The relationship between a brand and the customer is a complex one. It can be fickle or it can be very strong, it can be two-way or it can be all take take take. Sometimes the customer has all the power – they know they want pizza but they’re not tied to a particular brand and so could make a different choice with each purchase. Other times they may be very brand loyal; they may love a brand so much they will almost always go with them. In this scenario what you often find is that the customer is significantly more passionate about the brand than the brand is about the customer.
This makes sense when you think about it. Imagine a brand like Virgin Atlantic. Lots of people like flying with them (and a few don’t, but let’s not focus on them today). Imagine they had 5,000 strongly loyal customers, people who loved flying with them and would always choose them if they could. For each of these individuals it’s a lot easier for them to be passionate about Virgin Atlantic than the other way round – they only have to be passionate about one thing, Virgin would have to be passionate about 5,000. It’s just not that easy to do this.
But being passionate matters. Traditionally there has been a concept of brand which essentially put types of consumer within a particular brand’s sphere of influence – “this is what an Abercrombie and Fitch customer looks like” was the way that many thought of things. But the consumer has much more control than this. They are really at the centre of the relationship. A brand should be thinking of themselves as part of a consumer’s personal brand rather than the other way around “we want to attract the kind of people who drink Innocent Smoothies and fly Virgin Atlantic”.
In this environment it’s critical that you move the relationship from give give give to something that really is two-way. You need to love your customers. Something that isn’t easy to do. People like Virgin Atlantic (and other airlines) try to do this with loyalty schemes. They reward their best (ie their highest spending customers) with perks like free access to their lounges on departure. But this doesn’t necessarily reward the customers who are most passionate about you. These may not be your biggest spenders, but they may be your most important influencers, amplifying word of mouth. They’re probably the ones who purchase your product every time they make a purchase in this category, even if that isn’t that often. But between purchases they’ll be the ones telling everybody they know how great you are.
So how do we love these people back as much as they love us. It’s not easy, but social media can really help and during the holiday season for the next month or so we’ll be showing you a few ways that you can love your customers.
Some more reading
- Trends for 2009: Radical Transparency
- Will online communities by airlines help their brands take-off?
- Social Media + Community = a new approach to creating customer loyalty
- Web 2.0 Summit 08: Tony Hsieh (Zappos.com)
- Zappos: Above and beyond customer service