Here is a formula to consider when thinking about gaining loyal customers: Communication + Relationship = Brand. Here’s how I define each part.
Communication: Nothing can happen, whether personal or business, without effective communication. This goes way beyond “corporate communications” and PR. This is about deep sharing of who you are and what your purpose in the world is. It’s also about empathy and a genuine desire to learn about what life issues are important to your customers as it relates to your brand and how you can help. Great communication is not just press releases and product saturated ads. It’s about promoting higher ideals and an ethos of how your brand can contribute to the well being of your customer. Everything from the copy on the packaging to marketing and advertising, to your online presence, all need to be in sync about communicating higher ideals, not just “buy my stuff”. How would you feel if your friend or loved one only communicated to you if they wanted something from you? Your customers feel the same way.
Relationship: Business is not about selling. It’s about genuine caring. If a brand is just selling, then you’re reduced to commodity and will be fighting over nickels and dimes. By communicating a clear value system and higher ideals, a you can show the human side of your brand and create an intimate relationship that is way beyond selling. This benefits all involved. The customer wins by knowing a company truly cares about making their life better and that they are there for a higher purpose than just “selling” them something. The brand wins by developing passionate and loyal customers. This will even go as deep as them not only forgiving any missteps, but to be a willing participant in the fix and be happy to do so. As in a personal relationship, both are emotionally involved and committed through thick and thin.
Brand: Creating meaningful relationships is what brand is all about. A brand should mean something that is emotion based. For example, people love Zappos even though they can buy the same products somewhere else. Zappos has been able to communicate their higher ideal and create the human relationship through stellar telecommunications that doesn’t feel like a phone bank, but more like two friends talking. Method is loved by millions, not because they are one of the first green products that actually cleans, but because they have communicated effectively they wanted to create a company that works for their customer and the planet. And they back it up through their actions. They don’t believe in one having to sacrifice for the other. Brand is the result of how well you have communicated (internally and externally) in everything from copy on the package to the advertising and how genuine is your relationship (it should be centered more around a higher ideal and ethos than “selling”.)
The interesting thing about brand is you get one whether you manage your communications and relationships well or not. Do these things well, you have a brand that customers love. Do it poorly or not at all, you have a brand that people either hate or ignore. As Mena Suvari said in American Beauty, “I don’t know anything worse than being ordinary.”