Crafting Customer Loyalty through Branding
Customers… We all need them.
What’s better than a customer is a loyal customer. One that comes back again and again and shouts your praises from the rooftops.
But how do you get loyal customers? How do you get customers to remain loyal to you?
For some people when you first start out, you have family and friends. You have a relationship with them that you can leverage to get them to buy from you.
But what about a stranger? Why would a stranger choose you over someone else who provides the same products or services?
Even better, if they choose you the first time, why would they come back to you again and again?
It comes down to branding.
Marketing extraordinaire, Seth Godin, defines branding as the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a customer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.
It’s not one factor that impacts a customer’s decision to buy, but a combination of 4 factors that drive this decision.
Those 4 factors are expectations, memories, stories, and relationships.
Let’s talk briefly about those areas and what you can do boost your chances of being chosen over another business or person that does the same thing as you.
#1 - Expectations
The Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary defines expectation as the feeling or belief that something will or should happen.
When people encounter your brand, what do they expect to happen?
… to receive a quality product and have a good experience when doing so?
… to be educated on your topic of expertise?
… to just receive a product/service and nothing else?
Managing customer expectations plays a large part in establishing thoughts about your brand. People interact with your brand in full assessment mode, measuring each interaction with your brand against their expectations. And they assess everything – from the quality of the product or service to when and how you communicate with them down to the look and feel of what you give them.
Of course, your goal is to meet or exceed their expectations. You do this by ensuring every area impacting the customer (your entire brand/business) operates with the customer in mind. Know what people expect of you and then deliver. Ask questions, then establish the processes, policies, and customer experience that, at minimum meets, but ideally exceeds their expectations.
Managing expectations is not a one-time business process. It is an iterative process that should be built into your business development practices. Below are some questions to help you get started with assessing expectations for your brand.
What do people expect from my brand?
What should they expect from my brand?
Do my systems, products, communications, and other brand touchpoints measure up to expectations for my brand?
In what areas, do I need to improve on meeting expectations?
#2 - Memories
Throughout my lifetime, I’ve been to many McDonald’s restaurants in many states. Yet still, there is one McDonald’s restaurant that I hold dear in my heart – the one I celebrated a birthday at. I don’t even remember what birthday it was, but many years later, I have an image of that party in my mind. In hindsight, there wasn’t even anything spectacular about the party, just the typical red McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes, a few friends, and some ice cream and cake, but that memory is fresh in my mind. Given the opportunity to visit that McDonald’s over another one nearby, I’m choosing that one because it holds a special place in my memory.
People value memorable experiences.
Like me, you probably focus a lot of resources on delivering a quality product and/or service. Do you consider the customer experience? We are not only product/service providers. We are experience providers. The experiences we provide create memories in the minds of our customer and even prospective customers.
Why would I want to create a memory for my customers? I’m glad you asked. Memories are emotional connections. As I think about McDonald’s restaurant, my emotions are taken to a place of happiness, of joy, of connection with people I love. Every McDonald’s restaurant is more than capable of providing me with a Big Mac, small fry, and orange drink. But that specific restaurant produces feelings of joy within me. It’s the emotional response that draws me back to that restaurant.
Emotional response is not connected to products or services, but the memory of the experience. What does this mean? It means… Yes, you deliver a product or service. Yes, you should make sure that product or service is excellent in function. Yes, you need to build space to create memories for your customers. Are you ready to deliver a memorable customer experience? Here are some questions to get you started on that journey.
Can I recall any stories of memorable experiences with my brand?
What types of memories would I like customers to have?
In what areas of my business operations can I integrate memorable experiences?
#3 - Stories
Tell me the story behind starting your business.
Tell me the story behind the name of your business.
Tell me the story behind your child’s name.
The answer to the question, “Tell me the story behind…” is powerful. When you ask this question, the response is not a one liner. It’s a story. And, if you listen carefully to that story, you’re going to hear the most significant details about the topic from the respondent’s perspective.
One day I was driving to work during an ice storm. Of course, typical to an ice storm, ice formed on my windshield wipers every few minutes. To get it off, I would have to pull over, lift the wiper, and wipe the ice off the wiper, sometimes quickly because the streetlight was going to change to green. Wouldn’t you know on one of my last times having to do this before getting out of the car, the clip to the wiper broke. So now I have a broken wiper, in an ice storm and I’m still not at work. I put the wiper on, well somewhat, and continue the journey to work. Now I have a problem that had to be fixed that day because another snowstorm was expected the next day. When I discussed the issue with a friend, she asked, “what are you going to do.” My response was, “I’m going to Auto Zone to get a new wiper.” Was Auto Zone the only place I could go? Not at all. In fact, I passed several other auto suppliers to get to Auto Zone. Why Auto Zone? In the past they helped me get parts for a car and while I was there I saw them put wipers on another car. As a result, my mind connected Auto Zone with the need for auto parts.
Brands and businesses exist to solve problems.
The more problems you solve (from the customer’s perspective), the greater your impact to your customer. People may not think of you when everything is status quo, but let a problem arise. If you’ve played a role in resolving that problem in the past or they’ve heard that you helped someone else, they will think of you…. And….
When they tell how they overcame that problem, they will talk about the role you played (hopefully it’s a good role that really helped them). How directly or indirectly are you part of your customer’s story? Consider the following questions to help you become more impactful in your customer’s story.
What role do you play in the story of your customer’s brand?
What role would you like to play in your customer’s story?
What actions do you need to take to become part of your customer’s story about their brand or event?
#4 - Relationships
One of the most common business quotes is,
“People do business with people the know, like, and trust.”
I’m an introvert and this phrase annoyed me. Let me give you some perspective. The first time I heard this phrase, the presenter said it then went on to explain the numbers of prospecting… for every 100 people you speak with you may get 2-3 customers. That’s a lot of talking I thought. I have good service and can use that to get around talking with all these people. That’s too much energy for an introvert like me.
The one thing I know as an introvert (no shade to extroverts intended) is about quality relationships. You see, it’s not about the number of people you talk with. It’s the quality of the engagements. Customers want to know if they can trust you with their “baby” (their baby being the project they’re considering you for). Do you have as much concern about their project as they do?
They can only know that through learning about you. Do you have the expertise to manage problems that may arise? Can they trust you to tell them if there are issues with delivering the project? Are you a person they would enjoy engaging with for the duration of the project? These are the types of questions they need answered.
Relationship building is a key business activity that we all engage in on a regular basis. For some this may come easier than others, but for all it’s invaluable. It can be the difference between retaining a customer and losing them to a competitor. How are you performing in the area of relationship building? Here are some key questions to help you assess this area.
How do I establish relationships with customers and prospective customers?
How do I maintain those relationships?
How would I characterize the relationships I’ve established?
How can I improve upon the relationships I’ve established?
Are there people I would like to establish relationships with? How do I go about connecting with them?
You play a pivotal role in establishing your customer’s perception of your brand. There’s no one action you can take to build loyal customers. There’s no one prescription for every business. There are several factors to consider. Just as your brand is unique, so are the actions you must take.
What’s important is that you establish a professional, trustworthy relationship so that you can have the opportunity to deliver a stellar customer experience that will cause your customers to share their story of impact with others. Be genuine in your efforts and the customer loyalty will follow.