For companies accustomed to the old ideas of winning a customer’s brand loyalty and then forgetting about it, the last several years have been disruptive to say the least.
All around us, societal shifts are dramatically altering the way we live and work. At the heart of these societal shifts is change. As consumers, we don’t merely accept change—we expect and want it.
Buying behavior has been transformed as a result.
Lifetime Brand Loyalty No Longer Exists
Think about your own approach to buying products and services. It’s probably very different from that of your parents. Growing up, my family was loyal to one brand of laundry detergent, one brand of toothpaste, and one brand of shampoo. My parents had the same dentist, the same tax accountant, and the same insurance salesman for decades. The providers didn’t always deliver the best customer experience or the best price, but that’s how things were done.
Today, that kind of brand loyalty has all but disappeared. Who wants to experience the same thing over and over again when change is good, i.e., something to be desired?
Admittedly, changing tax accountants is not as simple as switching detergents. Yet consumers today have more information than ever to move from one service provider to another. In some cases, companies will even help facilitate the transition. Cell phone carriers, for instance, are famous for buying out contracts and covering fees associated with switching from one wireless provider to another.
As for packaged goods, let’s admit it—actual product differences are minimal. We’re all savvy enough to understand that behind the fancy packaging and splashy advertising campaign is a $20 shampoo that works as well as the $5 generic version with the same formulation.
Companies Must Create Meaningful Connections
If product and service differences are minimal and lifetime brand loyalty is no longer guaranteed, how can companies stand out?
To stand out, companies must treat every single interaction as an opportunity to create a connection.
In the real world, this includes everything from the physical layout of a space (store, office, waiting room, etc.) to the education and training of staff. In the online world, it’s all about giving consumers the content and the tools to educate themselves and to keep them coming back.
Here are just a few starting points:
Tell a great story.
A story gives people a reason to care. (For tips on how to tell a good brand story, read “Turn Your Brand Strategy Into a Compelling Brand Story.”) Younger consumers in particular want to feel good about the company behind the brand, and they won’t hesitate to switch if they feel a company is not in line with their values or doesn’t stand for anything at all.
Don’t be boring.
You don’t have to be in a flashy industry to be interesting. Don’t believe it? Watch a few episodes of the insanely popular Discovery show “Dirty Jobs” with Mike Rowe. You’ll see that behind every business is an interesting story with its own unique cast of characters. (For a look at how a manufacturer made fungus fun, read my LinkedIn article “Even Unsexy Brands Can Hit Paydirt on Pinterest.”)
Be generous with knowledge.
Not only are today’s consumers accustomed to change, they want to initiate it—and they start by conducting exhaustive online research. Give them the information and the content they need to decide for themselves, through blogs, videos, white papers, templates, research results and more. Share your content freely, i.e., don’t hide behind gated forms. Gated forms are easier to measure, but they don’t gain a consumer’s trust. (For an overview of gated vs. ungated content, read this article at Convince & Convert.)
Go where consumers are.
Social media is all about change. One might argue that it has contributed to the demise of “tried-and-true” in favor of “shiny and new.” Put aside personal preferences and take the perspective of your customers and prospects. Where are they most active? What information do they want right now? How do they want it served? People regularly switch from one platform to another, so cross-post content to reach as broad an audience as possible. You’ll also need to be willing to pay to promote your most valuable content if you want anyone to see it.
Stay up to date.
Is your website mobile friendly? Are your product descriptions accurate? Have you checked that the mailing address on your Google business page is correct? You’d be surprised by the number of businesses that don’t get the basics right. I recently spoke with the brand manager of a technology company and remarked on a product that was featured in a video on the company’s homepage. A link to the same video is in the email signature line of the company’s 100+ employees. The response? “Oh, that’s an old video. We don’t make that product anymore.”
Don’t be that company. Seriously.
For better or worse, we live in a world where long-term commitments are harder to hold onto—from job employment to marriage, political affiliation, religion and more. Change is part of who we are. As consumers, we are conditioned to seek out companies that make it easy for us get the information we need to make a decision, take action, or implement change. Those that do create the valuable brand connections that take the place of lifetime brand loyalty.