In this age of instant gratification, 1-click shopping, and same-day delivery, some marketers believe that brand loyalty is a thing of the past. They’ll tell you that cost-conscious, busy people only care about convenience and the lowest possible price and that they’ll jump from one brand to another without batting an eye. While that may be true for a small number of specific products or services, the fact remains that if a customer has a positive connection to, or experience with, a brand, they are far less likely to switch for price or convenience alone. In fact, many customers stay loyal to a brand without a direct experience with it. Rather, the attributes they associate with the brand are so strong that they keep coming back for more. That specific phenomenon boils down to one word: marketing. Here are some of the ways that marketing can make a prospective customer into a lifelong one.
Craft a Distinct and Consistent Brand Voice
Whether your email blasts and social media accounts are handled by a single social lead, or by an outside company like salesforce Chicago, your brand voice is crucial. As the name would suggest, your brand voice is how your customers hear your messaging. Copy and tone are its key components. The great brands know what flavor of communication speaks to their customers. A sophisticated market leader may be more whimsical and speak to the company’s history. A business-to-business retailer may stick to product description. A health or lifestyle brand may try to be more flowery and inspiring. A hip bar or restaurant may be irreverent or push boundaries.
Whatever your industry and whatever your product, you need to be distinct and differentiate yourself. In digital marketing, people respond well to properly-executed attempts at personalized messaging. Many companies have systems in place to address customers by their first name or customize messaging to include their local information. Do most people know that this is an automated effort? Yes, but they still respond favorably to it because they appreciate the thought that was originally behind it. Of course, if it’s done sloppily, it will backfire. If you’re going to do this, take the time to do it right.
Landing on a brand voice takes time and usually a bit of trial and error. Key stakeholders and decision-makers should brainstorm to get on the same page when developing it. First, have a whiteboard session where you all name words or short phrases that describe your product. Then, do the same with your customers. Ideally, do it once for your core, loyal customers, and again if necessary, to describe the customers you’re hoping to attract if you’re expanding or trying to shift demographics. Line up these attributes and discuss where they overlap, homing in on 3-5 priorities. Use these to determine the style of your brand voice.
After you know how you want your brand voice to sound, work with the best writers on your staff to produce samples of what copy for email blasts, commercials, and social media posts should be like. Once the stakeholders have approved samples they like, anyone responsible for writing in the brand voice must be trained in its attributes and given keywords and phrases to use, as well as others to avoid. Assembling a style guide can be very helpful, whether it’s just one sheet with bullet points or several pages of details.
Finally, it’s critical that the brand voice remains consistent. It is, in many ways, the personification of your brand’s identity, and should be thought of as being as identifiable with your company as Nike’s “swoosh” logo is with theirs. While you do need to customize content and messaging differently across different platforms, never do so at the expense of projecting a unified brand voice and attitude.
Create an Emotional Connection
Modern marketers often talk about “emotional branding” or “lovemarks.” There is a school of thought that believes customers respond to a brand that makes an emotional connection with them rather than one that simply lists its features and benefits. This is very true about automobile advertising. While you still see ads for vehicles that list miles per gallon, GPS, and all-wheel drive, you just as frequently see commercials that feature the family that’s riding in the car. The ad may tell a story of the memories they’re creating on a trip in the vehicle or use a close call in traffic to dramatically highlight its safety features.
Think about coffee. When was the last time you saw a coffee ad that promised “now, with more caffeine,” or “percolates more quickly than the leading brand?” You nearly always see coffee commercials where people are waking up, making coffee, or having it as part of their morning routine around a kitchen table. That’s because coffee marketers have embraced this central tenet of emotional branding: focus less on what the product does than how it makes its user feel.
Interestingly, studies have also shown that younger people now base brand loyalty on the social footprint of the brands they patronize. If a company promotes that they are committed to economic sustainability, or that they donate a portion of their profits to poor nations or homeless shelters, this resonates with the millennial generation. Universally-accepted charitable acts certainly can’t hurt a company’s image, and they may build loyalty with this emerging dominant consumer base. It’s a win/win!
Don’t Ignore the Fundamentals
Let’s take a step back now and remember that while emotional branding may be a bit more flowery and broad, any company that throws the traditional marketing playbook out the window does so at their own peril. If you look closely at even the fluffiest thirty-second television ad, you’ll likely notice that it is still as a three-act structure, with a beginning focusing on getting the customers’ attention. The middle act will show them a benefit, and the final act will be a call to action asking them to buy. In more emotional content, the third act may only be the last few seconds, and the call to action may be to visit a website or follow a social account, but it’s still there, and it’s still vitally important to effective advertising.
This also applies to the media buying side of marketing. While it may be tempting in the digital age to put all your eggs into one basket, a broad media mix is still the best recipe for success. Unless your industry targets a very specific demographic that is shown by research to only use a certain social media platform, you should invest in at least broadcast television and radio as well. The main channels of digital advertising include static banners, boosted and paid social media posts, pay-per-click search engine ads, and video pre-rolls. Evaluate each of them objectively as you would traditional media platforms.
Engage with Your Audience
Lastly, but perhaps most important in customer retention, is audience engagement. Keeping a customer for life is not an easy task, and these days consumers have so many options that you need to not only be distinct and consistent, but you must be personal. Once you’ve gotten their attention and created an emotional attachment, the key to maintaining loyalty is addressing them personally.
At its most basic level, this can be done by automating email lists to address recipients by name. This can be done with online chats when people visit your website as well. This has become such an omnipresent feature that people have come to expect it. It’s easy for visitors to be reminded that it’s automated if you don’t take the time to do little things like making sure their names aren’t spelled in all caps. People know when they are being marketed to, and they generally don’t like it. But if you can make them feel like you’re engaging them in a conversation, they will overlook or fail to notice the marketing mechanism at work.
Social media is, of course, the biggest source of opportunity to forge personal bonds with customers. On Facebook and Twitter, you should engage your followers with open-ended questions and polls. But before you do that, have a good plan in place to respond in a timely fashion. Having a single, on-call social media lead handle all interactions alone 24/7 is a bad idea; they will get burnt out quickly and may make mistakes in their responses to customers. It’s best to divvy up responsibilities amongst a few trusted employees with a strict set of rules of engagement. If that’s not possible, automate your posts to go live during business hours and allow social leads to respond to after-hours items the next day.
When responding to complaints or criticisms, remember that your entire audience can see what you’re saying. It’s best to offer a simple apology and ask them to message you directly to resolve the issue. Your customers have more options than ever. While that’s a challenge, don’t forget that you have more opportunities to speak to them than ever before. Make a personal and emotional connection, and you will keep them as customers for life.
Guest Post by Kevin Gardner. Opinions are of the author.