What the Best Brands Do Differently to Win Customer Loyalty

In the past, imperfect or incomplete information led users to depend solely on their own experiences or those they heard through word of mouth from friends and family. When they found a satisfactory brand, they usually stuck to it. Brand loyalty was a form of risk avoidance.

Today we live in the age of information overload. Instead of having few sources of reference for reliability of various brands, we suffer from a surplus of opinions, reviews and ideas from too many sources than we can handle. All this information about brands, their past, their service goof ups or even glowing examples of their competition, has slowly eroded the loyalty that customers held dear in previous generations.

Yet, customer loyalty is not dead. Any Apple fan boy or PlayStation fanatic will testify to that. So, how do these iconic brands hang on to their customers for years, while others find it difficult to get a customer back for a second purchase? Here’s how.

1. It’s all in the Experience

A user experience that makes it easy for the customer to find what she’s looking for, an experience that encourages her to shop more, an experience that removes all friction from the purchase process – these are what a customer takes back home with her, more than the actual product purchased.

User experience does not have to do just with your website’s look and feel or your store’s design and layout. It has to do with every ‘moment of truth’ the customer experiences with your brand. This could be via a customer care call, your mobile app or even via a shipping experience. Work towards making it as seamless, quick and intuitive as possible to make your customers coming back for more.

2. Make Customers Feel Special

A good user experience referred to in the previous point, is one that ends up with a happy customer. However smooth your user interface maybe, no matter how great the product itself is, if the customer does not feel wanted or important, the chances of them coming back to your store are dismal.

You don’t have to do grand gestures to make customers feel special. Something as basic as giving a colorful cardboard hat to a child at a fast food outlet, makes both the child and the parent happy. A study by Barclay’s bank shows that “a smile and a friendly hello is the most common reason (59%) why consumers feel loyal towards small and independent retailers.

3. Service is not limited to the Customer Care Department

An organization that has the spirit of service goes out of its way to make sure a customer is taken care of in every way possible. Winning brands encourage a culture of service and problem solving. Every single member of the company is seen as a customer care representative – out to help out a customer the minute they need it. When something as important as customer service is left to be handled by just the customer service department, you’re making sure your service will never match up with the best in the business.

Why, even Craig Newmark – the founder of Craigslist – admitted he begins every morning by attending to customer service calls instead of plunging into emails or meetings.

4. Offer Exclusive Perks

It is hard to be indifferent to a brand that makes you feel exclusive. This does not mean that you should start discriminating between your customers. Rather, it means that the big spenders or more frequent buyers ought to get some perks for investing their time, faith and money in your brand.

The airline industry has perfected the art of making a customer feel exclusive with their ever popular loyalty programs. Thanks to air miles earned from specific airlines, customers prefer to be loyal to the one offering points, instead of shopping around for the lowest cost operator. This makes great sense in a struggling sector like aviation, when a customer is self-motivated to avoid other brands using such a simple and cheap solution. Some other examples of exclusive perks that brands offer are airline lounges at airports to loyalty card members, special discounted rates to loyalty club customers in the case of annual sales by high-street retailers and so on.

5. Wow your customers on a regular basis

Doing a great deed once in a while makes for a happy customer. But, in most organizations; this need to impress your audience to make them keep coming back is truly a flash in the pan than part of the organizational philosophy.

A pioneering brand like Virgin Atlantic takes the job of ‘wowing their customers’ on a regular basis very seriously. From a free chauffeur driven car to and from the airport, in-flight beauty therapists and manicurists for business class passengers, or the world’s first ‘Drive Thru Check-in’; Virgin’s customers definitely know brand loyalty extremely intimately. In founder Richard Branson’s own words, Virgin’s philosophy is to “catch people doing something right”.

5.	Wow your customers on a regular basis

6. Savings vs. Making a Connection

With the economy having barely turned a corner from the recent financial crisis, cutting costs wherever possible is fashionable. A common favorite for cutting costs is the customer care department. Automated call centers are cheap and help a healthy bottom line for one quarter. But what your brand really needs is to have healthy bottom lines in every single quarter to come. This does not come by pinching pennies on things that matter.

