Hopelessly Devoted to Your Brand
Finding true love with your customers takes emotion, anticipation and more.
Your customers may not send bouquets to your company, write sonnets about your brand, or sport tattoos of your logo (it happens), but are they devoted to your brand? And if not, why not?
Today’s consumers increasingly hunger for emotional connections with the brands they shop—and when they find them, they’re likely not only to spend more but to spread the word to their friends and family via social media. They want brands to know them, to make them feel special, to support the causes they back, and more—things most of us expect from a significant other.
In keeping with that metaphor, what are the keys to creating not just consumer acquaintances but deep and abiding customer relationships? Ones that don’t start up in the heat of a 20%-off promotion and then fizzle out with an “unsubscribe” message just days after that first order.
The first key is to provide an emotional connection. According to several studies, 80 percent of the decisions we make every day are based on emotion. Obviously then, as a marketer, understanding the important role that emotions play in your customers’ lives is critical. The second key is to anticipate your customers’ needs. Consumers lead busy lives, so it’s easy to forget about a brand once enjoyed—unless, of course, the brand is right there, leveraging customer data to deliver personalized messages online, via email, and through direct mail. Like a loved one, your brand needs to be a regular presence in your customers’ lives—one they can genuinely count on and trust.
There are so many fish in the sea, or brands vying for consumers’ dollars, that there’s a growing need to continually woo customers. In fact, it’s critical. Let’s consider your brand’s actions à la a personal relationship.
Sparking a Relationship
We usually think of attraction as it pertains to dating, but it happens in consumers’ lives too—with cute shoes or perhaps a hot new restaurant that sparks love at first sight. And just like dating these days, consumers often find those must-have items online—via Instagram, Facebook, and other social media channels. During 2022, advertisers hoping to catch the eyes of scrolling consumers were projected to spend $67.4 billion on social media in the United States, according to market research platform Statista.
Next comes curiosity, the second stage in dating. Once products grab the attention of consumers, they want to know more. Online brands make taking the next step increasingly easy, with clickable posts on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and more. But any brand can post an ad. The magic comes in what’s written. As a consumer shares data with a brand, the company’s understanding of that customer grows, enabling it to deliver targeted and personalized messages. With a little luck, the customer eventually orders online or visits the brand in real life, or IRL.
So how does a brand ensure that a customer returns? By exceeding expectations the first time around and then by anticipating their needs, thanks to a growing amount of data.
Delivering on the Details
A brand must get a bunch of things right during the first interaction. If online, a brand sends exactly what the customer ordered, shares shipping information, announces when the item hits their doorstep, includes a thank-you note, protects private information, and makes a return easy. If all of that happens, a second date, or second purchases, seems likely. Madewell, for example—known for its classic, good-quality garments—provides free shipping and free personalization for loyalty program members (membership is free too), and it makes returning an order a snap.
But let’s say a customer is in a rush to find a last-minute birthday gift—and has no time to order online or doesn’t want to? How does a brick-and-mortar store create a connection? Perhaps the boutique’s employee not only helps the customer find the perfect present but offers a glass of wine wraps the gift on the spot so the customer can make it to the party on time. Again, it’s likely he’ll shop that store in the future.
But even large retailers can create personal relationships with attentive service. Consider Nordstrom, whose customer service hearkens to an earlier age—shoppers can still relax in a dressing room while sales associates bring new styles and sizes to try. In addition, Nordstrom offers free alterations, free fashion and beauty stylist consultations, and free curbside pickup. The Seattle-based retailer has also woven its expert service into its online offerings, including the ability of online customers to book in-store appointments with personal shoppers and to select clothing to be pulled in store. It’s no wonder that Nordstrom customers are known for their loyalty.
The Power of Really Listening
In all of these instances, the amount of consumer data collected grows, enabling a brand to send messages that cater to a consumer’s individual needs and interests. That’s similar to a significant other who’s a good listener, who asks questions that convey genuine interest, and who remembers not only your birthday but that daisies are your favorite flowers.
