When it comes to being loved by consumers, there’s always more to learn. At the recent Retail Innovation Conference (RIC) in NYC, we learned how generating and fostering that love is key component to developing loyal customers.
“Loved brands have such a big advantage,” said Jeff Fromm, president of marketing agency FutureCast. Of course, love doesn’t happen automatically.
“Consumers date your brand, until they decide they love your brand,” said Fromm. “And then if they love your brand, they’re going to show some loyalty.”
How much loyalty? That depends on the strength of the bond. And there are many things to consider when building strong shopper connection in today’s changing retail landscape.
For any brand, the ultimate achievement is connecting with people on a level that has them not only vouching for your products, but also feeling guilty when they use a competitor.
Author and speaker Deb Gabor, CEO and founder of Sol Marketing, calls this ‘Irrational Loyalty.’ According to her, creating it starts with differentiating your brand in a purposeful, meaningful way – in part, by anchoring people in the “memories, expectations, values, and beliefs” of your larger brand promise.
Those anchors are a foundation for understanding, connection, and trust, which are three of the most important keys to building a loving, loyal relationship with your consumers.
Knowing consumers at personal level helps your brand play a more impactful role in their lives. The better you know them, the more capable you are of meeting their expectations.
Those expectations are continually getting higher and higher, because every positive interaction your consumer has with a brand – be it yours, or a competitor’s – ups their bar for excellence.
“Each time your customer experiences a new level of service, their expectations get reset to a new and higher level,” says Issac Brown, sales director at Evergage. “The companies that are not personalizing effectively are the ones that are going to get left behind."
To stay in front of the pack, brands have to continually learn and adapt throughout the consumer relationship.
One focus area is talking to them the right way. There is significant value in well-targeted, personalized messaging: With insight into how individual customers like to be spoken to, you’re more likely to keep them engaged (or win them back if they ever churn).
Personal feelings have a strong effect on consumers’ perceptions and buying decisions. Gabor goes so far as to define a brand as “the collective emotional response to your product or service.”
But during the moments of an actual shopping experience, “collective emotions” don’t affect shoppers. What does are things like how their day went, or how rushed they are, or how stressful their purchase decision is.
Respecting those feelings helps brands build bonds. For jewelry brand Kendra Scott, empathy is a key component of the in-store experience: Amy Young, the brand’s Director of Retail Marketing, says store associates call each customer a friend, and pay attention to her like one.
“How does she feel when she leaves our store – is she feeling better about herself? What’s the lasting impression from her [shopping] experience?” says Young, adding that respecting such cues drives ROI: “We see it when she brings in her daughter for prom, or comes back for every special occasion.”
“When she posts on our Facebook about how she was having a bad day, but spent 30 minutes in the store and left happy, we know we’re doing the right things.”
Doing the right things helps keep customers around, but only if it extends well beyond the first- or second-date phase of the relationship.
As consumers grow more discerning about companies’ values and ethics, brands can lose decades of consumer love when service levels drop, quality diminishes, or bad behavior comes to light. However, when consumers perceive a company as trustworthy in a foundational, meaningful way, their love is hard to lose.
That kind of trustworthiness starts inside the organization and extends out into service. For Hershey, a meaningful brand promise must be backed up by an internal culture that supports it, and believes in its future.
“Hershey is really leaning in on digital, because there is no online or offline anymore. It’s just shopping,” says Tony Southard, senior director of digital commerce sales for Hershey.
“Because of the engagement consumers have with our brands, there’s this emotional connection that we have to own, and have to ensure that we keep nurturing and cultivating across every channel.”