A real person on the other end of the phone line costs money – 35 cents vs. $7.5 dollars – but the relationship that you’ll build with that personal touch will payback your $7.5 manifold in the years the customer keeps coming back to buy from you.

7. Make them Feel Like You’re One of Them

While alienating customers is what no brand ever wants, they try very hard to make customers feel special, well treated etc. However, the best brands in the business don’t just proselytize their concern for the customer, they actually go ahead and make the customer feel like the brand is one of them, part of their lives.

Red Bull, the legendary energy drink maker, goes out of its way to make its customers feel like they are on their (customers’) side. They create brand ambassadors by being a buddy to their customers. Every year, Red Bull creates and sponsors wildly successful events in the various sporting fields like dirt bike racing or skateboarding putting its brand in the middle of all the youth. Its own sports and wellness magazine, Red Bulletin, gives users health advice, tips to take up exercise and so on. In the process Red Bull has ensured it has made itself a part of their customers’ daily lives.

Make them Feel Like You’re One of Them

8. Happy Employees make Happy Customers

We spoke earlier about customer service being everyone’s responsibility in a company. For an average employee to go out of their way and help customers, they need to be motivated enough in the first place. If your company fosters a culture of distrust, disrespect and lack of communication, your employees are not happy by any stretch of imagination. Expecting unhappy employees to keep your customers happy is a tall order, if not outright impossible.

On the other hand a happy motivated employee who loves his job and the organization, would exude positive vibes to everyone around them, including your customers.

9. Consistently Awesome

Your brand is only as good as your last customer interaction. Truly great brands go out of their way to ensure that every single interaction that a customer has with the brand is great.

This means consistent product and service delivery across every single channel you operate on. That’s a tall order, but then who ever claimed that winning a customer’s heart for life was going to be a walk in the park?

10. Express Your Shared Values

A recent Harvard Study found that customers don’t really care for engaging with their favorite brands. What they really do care about is the fact that their chosen brands share the same values as them. Hence it follows that an environmentally conscious user would prefer a Timberland while a health conscious user might go for Jamba Juice.

These shared values are engendered when brands stand up for what they believe in and share these beliefs with their customers through actions, not just words.

11. Say Sorry When You Screw Up. Really Mean It.

Much as we all would like it, no one is perfect including the biggest brands in the world. Mistakes can and do happen, and there’s only so much you can do about avoiding them.

However, the hallmark of a truly great brand is when they own up to their errors and put things right immediately. A brand that refuses to own up to the error in their ways risks losing customers’ trust and their wallet share. A good case in point is Lululemon and the 2013 incident with their see-through, easily damaged yoga pants. CEO Chip Wilson brushed off the whole issue by saying that his company’s yoga pants weren’t meant for overweight women. The public outcry that followed became even worse when Wilson’s ‘apology’ was so insincere and superficial, that it became the next PR disaster that the brand had to struggle with.

12. Listen to Your Customers

Customers like to be heard. Especially in the current social media age, their voices reach brands directly, instantly.

A good brand keeps its listening ears on and bows to the customer’s needs and opinions as it knows that customers make the brand.

Listen to Your Customers

When Gap launched its redesigned logo in 2010, they faced massive criticism of the new logo from all quarters, especially customers via social media. Customer savvy Gap, put its ego aside and heeded the voice of the user to revert back to its old logo within a week of launching the new one.

13. Show gratitude, Say ‘Thank You’

A brand that gives back to customers and to society at large says through its actions that ‘sales are not all we care about’. For any customer, it is crucial to know that he /she is looked upon as a real person who’s contributed to the company’s growth, instead of just another nameless, faceless statistic.

Anytime a customer appreciates your brand, reach out to them and thank them. Social media is a wonderful platform for exactly this. Create regular email campaigns that thank repeat customers for their business and encourage them to continue showing their love for your brand with their wallets.

