The 11-Step Process For Boosting Brand Loyalty

Brand loyalty is like creating a default setting in the minds of your customers where, without thinking, they choose your brand over any other. It’s a loyalty that means they have an almost inherent inclination towards your brand, automatically grabbing your products off the shelf or calling you up when they need service. Seems a bit like the holy grail, doesn’t it?

Customers are always open to switching brands, depending on advertising or pricing that piques their curiosity, sure, but in a world where there’s an overwhelming number of brands, products, and services, brand loyalty is a kind of survival measure that customers like because it allows them to avoid being overwhelmed by choice.

Customers are loyal to Apple, to Coke, to Adidas. They buy whatever the brand makes, sometimes slavishly. But you don’t have to be a multinational corporation to achieve brand loyalty. You can be the local appliance repairman your customer has on speed dial, or that restaurant their car practically drives to on its own.

1. Temper your enthusiasm, and avoid information overload.

With social media and other methods that make it easy for brands to communicate with customers, the mantra seems to be that you ought to communicate as often as possible because you don’t want them to forget about you.

Be careful.

Your customers can (and most likely are) suffer from information overload. In a survey of 7,000 customers, “decision simplicity” was the most important factor in creating a customer that was drawn to a particular brand. In other words, more information wasn’t better. The right information at the right time was better.

According to Harvard Business Review, decision simplicity means you must make it easy for your customers to:

  1. Find information. Forget flashy websites. Make navigation and information-finding easy.
  2. Trust and verify that information. Customers won’t trust you before they trust the information. How you word your copy, the sources you link to, and how information is presented plays a role in how trustworthy it appears.
  3. Weight and compare that information. Customers will research to see how your information compares to outside information. Customer reviews on your site can help.

Bombarding your customers with continual marketing messages, new sales and gimmicks, and anything that makes the decision process more complex for them works against created brand loyalty. When it comes to communication, less can definitely be more.

It’s easy to get caught up in engagement metrics, and look at numbers that tell you people are opening your emails, signing up for email lists, or following your social profiles, but brand loyalty isn’t necessarily indicated by engagement. It’s indicated by return customers and return sales as well.

Be careful that the metrics your measuring take that into account, otherwise you may find your tactics skewed towards over-communication in order to boost the wrong numbers.

2. Understand how customers make decisions.

This is part two of decision simplicity, in a way. If part one was reducing the amount of information you put in front of customers, part two is organizing that information according to their needs.

What do customers want or need to know before they’ll start doing business with you? According to Inc. (with a few of my own additions), customers have specific questions they’re asking themselves before deciding to buy:

  1. Do I want to do business with this person? This is where your sales staff (or yourself) have an important role to play. The greatest prices and products are often overshadowed by unpleasant interpersonal interactions. It’s hard to be loyal to a bunch of unfriendly grumps.
  2. Do I want to do business with this brand? What kind of reputation have you established in your community or customer region? Your store, website, social presence, and marketing materials are saying things about your brand that you might not be aware of.
  3. Do I want this product or service? Hopefully you’ve done market research and have learned who wants and needs what you have to offer. You must convince your customer why the product or service is what they are looking for.
  4. Is this a good price or value? Whether you compare your price or value to others or use upselling techniques, you must show your customer why your brand is offering the best option.
  5. Is this the right time for me? In some situations, exclusivity or limited time offers are in play. You can use this to encourage customers to act, but if you want to build continued loyalty after this initial purchase, you need to go about expressing the urgency in an honest way without an obfuscations on pricing or gimmicks.
  6. What do others have to say? This addresses the concern of peer pressure, but also an attempt to find a truthful and unadulterated outside review of the experience. This is where online reviews can help (or hurt) you. Offer testimonials and reviews online, but also in your store or other materials. Be bold enough not to cherry pick only the super great reviews, but include all reviews that are honest.

If you know what customers are looking for, then you’ll know exactly what kind of information to provide them. It’s a decision-based information diet in which decision simplicity is enabled because you give them all the information they need to make a decision quickly and with confidence. Nothing more, nothing less.

3. Know what your customer’s values are, and match them.

You probably get tired of hearing that you need to know your audience (i.e. your customer), but when it comes to brand loyalty, it’s vital that you have the same values they do.

In one study, 64% of participants said that shared values are the reason they stay loyal to a brand.

Not price. Not clever social content. Values.

What is important to your customer? Is it broad selection, environmental practices, fair trade, or supporting the local culture? Not every customer is loyal to a brand because it offers the cheapest products, so you need to know what your customer values the most in order to keep your brand attuned that way.

Use surveys, monitor conversations and responses customers have towards your social media content, listen to sales feedback, and track which promotions do the best. Find out what matters the most to your customers.

4. Understand the relationship your customers want with you.

There’s this idea that customers want to have relationships with brands, and it’s this idea that has been the engine for what brands do on social media: they try to create relationships with customers.

That’s the wrong focus.

Don’t confuse shared values (#3) with the idea that customers want a relationship with your brand. Your goal is brand loyalty, not relationship. If you get the two confused, you end up with some often creepy and strange approaches to engagement. It’s easy to lose sight of loyalty when you’re chasing after relationship.

As the HelpScout blog said, the closest thing you’ll have to a relationship with your loyal customers is the sense that you are on the same “team” as them, even if it means you have to create an “enemy”. It’s your brand saying “we stand for this, like you do, and we’re not like that.”

That’s the identical values thing coming into play. It’s especially important in getting the loyalty of the Millennial generation, who want to support and be a part of something larger than themselves.

5. Walk your talk, and deliver what you promise.

If you aren’t the best restaurant in town, don’t say that you are.

