So You Think You Can Brand… But Do You Know What It Takes To Keep Customers Loyal?

So You Think You Can Brand… But Do You Know What It Takes To Keep Customers Loyal?

What does “branding” mean to you?

Does it mean a relevant logo? Effective visuals? A strong message and consistency in your messaging?

Some or all of the above?

You’d be right – but only partially.

Your brand is part image, made up of pretty pictures and power words, but it also runs much deeper than that. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never done repeat business with a company because they had a nifty-looking logo.

If you want repeat customers – nay, fiercely loyal customers! – then here are some things you can do that are even more important than the lovely trimmings we seem to get so caught up in.

Listen

Ah, the lost art. As people, we’re so often distracted by our email alerts and calendar notifications and the incessantly ringing phone or latest Facebook status updates that we can start to lose track of the other people around us. That’s why families now have “cell-phone-free time”.

As businesses, we’re caught up in the distractions too, but they come in the form of Facebook contests and social campaigns and email split-testing.

The day that you start to pay more attention to your marketing than to your customers is the day your brand has gone awry.

Customers don’t do business with you because you rocked that last email subject line. They do business with you because you pay attention to what they need. You know what they want (and you give it to them!) You value their opinions and hear and respond to their complaints.

The next time you’re worried about whether you’ve got the verbs perfectly right on your website “About” page, stop and ask yourself whether you’re actually listening to the words coming out of your customers’ mouths. That will pay off in spades every time.

Offer Good… Give Better

You know how important it is to set expectations. Your customers need to know the nitty gritty details of how to do business with you – from understanding your products and services to your billing processes to your limitations.

You need service agreements, contracts, policies. And within those you should be setting a baseline that ensures that your customers will leave every transaction with you being satisfied that they got what they wanted. In other words, make sure your offer is good.

But once you’ve established that baseline, you need to deliver better results. Go one extra step. Add that tiny element of “just because”. Surprise customers with an extra perk, an extended service, a freebie.

Sure, it could cost you a little extra in time or money, but think about the long-term benefits: repeat customers who are loyal to your company and who may even tell others about you and bring in new business. Plus when you factor in the cost of obtaining new customers vs. the cost of retaining existing ones, it’s not so expensive anymore.

Be Human

Nobody does business with logos. Even if you have a really, really cool one.

Your brand visuals can only go so far. They can reinforce your message, mission and values but they can’t create them. That’s for you, the human behind the nice shade of blue, to do.

Being human means speaking to your customers – not at them. You know those times when you call a customer service phone number and the person at the other end just wants to read from their pre-approved script of “how to deal with Customer Scenario #26”? Don’t be that person.

This goes back in part to listening, but it also has to do with understanding, empathizing and relating. I wrote about this recently for the Social Solutions Collective so check it out for a more in-depth look at empathy.

You need to engage with your customers as human beings. Not as contributors to your bottom line. Or as a demographic. Or an email segment.

Be real. Be honest. Be direct. And guess what? You can even be flawed. People forgive people. They’re not so warm and fuzzy when it comes to faceless corporations. And I bet you’ve been on both sides of this equation.

The stronger your personal relationship with someone, the stronger your business relationship. You must return to a human level if you want any hope of creating loyalty to your brand.

Bond Through Story

We’ve been telling stories since the first cave drawings. Stories create a shared experience that unite us and bond us. If you use them in an authentic – and human – way they can be an incredibly powerful brand ally.

Stories also create emotions and since so many buying decisions are emotional, a relatable story may be all someone needs to do business with you.

From origin stories to mission stories to stories that reflect your values and goals, you need to let your customers in on them.

Personally, I buy a specific type of chocolate because (other than the fact that it’s darn delicious) I love the origin story of the company. That company didn’t have to contrive to keep me a customer. They didn’t need coupons or even a great website. They just needed something I could relate to – a story I could see myself in, get behind and want to be a part of.

Tell yours. Don’t be afraid of it, the good, the bad, the warts. Someone will relate. And that’s the person who will stick with you.

Consider The Whole Experience

Your brand is more than a shopping event or a customer service phone call. It’s more than a meeting, more than ten or a hundred meetings. It’s more than your ability to deliver excellence and follow up generously.

It’s all of those things. It’s everything.

Your brand is every single word, every gesture, every response, everything you say and do and every single experience a customer has with your company from the first time they hear your name… forever.

And the experience you create for your customers is the entire foundation of your brand. It is your brand.

Think about that the next time you pick up the phone and you’re cranky because you missed your morning caffeine. Think about that the next time you’re too tired to write and you phone in a blog post. Think about it when a customer walks into your office and the carpet is shredded or when a customer emails you with a complaint and you answer in all lowercase letters.

Yes, I’m being that petty. Because when it comes to branding, yours is the sum total of every experience a customer has with you.

If you want customers coming back and you want them to be loyal, maybe even loyal evangelists, then you have to create a total experience. Strive for excellence but remember that when you fail, part of obtaining excellence is addressing those failures and turning them around. So when things go wrong during the customer experience, get to work making sure that the net result is positive.

If you can do that then you can brand. And your customers will thank you. And your business will profit. Easy? No. But yes, it’s just that simple.

How are you branding yourself with customers? What values do you uphold? I’d love to hear your good – and even not so good – experiences, whether you were on the brand side or the customer side.