It resonated with a lot of people who understood that sometimes things go wrong and when that happens, you may need to break out the Oreos and a little tantrum to help you cope.
But this month, with the topic focused squarely on love, I want to talk about something that’s actually quite often a topic of conversation, and that’s building a brand that your customers will love.
But what’s not often talked about is that you don’t need a big marketing budget to do it.
I think sometimes we confuse love and money. Think about it. When you want to show someone you love or appreciate them, you buy them a gift. And with Valentine’s Day right in our rear view mirror, can you actually look me in the eye and tell me that the size of the gift doesn’t matter? Would you really get away with a single rose when a dozen is the going rate?
And how about that cubic zirconia? What? Not too many of those in your jewelry box?
And yet there are people who know how to make a gesture worth more than a price tag; who can say “I love you” with a hundred hand cut paper hearts instead of a hundred dollar bottle of wine.
You can apply the same principle to building a brand. There’s the “throw money at the problem” approach and there’s the “perhaps small, but meaningful gesture” approach.
Not only does the second approach yield better results but it’s the only one that yields results.
You can’t buy your customers’ love and loyalty with bigger gifts, deeper discounts, more expensive marketing campaigns or impressive giveaways.
The best you can hope to achieve is that wide eyed “for me?” reaction that you get with a dozen roses. But if the relationship underneath is broken or isn’t strong enough, that reaction wears off pretty quickly.
So if you want happy customers who are in love with your business and yours alone, who would never break up with you even if you charged them full price every single time, you need to focus on the relationship – not the budget.
Even the teeny tiniest shoestring-budget business can build a brand worth falling in love with.
Nurture Your Relationships. Cost: $0
In your personal life, you would never expect your spouse or partner to be satisfied with a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day while being ignored for the other 364 days of the year.
Yet this is how many businesses treat their customers.
How often do you communicate with customers who aren’t immediately contributing to your bottom line? And I don’t mean just in those dull newsletter emails that you consider a “touch point” and send out every other Tuesday.
For big, international brands it’s not practical for them to reach out to customers on an individual level, but I’m talking to you, the small business. The one who can probably tell me exactly who your first customer or email subscriber was, who has “the first dollar you ever made” taped to the wall over your desk, who maybe still does business with your very first customer.
If you’re like me, you don’t do business with all your customers all the time. There are ebbs and flows. Sometimes we work with one or another. There are years-long lapses between engagements with some customers, but they come back when they need our services.
But even though we may not be working with someone doesn’t mean we should forget they exist.
It costs nothing to make a phone call. Or send an email – not just the generic newsletter but a personal email.
Communication builds relationships in a way that gimmicks, discounts and grand gestures can’t.
Stand On Your Values. Cost: $0
You’ve heard the phrase “opposites attract” but that works better for magnets than people. If you love waking up at the crack of dawn but your partner sleeps until noon… if you want ten kids but your partner wants cats… how long do you think you’d last in a situation like that?
In life and in business, like attracts like.
We tend to gravitate toward people with common interests and values; people who validate us and our thinking.
If you want a strong brand then you need strong values.
Why you do what you do; how you do it; your business ethics; your expectations; the way you treat others and expect to be treated in return. These things contribute to the message you’re putting out into the world about your business.
If you’ve defined your business values then customers who share them will gravitate toward you. If you live them every day then those customers will learn to trust you. And that’s what will build the love and loyalty.
It costs nothing to be true to your values and to your business. And you can do that without a fancy brochure or a stunning logo.
Listen. Cost: $0
The word “listen” has been corrupted by social media to mean “listen to what other people are saying about you.”
Or, for smaller companies, “listen to what other people are saying about your type of product or service.”
But this isn’t social media. This is life, and I want you to forget about yourself for a minute. Forget about “your story”.
Focus instead on your customers and what they want, what they think. And not in the context of you!
Listen on a personal level.
If you can’t tell me the names of the kids of at least one of your customers then you’re not listening. If you can’t tell me the last place one of your customers went on vacation, how your customer feels about the last election (yes, even that) or what kind of beer your customer likes with his burger, then you’re not listening.
Listen on a business level.
Stop trying to convince your customer to buy the A Plan or to follow your “three steps to success” and pay attention to what your customer really needs. That may actually require you to stop trying to sell them something. That may, in fact, mean you never get to sell them something, if it isn’t what they really want or need.
It costs nothing to listen. But it can return gratitude, trust, loyalty, positive word of mouth and even more business when your customers feel valued.
Respond. Cost: $0
Recently I received an email in response to a post I wrote about building a website. The sender asked if I’d look at his site and provide constructive criticism.
I sent him back an email and told him I would.
Do you know what he said in his next email?
“Thank you so much for responding. I didn’t expect to hear from anyone.”
It’s sad to think that we’ve come to a point where people no longer expect to be acknowledged and feel grateful for something that should be a common courtesy.
When it comes to your customers, if you’re not responding always and immediately, you’re daring them to break up with you. Unless you’re on vacation, out of the office or in the middle of surgery, you should be returning calls within minutes or hours.
Emails are even more immediate. A few hours before an email response can feel like forever.
Being responsive also includes prioritizing your customers’ needs. When someone asks you to do something, do it. Don’t have your PA call their PA and schedule a time to talk about scheduling a meeting to talk about getting the job done.
Surprise your customers by getting things done quickly. I promise you won’t lose any friends if you say you’ll have something done by Friday and deliver it on Thursday instead.
It costs nothing to be attentive, timely, considerate and responsive. And you don’t need any social media training or expensive CRM systems to do it.
It takes a lot to build a brand that people will love and it won’t happen overnight. It can take years of building trust one returned phone call at a time. But you can do it without a dozen roses or a million dollar Superbowl ad. You can do it without the finest linen business cards. You can do it without a single eBook or webinar or chocolate tower of gifts.
Unless you want to send me a chocolate tower of gifts… then I’ll be your friend for life. I swear.
What do you think? Can you think of any other ways a brand could get some love? Let me know what makes you feel all warm and fuzzy when you do business with someone.
P.S. Show some love for Evan Austin, the awesome and talented graphic artist behind the illustration at the top of this post. I handed the post to him and said “draw it”. And he did. (It’s worth a second look because the message is pretty darn perfect.)
This post is part of the February 2013 Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners. (It’s the most fun you’ll have all month!) Check out the rest of the fabulous carney work here.