Have you ever wondered why whenever you go into an Apple store, regardless of where in the world, it is always packed? By now you should be thinking, well, duh! They sell amazing products which you can try right there in the store, play for hours, join in workshops, and receive great customer service. Yes, this is all true. This is what makes you go to the stores, but for Apple, the story doesn’t end there. Former Steve Jobs and now current Apple CEO Tim Cook are not only interested in seeing their stores packed, they want all those people to leave with at least one Apple bag in their hands. And indeed, this is almost always the case. Whether it is a 15-inch MacBook Pro or a $3 iPhone accessory, people rarely leave an Apple store empty-handed.
Why? Easy. It’s called Brand Loyalty.
These two simple words carry a business’s weight on their shoulders, yet so many brands bite the dust because they tend to ignore that it all comes down to this. You probably remember the saying, “Give a man to fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Well, sell one good product to someone and he will buy it once; create brand loyalty and he will represent you forever.
How is brand loyalty achieved? There are many ways. It can be a good customer service or a good retention team. The one thing to keep in mind is communication. This can be achieved through one of the oldest and most effective methods: conversations. The new era of social networks has opened an amazing opportunity for companies to be much closer to their customers. If back in the day you had to hold thought groups and surveys to know what people were thinking; now, you can simply talk to your customers online. However, what many brands fail to understand is that brand loyalty is a two-way street that can or cannot lead to a brand’s success, and this is especially true in a world where information can no longer be hidden from the masses. Brands need to show people what they believe in, what they stand for, and not just what they’re selling. They need to join the conversation, for real.
The Two-Way Street
Think of people as a brand’s free market representatives. People have a much deeper impact on their friend’s opinion, and their friend’s friend’s opinions, much more than a spokesperson will ever have.
For a brand, customers are, or at least should be, as important as the CEO. In the end, customers are the ones who are going to promote or sink a brand. They are the ones with the last word; they are the ones who need to be respected in order to give you loyalty in return. It’s a two-way street. And a brand’s advertising efforts should never forget this.
Here are some of the basic principles that help create brand loyalty.
Go for the shouters: The first step before any advertising campaign is identifying the target audience. But this is just the beginning. Once you’ve identified your target audience, look for the influencers. Influencers are the small group of people within your target audience that will promote your brand for free. These are the opinionated people – the ones that shout, criticize, and recommend a brand. These are the go-to guys that customers trust and take advice from. These are the tech bloggers, the niche website owners, the op-ed devotees, the guys that won’t hold back.
Let’s go back to the Apple example. Apple started as a computer brand for techies that needed specialized, advanced software for certain types of projects and requirements. Macintosh was seen as a computer for geeks that were too “sophisticated” to buy a PC. These were the same geeks that started telling their friends and family that Mac is the next big thing, and that Mac was, in fact, super user-friendly. Apple knew this all along and exploited its potential as much as it could. Remember the “Are you a Mac or a PC?” ad campaign that ran from 2006 to 2009? In the commercials, the “Mac” guy was young, smart, casually dressed and, to be honest, sounded a bit like the cute geek that sat behind you in math class. The “PC” guy was older, dressed in a suit, and looked like the quiet, old-fashioned guy from the lone cubicle in the office. The message was clear as day. Bottom line, embrace your shouters! Give them recognition; let them know that you know who they are and what they’re worth for you. They’ll devote themselves to building your brand as much or even more than any PR person ever will.
Power to the people: Be interesting. Give your customers something to talk about. People love to talk, write, comment, and be involved in every step of the way towards greatness. Make it easy for people to talk about your brand. Once you create a clear personality for your brand it becomes much easier to communicate. Provide them with material to write about, leak news stories, be social, go public with your information, announce new product developments and brand ideas. Create a community for your customers, a place where they can feel part of the creation process, a place where they are not just consumers anymore – they’re owners. Hand them breaking news on a silver platter so they can use it as they see fit. This creates a media buzz that will keep people waiting for the next best thing. And, most importantly, talking about it.
Keep your promises: This principle applies to two main factors.
- The Product Features. Imagine you just bought a new state-of-the-art mop that claims to sprinkle clean water while mopping the floor. You go home stoked for a good day’s cleaning, take out the mop and … wait, where’s the water? Turns out only 2 drops of water came out of the darn mop. Well, you can still use it to clean, but what about the promise the brand made? Where are the sprinkles? Where’s the magic? You’ll probably never buy or recommend that mop brand again. My point is, don’t embellish your campaigns. Be honest with customers, advertise your product as best and passionately as possible, but always remember what it is you’re advertising, and not what you wish you were.
- The Spoken Promises. If you talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. At the risk of sounding cheesy, this phrase just hits the spot. Say you’ve launched a new advertising campaign that calls for all users to think of one thing they would change about one or more of your products. It is obvious that not every idea and suggestion is a good one, but if you promised your customers that their feedback would be appreciated, then it HAS TO BE taken into consideration. Take the time to go over customer feedback and analyze their ideas. If you don’t use them, at least answer back or give a public “thank you” in response. For example, I’m sure many of you remember Cadbury’s Wispa Campaign. Cadbury faced public pressure following a campaign they launched on Facebook and MySpace where their fans begged them for the return of the Wispa chocolate bar, which they had taken off the market. Cadbury listened to its fans and decided to bring back Wispa in 2007 for a seven-week trial period. Sales were so high that Wispa came back for good. Customers felt empowered, and why wouldn’t they? This was solid proof that they control their favorite brands, and not the other way around.
Brand Nation: Build and grow your online community. Don’t be part of the whole, BE the whole. Make your customers want to visit your page or go to your store just for the fun of it. The buying will come on its own. Build an interactive website where your customers can find all the information they want, stimulating visuals, and thought-provoking ads. Be minimalistic, be elegant, and be straightforward. Create a community where users can participate 24/7 and ask or give help as they see fit. Build a world just for your brand and make customers the ambassadors.
Take Samsung’s new web design as an example. Have you ever visited Samsung’s website? Not only is it beautifully designed, but one of the first things you see is the “Samsung Nation” tab. “Samsung Nation” is a brilliant new social loyalty program that allows members to earn badges, acquire points, move up ranks and interact together in a competition to win free Samsung products. They created their own brand nation.
One makes two, makes three: Don’t stop at creating an amazing product. Create a whole family of products that will make your users not even want to consider another brand. Let’s take a classic example: Starbucks’ handle on brand loyalty is undeniable. Think about it. You go into Starbucks for a simple cappuccino, but you start seeing the freshly made panini sandwiches with the beautiful Starbucks packaging through the showcase window. You’re hungry, you haven’t had breakfast, and the sandwich is ready so you won’t be late for your morning meeting. “I’ll take a ham and cheese panini also.” Starbucks makes another sale. This goes for Starbucks coffee mugs, ground coffee bags, even decorations for your kitchen. Every time a customer goes into Starbucks, he’s greeted with much more than a simple cup of coffee.
Again, let your customers take part in this. Influence and be influenced. Your customers will let you know what products they need to go with the ones you have already, what’s missing, what new additions could be made to your product family that would make them want to buy even more.
Building an online community is not easy. It’s all or nothing. Brand loyalty is something companies have to decide on consciously. They have to know that this is what they are going for, they need to invest time and resources on it, be ready to get criticized and be ready to be dynamic and open-minded. Brand loyalty is not achieved overnight. As with any human relationship, loyalty is a long-term goal. It’s all a matter of having the right mindset and being open to ideas, all the time. To be alert, to listen, is what makes a brand stand out among millions of others like it. Create brand democracy, not a monarchy.