By Mark Bower, managing director, Coolpink
The recently revealed Forbes 2011 Brand Keys Loyalty Leaders List proved exactly what we’ve always believed – that consumers (yep, that’s you and me) are suckers for great marketing and fall in love with brands very easily when a bit of effort is made.
In a time of economic crisis it is positive to see that, although some brands have lost custom to cheaper alternatives, many have seen an increase in loyalty. The brands that have seen the most significant improvement are those who have rewarded and earned the buy in of their customers who, in return, have developed an almost unconditional, evangelical, love.
It’s very telling of human nature that, whilst reigning in our purse strings should be the main focus, we’re still more inclined to follow our hearts than heads when it comes to favourite brands. We’ll stick with the one we love even if logic tells us to switch to a better value competitor…now that’s a true connection.
Some brands have this – Apple, Amazon and Facebook are all examples. Others are desperately pining for it. So what’s the magic of the online love affair? How do we go about building this bond in the digital world?
Mirroring 2010 rankings, 16% of the top 50 Loyalty Leaders were retail brands, including the top two of Amazon and Apple.
However the other retailers generally ranked lower than last year – is this perhaps a sign that they’ve become victims of competing on price and taken their eye off the ball in terms of customer engagement. This is not how you build brands.
The personal touch
Getting to really know your audience is key to ensuring they understand just how much you care and value their custom. Everyone wants to feel special, so it’s crucial to make individual’s online experiences as unique as possible.
The really successful retail sites utilise their customers purchasing data to ensure the content they serve is highly relevant. This not only aligns the customer's experience with the brand, it also makes their future online shopping experiences more seamless, saving them time and effort by offering appropriate purchase opportunities based on past shopping habits. Who doesn’t enjoy being offered something new that you’re pretty guaranteed to love? It makes us feel we need that item in our lives and we’re thankful to the brand that’s provided it.
Successful online retailers have turned their marketing and sales process into something else entirely – they have rolled it into the brand experience – and this is one of the main lessons to learn.
Once a customer is engaged in the buying process, successful retailers will have a proposition in place to ensure they are retained – for life if possible. To earn repeat custom we need to add value – increasingly this value is derived from additional services,perks or rewards. It is also essential brands deliver on their promises – both real and perceived.
It’s no good promising the world and only delivering one country!
Ensure your marketing promises are backed up by business operations; so the back end of your website works just as hard as the front end and is aligned with the marketing strategy.
On those occasions when something inevitability goes wrong, successful brands have something in place to show customers how they will compensate, that they are sorry and that loyalty will be rewarded.
Rewarding customers is something many brands are embracing on an increasing level. The only companies with the mindset: “They enjoy our products and that is reward enough!” are the ones who are out of business – or those who will be in the very near future!
Customer loyalty is worth its weight in gold and savvy brands – and consumers – realise this. Just look at the number of consumer forums that have emerged over the last few years – we Brits may be a reserved bunch, but we seem to have definitely found our voice online, especially on the topic of bad service!
Reward your customers, show them that you value their loyalty, show them some love and they will go nowhere. But, take them for granted and you will lose them – especially when the competition starts sniffing around.
Interact in their lives
Social media is a fantastic tool for establishing an emotional connection with customers, but it doesn’t come easy. Platforms such as Facebook are getting tough on 'lazy' brands by becoming increasingly complicated for marketers to leverage but, at the same time, huge opportunity exists.
The secret comes in understanding the emotions your product evokes in customers and determining how you can harness these through digital campaigns. Step back from the sales messages, give customers the freedom to engage independently and interact on their terms.
Giving customers perceived brand ownership and inviting hands-on engagement is well received, as is providing content that can be shared with friends. The more activity you can undertake with current customers, the more exposure they will create for you and the wider the net will spread… and so the circle of potential customers continues to grow.
The leading brands have long-since realised that it is essential to make their marketing part of the brand experience, using it to add value to the excellent service /product they are already offering. This is working incredibly well for them – in the short term with increased sales and in the mid-long term with consumer insight and relationship building. We should all be taking note and trialling the same approach (with our own brand positioning).
Brands who care
The way staff communicate with customers is undoubtedly paramount on the high street and this should be reflected online. Great digital customer service can be achieved relatively simply by having good systems in place. From FAQ pages to customer call back options, live chat to twitter service channels; there are many tools to make this a seamless part of the process.
Other ways of demonstrating that you care truly about the online experience is by providing additional features that support your customers’ needs – such as tracking systems for products that are being delivered. This, importantly, is a simple way for them to interact directly with you if it isn’t meeting their needs.
Ask for their feedback and don’t be afraid of the responses – they may provide you with some positive marketing gems or inform you of problems you weren’t aware of. The very act of them responding is a good relationship builder – so long as you’re seen to be serious about acting on relevant feedback.
Customers who love brands tend to love them for life, but this is not done entirely on free wil. The interaction you have with customers 24/7 influences this connection, whether they’re aware of it or not.
So, after reviewing these points, you might be thinking that there’s a lot of hard work to be done? Well, it depends on your current approach but, in most cases, you would be right. The saying the customer is king has never been more true than it is today – except of course for those brands the customer loves and has decided to make their king!
Ask yourself the questions “How would we need to commit to making our brand one customers can really love/what would be the key actions we would need to make?” Then, most importantly, create momentum by taking the first steps to doing so.
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