In 2016, brands should be doing everything possible to promote customer loyalty. New sales are vital to a business and can help drive growth, but are executives forgetting the bread and butter of their income, their existing customers?
To find out what brands can do to make sure their customers stay loyal, international telecommunications provider Toll Free Forwarding surveyed a sample of US consumers. The respondents were questioned on some of their favorite brands and what strategies they have introduced to keep them on board. The survey found that 75% of Americans think brands should implement better strategies in order to encourage brand loyalty. So what is it that encourages them to stick by a product, and what lessons can we learn from them?
“My loyalty is partially based on the fact they agree with some of my personal beliefs, in addition to other pragmatic aspects. Such brands/companies are well worth my continued support.”
Consumers are now more savvy than ever, which is reflected in the multiple responses on corporate responsibility. There is now a greater desire for accountability with business practices, but also in supporting communities outside of the financial side of the business.
The example respondent above commented that they aligned themselves with a brand that had similar personal beliefs. This can be particularly effective for smaller businesses who can really tailor their marketing strategies towards a small target niche. Smaller enterprises can use the unique aspects of their business—for example, a food brand who only uses locally sourced ingredients to promote specific values.
Large businesses should take notice too, though. Whole Foods is a great example of a niche brand which started small, based on specific ethical principles, that now registers sales in the billions. Running your business with a conscience will not only garner positive working relationships, but will also be an indicator of honesty and integrity to your customers.
“I think all brands should have Twitter accounts and have people man the account 24 hours a day, so each consumer can feel like they are a part of the family by receiving a quick response. When a brand quickly responds to my tweets, I am more likely to support them.”
Social media is vital for customer service today. While many people won’t go to the effort to write a letter of complaint, email and (more recently) social media platforms have made the process of interacting with businesses more accessible. As this respondent states, it’s not just about complaints—social can also mean you’re always available to help out your customers.
The comment on “being part of the family” is particularly telling. The “mom and pop” store may have seen a decline over the years, but that family mentality is still important to a lot of people. You can’t speak to all of your customers in person, but you can make sure your social presence is reliable and your followers feel like you care.
Charities and not-for-profits are great examples for brands to follow, as they often offer informative and swift responses to followers. The American Red Cross have lots of inquiries on their Facebook page from people interested in donating, and they always deal with them quickly and politely with informative responses.
“I am loyal to Dunkin Donuts. It is from my hometown and what I grew up on. Even though I live 3,000 miles away now, I love that I can still rely on a little taste of home!”
For such a large brand, it’s a testament to the emotional power of nostalgia that Dunkin Donuts still has that pull for one of the survey respondents. References to childhood fads and fashions are always well-received, especially in the shareable, viral nature of social media. If your brand has a long history then, use it, or think about what your audience grew up with. Play with branding and marketing campaigns that appeal to your target demographics, and use nostalgia to promote a sense of kinship.
When the fictional future date of Marty McFly’s Back to the Future journey came around in October last year, lots of brands jumped on the bandwagon to revive memories of the franchise. Pepsi released a special edition of “Future Pepsi,” which had been featured in the 80s movie, to much excitement from movie fans.
“I can only think of one brand to which I have a lot of loyalty, and it is a skin care brand. I have come to trust the company’s founder. I believe that she does, indeed, try to put the best ingredients into her products, and that they’ll do what she says they’ll do. I like many of her staff and enjoy them on YouTube presentations. I still try other skin care brands, but always come back to this line.”
Become the expert in your field, and your target audience will trust your opinion. As the respondent above states, it’s important that she “believes in” the founder. Your spokesperson doesn’t have to be the founder, but if you can express your expertise in the media or through your own social channels and offer useful information, then it will only help drive sales, interest, and brand awareness.
Discounts and Special Offers
“Brands should provide discounts and specials for customer loyalty. Or even just specials for all customers, say for certain periods of time. A health food store in my area consistently provides this kind and has a customer appreciation day once a year with very generous discounts and giveaways. It’s this kind of thing that has helped them build a local business supported by the community.”
It might seem obvious, but discounts and special offers still seem to hold a lot of clout among consumers and was cited as the top reason in the survey for brand loyalty. Customers will stay loyal for many reasons, but if you can reward them in kind for their loyalty, you’re not only providing a good experience for them but developing a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties as well. If customers feel valued and are getting a fair deal from their loyalty, then they have no reason to go anywhere else.
Newspapers often buy in readers by offering coupons; brands can also be very persuasive with coupons and discounts. Gap is well known for its extreme sales strategies, offering big discounts on a regular basis to draw customers in.
Remember that concentrating on growth though isn’t the same as encouraging loyalty. Many grocery stores offer reward card programs where customers get a percentage of their purchases back in the form of points. Many brands, like Barnes and Noble, offer small returns (around 1%), which might not be substantial enough for many customers. UK cosmetics and beauty provider Boots, however, offers 4%.
“I am loyal to brands that provide consistent quality and service. They back up their products and provide after-sales service. They are reliable and honest. This makes me want to continue doing business with them.”
What all of these factors boil down to is consistent and quality customer service. Consistency is the key, and every customer is just as important as the last. Remember that while internet communication is more removed than face to face interaction, it’s still word of mouth that drives all of these different platforms. If you treat all of your customers with respect and honesty, then they’ll respect you back.
Don’t forget about customers after you’ve sold to them, either. Make sure they know you’re available for support. Once a customer has bought a service or product from you, they’re your responsibility until they decide.
Keeping your existing customers happy is hard work, but it’s ultimately worth it. The people who have often organically reacted to your products, your brand, and your content are the perfect audience for your continued efforts. If brands spent more time on retaining the customers they already have, rather than concentrating all their efforts on new sales, then they’d see the benefits of a loyal customer base.
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