They are the envy of every marketing person, every guru, every expert and every business just starting or been in business donkey's years: brands who have a community of die-hard cult followers -- you know, the people who go out of their way to evangelize and share the brand with everyone they know.
How did these brands build this audience of loyal followers, and what can you do to build this same type of loyalty around your brands? It all begins with knowing what exactly branding is.
Branding is the process of forming memories, emotions and a relationship with your brand in a customers brain. The goal is to build such a strong connection and such strong belief that the customer takes on your brand identity as their own. They use your brand to help define who they are as a person.
A great example of this is Harley Davidson. Harley has done such a phenomenal job building memories, emotions and a relationship with their audience that those audience members take on the “Harley Rider” persona and get decked out in leather, bandannas and even permanently tattoo Harley’s logo on their bodies. Another example is Apple. It seems like you are either "Apple" or not. iPhone, Ipod, iPad, iPad Pro, Macbook, Macbook Pro and iMac.
Creating these deep connections is far from easy and is something that takes time. However, there are some strategies apart from the usual, that you can start implementing to develop to start turning your customers into cult-like brand advocates.
Brand your customers. One of the most powerful things you can do is to create a branded term to refer to all your employees and customers. Link it back to the core idea of your brand and promote the idea as they are a part of some exclusive “tribe.” Create a special celebration process to praise them for joining your tribe and get them excited for being a part of something bigger than themselves.
Random acts of kindness. It’s fairly common for a business to have some sort of rewards or referral program to help encourage repeat business. However, a more powerful way to make an impact on your customers is to establish a “random acts of kindness” program. Getting something unexpected helps spark emotions deep within an individual.
Create some criteria to identify your most active and enthusiastic customers and send them care packages to appreciate them for being such great customers. You can take it one step further and identify various influencers in your customer base and fly them out to your business to meet the people behind the brand.
Many organizations have a dedicated community manager whose sole responsibility is to help implement these tactics discussed. Their goal should be to create and strengthen the relationship between your brand and your audience.
Disconnect from digital. It’s easy to keep communications solely in digital formats like email or social media. In fact, there are far too many 'guru's" that will tell you that's where you need to be. To a point their right, it's just that digital isn't the ONLY place you need to be. Way too much noise out there to get you and only your voice heard. Digital communications lack one of the critical brand building elements: Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a chemical released in the brain when we personally interact with each other. This is what helps spark emotions and memories -- the exact thing we're trying to create.
Personal, non-digital interactions of genuine goodwill are a great way to spark oxytocin release. This could be as simple as picking up the phone and calling your customers to tell them you appreciate them or more complex strategies like hosting an event where you can meet and get to know all your customers in person.
Digital communications are nice for working at scale, however, it’s important to keep in mind that they are not the best advocate-building methods. Where possible, put in the extra effort to connect offline or in person (even if it takes more time or costs a bit more). Marketing needs more elbow grease the smaller your business is.
Personalise. Dale Carnegie once said, “The sweetest sound in any language is one’s name.” As powerful as someone’s name is, it’s equally important to have context around that name. Tailoring your brand experience around an individual consumer is what will start building those deep branding connections.
Find ways to start personalizing everything you do in your business from the products to customer service experience and messaging on your website. Make a point to learn each customer’s name, interests and hobbies, among other things and then tailor your messaging and interactions around those items.
To some this might not seem scalable, however, with the power of data, social logins and simply building knowledge gathering steps into your processes, it’s easier than you think.
There’s no question, branding is a long-term commitment that requires unwavering discipline and confidence in the idea your brand stands for. The brands which are true to their ideas and are successful in building that emotional connection are the brands who enjoy the cult-like followers we as marketers all try to achieve.