The word “branding” originates from the practice by which ranchers burnt identifying marks into the hides of their cattle with a hot iron to identify their herd. In the marketing world, there are still quite a few companies that seem to be complacent in translating the act of marking your cattle to plastering their name and logo on everything possible in the name of “branding.”
Your brand is probably the single-most powerful tool you have to create loyal paying customers. Problem is, most businesses have lost sight of what a brand or the act of branding really is. It is not your logo or package design. It is not quantified by how often your commercial airs on TV and during which show or sporting event. A celebrity endorsement might help ignite sales, but a strong brand will keep them on fire. At most, you might consider all this “brand awareness.”
What is a Brand?
The most appropriate definition of a brand I have found comes from popular brand advocate and author Marty Neumier, “A brand is the gut feeling that people have when they think about a product, service or organization.” Ultimately, every time a person interacts with you is an act of branding. An important thing to point out is that a brand is a highly emotional, psychological and experiential element of marketing that is almost solely defined by your customers. “It’s NOT what YOU say it is. It’s what THEY say it is!” Marty adds.
What “they” said in years past didn’t seem all that significant. As long as the voices of unhappy customers rarely got loud enough to get noticed by the media or consumer watch groups, companies seemed content with distancing themselves from customer engagement. The social web has drastically changed this scenario. Now the voices of a handful of consumers scattered about the world can be amplified by the hundreds or thousands of people who watched a video they created and uploaded to Youtube. A single tweet or blog post can spark a flurry of conversations between unhappy customers looking to warn others of the cruddy experience they had with a recent purchase. Social media undeniably magnifies the voice of the consumer and connects them to those with shared experiences. These experiences could include anything before, during and after a purchase. These experiences are all touch points that shape a customer’s mental association with you, therefore they are all branding opportunities.
Now, you have two choices. You can either claim that the social web has simply provided a soap box for customers who would happily complain even if they were provided the moon and the stars on a silver platter. Or, you could step up and create a brand that makes customers forget that you have any competitors. One that they will gladly tell their friends and family about. In fact, they will go out of their way to tout your products and services. Even at the risk of sounding like someone getting paid a commission for every lead they send you. Price means little. Trust, responsiveness, peace of mind … the experience reigns supreme.
Creating Brand Loyalty
This brings us to the discussion of brand loyalty. I define brand loyalty as anything that drives customers to spend money with your business more than once and/or advocates on your behalf. Brand loyalists are not easily swayed by a competitors product or the by a lower price. A brand loyalist will gladly tell the dozens, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of their social connections about you via Facebook, Twitter, etc. Some will even confess their devotion to you and your brand in ways that would surprise you.
Here is my recipe for creating brand loyalty in two simple steps:
Step 1: Tell your customers what you promise to do for them if they spend their valuable money and attention on you.
Step 2: Keep those promises for the life of that relationship with your customer … at all costs.
Step 1 has been the flavor of the day for quite some time. Every commercial, print ad, and salesman has been making promises to customers on behalf of your brand. It is step 2 where a majority of brands fall flat. A promise is only good if kept. Remember, the social customer will put you in your place when you don’t keep your promise. They will also raise you above your competitors and sing your praise when you do.
Recently, clothing designer Marc Ecko put the call out to his customers. He offered a lifetime 20% discount on all Ecko products for anyone who was willing to get an Ecko logo tattoo permanently inked on their body. Now if that wasn’t a test of brand loyalty then I don’t know what is. Needless to say, it seems that quite a large number of die hard Ecko brand loyalists reverted back to the origin of branding by marking themselves permanently with the popular Ecko logo.
True brand loyalty is not created by the company that acts like a rancher who marks his herd to claim ownership of them, but when passionate customers publicly identify themselves as part of your brand. Although not all customers will permanently tattoo themselves to prove their loyalty, you should still strive to make it cross their mind by creating a kick-ass brand.
So the question is, what are you doing at your organization to create brand loyalists?
- Brand Loyalty: Creating a Lifestyle (strategicallycommunicating.wordpress.com)
- 5 Tips on Building Brand Loyalty via Twitter (searchenginewatch.com)
- Brand loyalty and customer satisfaction require a proactive approach (customerthink.com)