make it easy in yourself – buy our special journal!’ (LOL)

This is all well-and-good. Private gratitude adjusts our attitude. But keeping it private is stupid. Because expressing it outwardly can create exponential effects. Which is why people hire agencies.

Nobody thinks they’re unappreciative.

Because you’re not. You’re appreciative in your heart:

  • But if we’re not appreciative with our pens or budgets?
  • If we sit in silence? If we assume ‘it’s-all-good, they-know-what-they-mean-to-me…’

It’s the same outcome as if we weren’t appreciative at all.

It doesn’t matter how many times we write their names in our gratitude journal.

Right next to ‘coffee,’ ‘green lights,’ ‘sunny days,’ and ‘dog parks.’ None of which care if you’re grateful or not.

3 relationships that will change your life

When it comes to strategic gifting and intentional relationship building, gold can be found in less obvious places.

Here are three relationships that help our clients win big. Relationships that, not coincidentally, are ignored by most (otherwise savvy) leaders.


An impressive person introduces you to somebody. It could be for any reason (“two cool people that should meet”). On any medium (email, 3-way-text, whatever).

Busy leaders easily fall into “what’s the point” syndrome. They treat stray introductions like another TO DO. However a well-timed gift (after an introductory chat) can quickly turn:

“John is a nice guy, I hope we connect again someday” into “John is awesome and I want to send him business.”

Look for: evidence the person understands the value of referrals. Most savvy leaders have a lot under-the-hood. But won’t show you their engine until you prove you can drive.

My friend, Patrick, earned a referral like this that made him 50 million.

2) ONE LEVEL DOWN (the hierarchy)

This could be either (1) employees in your organization that report to your direct reports (or even further down). Or (2) assistants or favorite team members of your VIPs.

The former is what smart leaders do to develop talent pipelines. The latter is the foundation of gifting the inner circle. Caring for others that can’t do anything for you demonstrates high character.

And everybody knows it. 

Look for: High-intelligence, strong work-ethic, or the favor of your VIP. Kind words spoken in private (“I couldn’t survive without so-and-so”) prove genuine affection. Take advantage of such tips.


Your seatmate on the airplane. The ever-dedicated-but-seldom-approached 5am gym superstar. The well-spoken church greeter. Or the well-dressed parent at your child’s soccer game.

Talent is everywhere. Don’t assume that chance encounters can’t become foundational relationships in 2-3 years. Or even months. This does NOT mean “become a walking-business-card.” No thanks.

This is you believing in God’s abundance. And that His plan is better than anything we can do.

Look for: some type of contact info. A social media connection (“are you on Instagram? What’s your company’s website?”). A reason to continue the conversation will easily emerge.

With the right partner, professional relationships can be easy

Most people don’t seek out new relationships because they can’t tend the ones they already have.

This is where GIFT∙OLOGY does its highest good. Because it:

  • Does not require travel – you can “be in” 50 cities at once
  • Can be outsourced – without sacrificing the heart or thoughtfulness
  • Is powerful for everybody, as it hits multiple love languages (not just gifts).

GIFT∙OLOGY is the gateway to limitless relationships.

“How do I get started with a gifting budget?”

This probably won’t surprise you. But we like the term ‘relationship budget’ a lot more.

  • The goal isn’t to buy gifts
  • The goal is to build uncommon relationships

I believe that relationship budgets should start as a portion of marketing budgets.

  • The goal is to expand already-existing relationships
  • To turn “she’s a customer” into “she’s a personal friend.”
  • The latter is far more powerful, right?

If all you have is customers (not friends), step 1 is to allocate a regular percentage.

  • Treat it like you would any marketing category.
  • But instead of ‘media buys,’ it’s ‘relationship deepening.’
  • If your boss hates that term, try ‘brand impact initiatives.’

They say the quickest path to failure is trying to please everybody.

Another path to failure is treating your relationships as transactional. And equally.

Don’t just dish vanilla ice cream. Some people deserve whip cream, sprinkles, and a cherry. 

Every corporate executive I’ve ever met understands the concept of good-better-best customers. Build your relationship marketing strategy around that concept.

(note: for professional service providers –whose income is client variable– we recommend 15% of what the relationship is worth. Start at 5% and build.

“Should my gifts come from me? Or the company?”

100% from you. Always. From a person. A human being. No logos involved.

Despite every brand trying to manufacture butterflies with big media spends – a brand-human relationship will never be as deep as a human-human. Sorry, heartfelt super bowl ads.

Of course the fear is that, once the person leaves, the relationships leave with them. Yep, that happens. So have gifts come from the owner. Or make sure the giver (the sales team, account execs, BDR reps, etc) don’t leave.

I said this above. But it deserves repeating:

Humans aren’t loyal to logos. They’re loyal to leaders.

For large companies, with hundreds of clients, we successfully execute a notes-from-the-owner strategy. Even if the owner has never talked to, spoken with, or is aware of the clients’ existence.

If worded correctly (big IF) the note can be heartfelt. Endearing. And even create a ‘celebrity moment’ for smaller clients. Kinda cool.

Case Study #3: Relationship plans for remote employees

It’s hard to create CULTURE with remote workers.

  • Yes, it’s cool to have a SLACK channel called #just-gifs
  • But that’s not a way to drive high-performance
  • Or to let people know you’re thinking of (and care for) them
  • Or that you appreciate grinding with them during tough times

As I’ve always said – an extra scoop of ice cream means more on a rainy day.

Here are two gifting campaigns savvy business leaders built for their remote employees:

$12,000 Campaign:

  • 10 VIP salaried employees, $1200 each, 3x continuity.
  • A ‘love-bomb’ going out immediately, with a handwritten note from the owner.
  • $250 each in August and in January, when the gifting noise of the holidays have died down and workers are settling back in.

Yes, we are a professional gifting company that doesn’t believe in holiday gifting.

$28,800 Campaign:

  • Two tiers – $2600 tier (3x campaign) and a $400 tier (1x).
  • The higher tier is for managers and key individuals that are (and I quote) ‘driving the business right now.’

Employee continuity is a competitive advantage. Especially as workers quit in droves. And when you’d prefer those key leaders stay engaged AND loyal.

$4900 Campaign:

  • 7 employees, $700 appreciation heirloom (one-off)
  • Handcrafted product – involving the spouse (easier to do with less than 10 people).
  • If all ‘non-essential businesses’ must close – they’ll get the goods in the aftermath. Still a big win.

“Thank you for the exceptional gift idea. The children [of my ministry partner] were running around the kitchen, joking about who got the set after they passed away because the gift had the family name on it. Everybody thought it was so wonderful. Truly something they’ll treasure forever.”

-CEO of a Fortune 1000 Company

If you’re only focused on 4-5 relationships, then you can be a do-it-yourself gifter. Hire us for relationship planning as you grow.

But join the GIFT & GROW SOCIETY to make sure that you do.

Work with the #1 relationship agency in the world

GIFTOLOGY  works on behalf of individuals. Human-to-human connection.

  • We don’t sign our handwritten notes with, “LOVE, COMPANY NAME.”
  • If you quit, close the business, or pivot your career – the relationship goes with you.

And when you don’t quit, close, leave or pivot? The relationship GROWS with you.

Our strategy is gifts. Cheesy notes (sometimes 😉 but NOT cheesy gifts. Heirlooms, that last forever… like your relationships should.

No software, no automation, no ‘hope we sell our company for 20x in the next five years.” The human touch. Because relationships require it. And your VIPs can tell the difference.

Should we be working together?

Apply. And let’s find out.

Go here and fill out the form.