Conclusion

Loyalty is the result of a history of positive experiences with a brand. You don’t need gigantic marketing budgets to foster customer loyalty. Just a resolve to treat every customer like they might be your last customer will help ensure that you’ll not see the back of your loyal customers anytime soon.

(Image Source: 1, 2, 3)

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How Content Strategy Plays a Major Role in Your Branding Efforts?

content marketing

Does your business have a content strategy yet?

If it doesn’t, you are losing out on a wonderful opportunity to improve brand awareness, reputation and authority. It is important not to confuse content strategy with content marketing although both are connected.

While content marketing is the process of placing quality content in front of your target audience to build deeper relationships, content strategy is a ‘mindset’ that according to Kristina Halvorson, the founder of Brain Traffic includes “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content”.

Without a content strategy in place, there is very little chance your content marketing efforts will succeed. Your content strategy helps your business create a framework wherein your business and the needs of its customers are constantly evaluated to improve content production and the content processes that help produce this content.

The whole idea behind drawing up a content strategy is to ensure that the content is able to drive your brand‘s engagement with its target audience and takes your brand interaction to the next level.

Content Strategy and Your Brand

84 percent of marketers who aren’t finding success with their content marketing efforts say they do not have a documented content strategy in place.

Learning – Content strategy is of critical importance to brands if they are serious about their content marketing efforts.

Think about content strategy as something that helps you maximize the potential of your content. There are businesses/marketers, who think just writing content (high quality content) will help you rank in search engines, enhance the reputation of your business and help people identify your brand.

They are wrong.

You need a content strategy in place to leverage the immense potential of this content. A well-defined content strategy gives your content a sense of purpose and its own personality and identity. You must know who your target audience is and the kind of content they are looking for. A strategy is also needed to ensure your content is aligned with your business, its products and services and still caters to the needs of your target audience.

Content strategy also determines your writing style, choice of content format and how you will market this content to ensure your audience finds it when they are looking for it.

Not Just Content Strategy but an Effective Content Strategy

Not Just Content Strategy but an Effective Content Strategy

A content strategy is as good as its comprehensiveness. The components of an effective content strategy include the following:

  • Defining the Objectives

What are your objectives with respect to your content? Are you using it to build your brand’s niche authority or as a means of boosting your search engine rankings or something else? Also, what is the content format you want to use; will it be videos, blog content, online magazines, tutorials or pod casts amongst other formats?

You need to pick a format that your target audience can easily access and consume.

  • Defining Content Creators

Who will create the content? Will you have an in-house content writing team or outsource your requirements. If you do choose to outsource content creation, you will need to ensure you zero in on the right writer/team of writers.

  • Who is your audience?

Identify your audience, but don’t just identify the audience, you also need to understand them and what they expect from your content. You must also make sure your audience doesn’t receive content that overlaps with your existing marketing communication.

  • Distribution Strategy

How are you going to bring your content in front of your customers?

There are plenty of channels you can choose from, but more often than not, it is the content format that determines the channel you use. Explore the various channels available; make sure you know the strengths and costs of each and also ensure that your customers are active users of these channels. This will help you make an informed decision with respect to the content channel you choose and guarantee you make the most of it.

  • Identify Content Performance Metrics

How do you know your content strategy is working or not? This is where content metrics enter the equation. You need to zero in on the performance metrics of your content that will allow you to measure your success or failure. You must know whether your content is helping satisfy the needs of your customers and if you’ll need to refine your strategy.

At the end of the day you also need to take strategic inputs from every important stakeholder in your business to come up with a content strategy that delivers on your expectations.

Benefits to your Brand

  • Brand Reputation

Your customers are looking for high quality content. The kind of content that is useful, relevant and actionable. They want information that helps solve a problem and if your brand can provide a solution that enables them to take informed decisions, they’ll become loyal followers of your content. What you are also doing is using content as a means to trigger personal interactions with your brand. If they’ve come across a content piece they like and feel strongly about, they’ll comment on it, which can give rise to interesting discussions on your comment feed.

