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Dear Insurance Company:

I just received an “urgent” email from you, with a desperate plea to call my Congressman and oppose health care reform.

I’ve sent you $5,000 a month for 10 years. And you never so much as said hello.

Now you and your incompetent grass-roots team expect us to step up and help you?

This is not how you build customer relationships, and it’s incompetent lobbying. The time to start rallying your customers was 5 years ago.

In the classic words of Seth Godin, good marketing is “just like dating. It turns strangers into friends and friends into lifetime customers. Many of the rules of dating apply, and so do many of the benefits. A marketer goes on a date. If it goes well, the two of them go on another date. And then another. Until, after ten or twelve dates, both sides can really communicate with each other about their needs and desires.” (Buy Seth’s Permission Marketing.  It’s still the most important marketing book you can ever read.)

I’m not taking a position (publicly) on health care reform. But I am vehemently opposed to crappy marketing (and lobbying).

The big lesson: Make friends before you need them.

In marketing, this is why word of mouth is so powerful. I’m not going to introduce you to my friends on the first date. You have to earn it. No one puts their name on the line for a company unless they trust that the company will take care of their friends. (This is why your cable company, which probably gives you the best entertainment package in the history of mankind, still gets no good word of mouth. They broke your trust too many times.)

In politics, this is why you need to build true friends over a long period of time. You’re not a good date if you only call when you need cash. You’re not going to rally your supporters if you only call when you need them to do you a favor. (This is why our insurance carrier, which has given us extraordinary service for years, isn’t getting any support for their out-of-the-blue urgent plea. We’ve never had a political relationship. They’ve never even called.)

Start thinking about next year.  The community you create today will be the people you can count on next year. Get your fans involved. Help them. Let them talk to each other. Have some fun, share some information, do something nice together. And slowly, as you grow closer, you’ll build that kind of relationship that lets you call on them for help when you really need them.

Remember, is not social MEDIA, it’s SOCIAL media. Get out there and start making friends.

(Disclosure: I’ve been a paid lobbyist and a political lobbyist. That’s one of the reasons why I hate to see it done badly. I also do a lot of work with insurance companies.)

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