Brand loyalty – the Holy Grail for businesses of all sizes and types in a world where information and alternatives are a click or coupon code away. Repeat purchasers, lower cost of sales, vocal advocates – the question is, how?
All businesses struggle with this enigma and many resort to tactics which serve to drum up short-term revenue, but fail to create a lasting, rooted emotional connection between their brand and their customers. It is on this distinction where ‘marketing’ and ‘branding’ diverge. You control and push the message in marketing, but your customers and prospects ‘own’ your brand – it’s primary value lies in the goodwill they attribute to it in their minds and hearts based on their personal impressions or experiences.
Borrowing from an article entitled, The Difference Between Marketing and Branding, by James Heaton, “Marketing may contribute to a brand, but the brand is bigger than any particular marketing effort. The brand is what remains after the marketing has swept through the room. It’s what sticks in your mind associated with a product, service, or organization…”
So what tends to stick in your mind about brands that you love? What causes you to go back to them without even looking around? More than likely it involves a memorable or unexpected personal experience with a product, service, or employee at that company, as opposed to a weekly circular stuffed in your mailbox or a door-buster sale, for example.
The beauty of branding is that it doesn’t have to mean multi-million dollar advertising campaigns or other grand-scale, perhaps risky investments. It also doesn’t have to be tied to grandiose aspirational concepts like “the ultimate driving experience,” for instance. Influencing brand loyalty can (and should) take place during every human and digital interaction your customers have with your company, no matter how seemingly inconsequential in the “big picture.” After all, the big picture is an amalgam of several small pictures that your customers keep in their mental file, consciously or unconsciously, about your business.
Just this week I can point to examples I’ve had with companies I have complete brand loyalty to based on my personal experiences, my connection to what I believe they stand for. A tire store that is clean, communicates clearly about wait times, doesn’t charge for basic services, and offers free bottled water. These things I remember. Or an online retailer that saved me from going to the post office to return a low-cost item that didn’t function properly, apologizing and stating they would absorb the cost and refund my money. This I will remember. Lastly, a jewelry store that replaced my watch battery for free because they remember me and hope to earn my business again. They will.
None of these acts cost these companies much, considering the additional revenue they can reasonably expect (or accurately model in some cases) to receive in the future. Yet, these experiences were filed away as goodwill and further cement my loyalty. So while marketing budgets, tactics, and response rates consume much of the discussion in modern business, it’s equally important to focus on and invest in what really drives brand loyalty – great people and culture; sensible, customer-friendly processes; and consistency of customer experience across all interaction points – to name a few.
At the end of the day, your customers “own” your brand – it’s personal to them. What are examples you’ve successfully employed in your business to ensure the actual impressions you leave on people mirror the messages in your marketing communications?