Brand loyalty isn’t given to dishonest brands. Always be able to deliver what you promise. Take the Montgomery Scott, Star Trek Chief Engineer, approach if you have to and under-promise so that when you over-deliver you amaze your customers.

Giving people more than they expect, not less, is the key.

6. Give your customer a personalized experience.

People like to feel like people, not numbers or data points. Whenever possible, give your customer a personalized experience when they do business with you. Use their name, remember important dates, give away rewards based on birthdays or other important dates, remember their favorites.

There’s something entirely satisfying when you walk into a coffee shop and the barista knows your usual. It makes ordering simple, and it means that you were personally remembered.

7. Show that you’re trustworthy.

Brand loyalty functions differently now than it used to. In the past, the big names of Kodak and Pepsi were trustworthy enough simply because they were known brands. There weren’t as many products to choose from.

Now, there are no shortage of products and options available to customers.

Brand loyalty now says “you can trust us to steer you in the right direction in this flooded market” instead of the past, which said “you can trust our products.”

What that means is you aren’t only building trust in your products and services, but in your recommendations. Remember the scene from “Miracle on 34th Street” where the opposing store was recommended for a hard-to-find toy?

Your building brand trust, not just product trust. Do it right, and it turns into product trust.

8. Create great loyalty programs.

Loyalty programs reward customers for repeat business. Their entire purpose is to create a kind of forced loyalty simply by playing to a customer’s desire for lower prices or freebies.

Crappy loyalty programs might work for a time, but the moment the reward is deemed not worth the hassle, or the loyalty program goes away, so do the customers. This is your “buy 13 drinks and get $1 of your 14th drink” program. Is it worth the hassle of carrying around a card for all that time to save a dollar? A loyalty program where the reward is seen as a hassle to get can actually be counterproductive; your brand could be seen as a cheapskate or worse.

Great loyalty programs, on the other hand, have fantastic and frequent rewards.

Picture a horse following a carrot on a stick. The more the horse gets a bite of the carrot, the more likely he is to keep walking. Keep the carrot away from him too long and only allow a nibble when he finally does get the reward, and he loses interest.

Loyalty programs only build truly loyal customers when they offer the customer a seriously worthwhile reward that allows them to try a broad range of products or services to get them “hooked” on your brand. Find out what rewards your customers would like, and build a loyalty program that fits those response.

9. Use your ears with your mouth closed.

Customers need to be heard, even the grumpy ones. Your best listening happens when your mouth is closed.

We all love to read the snappy responses of business owners who let loose a witty comeback to a sniping reviewer, but beware. After people are done laughing, they are left with a picture of a brand that attacks customers.

  • Don’t be defensive. If you must respond to every review on Yelp or Google+ (and I’d caution you on that approach), keep it short, apologetic, and encouraging. Don’t explain at length why you failed or why you think the reviewer is wrong. You are not defending, you are listening.
  • Be appreciative. When responding after listening, your first goal is to show appreciation. Thank you for telling us, thank you for taking the time to review us, thank you for trying our product — thank you. Appreciative words, in the face of tough feedback, has a tempering effect.
  • Provide opportunities to communicate. Have suggestion boxes in your store, provide short surveys — give your customers a route to communicate with you, and listen.
  • Show that you heard them. If you take action on a customer suggestion, let other customers know you’re doing so because someone like them suggested you do it.

The whole world is talking, and few are listening. Being the brand that listens is magnetic to customers.

10. Be consistent with what you do.

No one is loyal to fickleness. How can you be? You never know what to expect.

Be known for consistency in how you behave. If you are hardcore about honoring coupons only on the dates listed, then be that way consistently. If you take back returns in just about any condition, then do so consistently.

Be known for consistency in your product or service. Standardize your procedures so that your employees behave the same way in the same situations. Communicate clearly with staff what you will or won’t do. Establish guidelines for customer service and product, and make sure everyone stays in it.

People don’t buy a Diet Coke wondering what it’ll taste like. They buy it knowing what it will taste like, and that’s the whole point.

People are loyal to what they know.

11. Learn to understand the difference between purchase-loyal and affective-loyal customers.

A 2005 study found out that brand loyalty isn’t the same for every customer. While asking customers of a popular restaurant whether or not they considered themselves loyal customers or not, and then comparing it with their purchasing behavior at that restaurant, they discovered something interesting: the customers that spent the most money at the restaurant and frequented it the most considered themselves less loyal than the customers that spent less money but talked about the restaurant to friends.

You have customers that are purchase-loyal, and are actually spending money with your brand. And you also have customers who are affective-loyal, who talk about your brand.

While there is likely some overlap between these two, it is interesting to consider that some of your most vocal proponents might not be the ones actually supporting your business financially.

They are both important customers, but this means (as I mentioned in #1) that you have to be careful how you understand engagement metrics and how you use those metrics to reward customers. It’s entirely plausible you have extremely loyal customers you never hear from on social media or elsewhere who send dollars your way, while you are showering and doting on affective-loyal customers who give you mainly lip service.

Do you have a way to reward and cater to both types of customers? Or is the squeaky wheel the only one getting the oil?

Word-of-mouth is important, but customers who are walking in your door with dollars are your real bread and butter.

Now That You Have Brand Loyalty, Keep It.

Retaining current customers is far less expensive than getting new ones.

The same tactics you use to attract new customers aren’t the same ones you’ll use to keep them, and to create brand loyalty. Your email and communication should necessarily change once a customer is no longer in the new category, and your efforts should shift from attracting to experience-building.

While some say that people follow trends instead of brands and that brand loyalty is dying or dead, there are still consumers who take great comfort in finding a favorite brand and trusting that choosing it will give them the best return.

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