Betabrand certainly gets listening right. Conversing is part of this online retailer’s MO, keeping the convo going on social media, responding quickly to potential customer comments, creating entertaining GIFs, and acting on suggestions. It was thanks to customer conversations, in fact, that Betabrand added pockets to its popular Dress Pant Yoga Pants. And, just like potential romantic partners, customers appreciate being heard and understood. Other brands that communicate well with customers include Netflix, Nike, and Starbucks.
In a deepening relationship that has stepped up to enlightenment, or the third stage of dating, communication becomes a two-way street. That’s true too of brands and customers. Consumers often post images of favorite purchases, gorgeous restaurant meals, and much more. Receiving online likes from friends validates their choices and may make them appreciate their brand relationships even more. In addition, an ongoing history with a company helps inspire a customer’s brand loyalty, feeling good for their purchases, experiences, and more.
Deepening Your Relationship
What makes two people decide to make a commitment, the final stage in a dating relationship? Likely a mutual understanding of one another, an expanding level of trust, and a real attachment. Similarly, satisfied consumers feel understood and valued by a favorite brand. They trust that the brand will take care of their needs. And, over time, they develop an emotional connection to that brand.
These customers are likely to repurchase favorite products, to check out new items, to repeat enjoyable customer experiences, and to recommend the brand to others. Meanwhile, the brand genuinely values these customers, works hard to continually earn their business, provides discounts and benefits like free shipping, and more. All of these actions create trustworthiness and a deepening bond.
Westin is a great example. This brand recognizes its best customers (“We were treated like Westin royalty!”), welcoming them as frequent and important guests when they check in. They offer them such amenities as Heavenly Beds, in-room Pelotons, $5 workout gear rentals, and more. And the hotels even smell wonderful, thanks to their signature White Tea scent. Westin aims to ensure guests enjoy their stays, time after time.
Or consider Spotify. This popular streaming service uses algorithms to play listeners’ favorite music and to offer daily personal listening suggestions, based on past favorites—kind of like that old romantic gesture, a mixtape. Before year’s end annually, each listener receives personal stats, including total minutes listened, top songs, and favorite artists. Plus, throughout the year, members receive local concert announcements based on favorite artists.
Preventing a Breakup
While everyone hopes for a long-lasting relationship, that doesn’t always happen—IRL or with a favorite brand. Despite doing nearly everything right, a brand can lose a previously happy customer in a heartbeat. Send the wrong product and then do the bare minimum to make it up to the customer. Overpromise on a product, delivery date, or reward. Don’t respond quickly, efficiently, or kindly to complaints. Or fail to communicate when an issue arises. Any one of these can sound the death knell on what had been a promising relationship.
Moreover, it’s understood that when a customer is satisfied, they rarely leave a positive review. But once dissatisfied, they’re highly likely to leave a negative comment. And according to Inc., a brand needs a whopping 40 positive customer ratings to balance out just one stinker. Moreover, according to Salesforce Research, 76 percent of customers say it’s easier than ever to take their business elsewhere. Unlike partners in love, who may be willing to forgive and forget, customers are not always so merciful.
So, let’s summarize. Finding true love with customers includes:
Attracting customers by creating a positive brand presence online.
Making it easy to find details about your brand.
Leveraging your customers’ data right from the start.
Providing personally targeted messages.
Creating positive customer experiences, time after time.
Listening and responding genuinely to compliments and complaints.
Showing you value customers by offering special deals, discounts, and free shipping.
Rectifying things that have gone wrong—right away.
Leveraging emotion and communication to deepen your relationship.
Consistently do all of these things, and chances are that your brand and your customers will live happily ever after.
Karin B. Miller writes and copyedits for The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based, data-driven loyalty, experience and customer-engagement agency that has been delivering personalization for its world-class clients for more than 30 years. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy company.