Your content acts as a bridge between your brand and its customers. Your brand comes to be identified with its content and if you consistently produce and publish content that adds value to the lives of your customers, it will be reflected in the enhanced reputation of your brand. Your content will be the ‘go-to content’ for a target audience looking for specific information.

  • Taming Search Engines

Google’s incessant efforts in improving search quality for users have meant it is not business as usual for webmasters and SEOs. They cannot get away with everything that they could get away with, a few years ago. Quality is the name of the game now.

Gone are the days when they could just fill up content with keywords and build links from just about any source and get away with it. What’s more, there was every chance their website would be rewarded with high rankings on SERPs.

Things have changed.

The focus is now on quality and earning natural links from authority online sources. And the one thing that helps make this possible is great content. The more high quality content you publish, the more backlinks you can attract from reputed websites/blogs. And this results in higher search engine rankings, which in turn means more website traffic thus improving your website’s chances of conversions.

And all this because of content!

  • Content for an Active Social Media Presence

sm

Social media marketing is the buzz word these days and why not. Just about every brand is using social media to boost its branding efforts and it is shareworthy content that lies at the very root of every successful social media campaign. When readers like your content, they want to share it with the people they know so that even their friends and family can benefit from this content. This means your content is shared, re-shared and then shared some more. Your content represents your brand, which means it’s not your content but your brand that is essentially going viral.

It’s all about compelling content

Your content strategy will go nowhere if you don’t have a sub-strategy to create compelling content in place. Compelling content is the kind that readers love going through. It’s not about creative excellence but about content excellence.

You need a certain kind of mindset to produce such content. You need to say to yourself that you want to be the leading provider of niche related information to your target customers. If you aim to play a leadership role as an information provider, you will make the necessary effort to satisfy the needs of your customers.

Think of your content like a product and judge its usefulness.  It needs to be high up on the utility scale if you want it to succeed. For this to happen, you’ll need to understand the kind of information your customers are searching for. You need to listen to the conversations happening around your domain (social media networks are great listening posts) and create content that revolves around these conversations.

To create compelling content you must be in sync with what your customers want. So make sure you know everything about them.

Tips to Keep in Mind While Implementing a Content Strategy

When you work out a content strategy for your brand, the next step is to implement it. But before you do, you need to keep a few tips in mind:

  • Content strategy requires different sections of your business to work as a team. Whether it’s your web design team, copywriting team, web development team, the public relations team or your marketing team – every single one of them should work together to make a decisive impact.
  • Understand that you are in it for the long haul and immediate results might not be forthcoming.
  • Make sure your writing matches the understanding of your target audience. The literacy levels of different people that belong to the same target audience group are different. So choose a writing style that can address the least common denominator in your audience. Writing not only includes the way you write but also the ideas you come up with and the research you do.
  • Make sure you stick to your strategy and not veer away from it during implementation. Otherwise it makes your job more difficult.
  • Your style must be your own. The tone and voice you adopt to make your point must reflect your brand personality. Do not ape somebody else’s writing tone or style. Create one of your own and work towards refining it every step of the way.
  • Mix up your formats but make sure you focus on your strengths. If you do not have the expertise to come up with some solid video content, don’t.  On the other hand, if your forte is topical white papers make sure you get one out on a regular basis. The idea is to not make any half-baked efforts with respect to the content you publish. Your customers are looking for the best information available and which makes good use of its content format; you need to be able to deliver the goods all the time. So don’t take chances.

To Conclude

Content strategy and your branding efforts need to keep pace with each other. In fact, for many brands it is content that is acting as the main fuel of their marketing efforts. It is a purely content driven marketing strategy and more often than not it is delivering the results they are looking for. Content helps your brand come out looking like an expert and somebody who has the ability to deliver on the expectations of its customers. This in a nutshell is why content strategy needs to be a part of your branding efforts.

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