This guest post by Aaron Bart, VP of Creative Services at our friends 3Q Digital, describes a concept that can be hard to put in tangible terms, but which we all strive for as marketers: becoming a loved brand. Loved brands don’t get that designation overnight. They earn that place in their customers’ hearts because of trust, innovation and technological advances proven over time.
Let’s take a look at some of the concrete examples of successful brand building done by REI and Zappos, and end by answering the critical question: how can we as digital marketers use the tools at our disposal — audience targeting and user experience design — to build our own loved brands. Take it away, Aaron.
Some brands get all the love. We all know of certain brands that have achieved a status, a following, and a perception in the market that puts them in a category we can call “loved brands.”
So, what did these brands do to become so loved and highly valued? And what does it take become a loved brand?
Forge an Emotional Connection
In order to become beloved by their customers, brands must be successful at developing an emotional connection with the right audiences, and must be able to maintain that connection and relationship over time. To accomplish this, brands must first look inward, hire competent brand experts and brand stewards, dig deep to really know themselves internally, and develop an authentic brand story. With a well-developed, authentic brand story, a brand must first market to and win over employees and internal stakeholders.
And in order to do this successfully, brands need to first start with the right audience: develop a marketing strategy that first finds and targets customers who are going to be the most enthusiastic about the brand, who will be the first to fall in love and bring life to the love relationship between brand and consumers. These are the folks who will then help evangelize, promote, and amplify the brand story.
Establish Trust and Consistency
As in any personal relationship, a brand’s relationship with customers requires building trust, and maintaining trust through consistency — consistent articulation and application of brand (and product) messaging, and consistent customer experience. This includes off-line and online experiences with the brand’s core content, its user experience design of website and landing pages, and the way a brand carries itself in the public sphere through ongoing advertising. Trust is also built and maintained through constant conversation with customers: listening to feedback, hearing what customers want, showing them that they are being heard.
How can brands improve their relationships with customers?
Brands must be constantly seeking out those core influencers who will be the most enthusiastic promoters and amplifiers of the brand in social and public arenas. In order to do this, brands must be constantly offering new things for them to share and to talk about. They must be open to feedback, listen to their customer’s opinions, and work at making them feel special, to maintain that sense of intimacy with the brand.
Once trust is built, brands must continue to provide messaging and content to already in-love customers to maintain trust and build on that trust. Brands need to maintain a thoughtful and honest messaging platform internally, and ensure that everyone in the organization speaks and disseminates honest brand messaging consistently across all marketing channels.
Build with Innovation and Creativity
To maintain that love connection, brands need to keep the love spark alive, through innovation. This means by coming up with fun and creative ad campaigns, news stories, and a constant flow of fresh and targeted content. It takes work to keep customers engaged and feeling like the brand is still their brand, but it’s the labor of love and effort that customers will appreciate.
Take REI, for example. Last year during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping period, when every other retail brand was publicly promoting deals to get customers in the doors, REI chose to invest in a campaign to tell its customers NOT to shop, but rather to spend time outdoors. Because REI is an outdoor retail brand, this message clearly resonated with REI customers. REI chose to forfeit millions in potential shopping revenue in order to show its commitment to loyal customers (and employees), reinforcing its brand image in a creative and powerful way.
Brands also need to listen to customer insights data to know when the right time might be for a brand makeover, and be bold when remaking the brand. Brands need to be comfortable with a constant evolution of their brand image and messaging (don’t hold on too tightly). Brand perceptions in the market are constantly evolving, so brands need to evolve their image and brand story in ways that align with those changing perceptions.
Do good things that align with the brand’s values, and make those known to the public in ways that reflect positively on the brand. Do good for the environment, give back to local communities, have positive labor relations, do those “good things” that the target love-audience cares about most.
Take Zappos for example: over time, Zappos has built up a close trust relationship with its customers by providing a seamless and even enjoyable shopping experience through its intuitive and clear site UI design of product returns and the exchange process.
Additionally, Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, has been a vocal proponent of workers’ rights and employee satisfaction, work-life balance, and giving back to the community. In 2011 he donated over $300 million of his own money to initiate an urban revitalization project in downtown Las Vegas that has built affordable housing, created and staffed local arts and music education centers, and invested in local high-tech startups that has generated jobs for the local economy. His generosity and energy have been a big part of the Zappos brand story that has helped it maintain its love relationship with core customers.
What is the role of technology in building and maintaining a loved brand?
We need to understand a few key and important ways that technology can help build and maintain a brand’s love status. One is customer data technology, and the ways a brand collects and analyzes customer data. DMPs and analytics platforms can offer brands the right audience data points and customer insights, helping brands find and attract the right audiences to target and message to. These also help provide data for developing the right strategies for brands to use in reaching and communicating with the right audiences (audiences most likely to fall in love with the brand).
Digital advertising platforms and related technologies can help with media placement and audience targeting, which helps brands locate and target-market to the right audiences, with messaging that resonates the most, helping to develop that love connection. There are platforms that can help brands practice successful social listening, and use social data that is gathered to build, maintain, and expand the love connection with customers – by hearing what customers are saying, showing that they are being heard. These platforms and technologies around social listening can also be leveraged as a testing ground for honing the brand story. Social media platforms are also the best place for brands to have their core enthusiasts share, advocate for, and evangelize the brand, to influence new potential customers to become loyal followers.
User experience design and web development technologies can help brands create the right visual language, and design the right online interactive experiences that align brand story with the right audiences. A/B and multivariate testing platforms (Optimizely, Adobe Target) help brands constantly test and hone their core messaging, across the right channels, to target the right audiences with personalized content. Personalized content is key to deepening the brand love connection, by having customers feel like the brand was made just for them. Technology now can help brands dynamically target and publish personalized messaging and content to a wide range of audience segments based on already available first-party data points.
In all, loved brands are necessarily good at staying true to three things: their own core tenets; the needs and desires of their customers; and the data that tells them the evolving story of who their customers are and what those customers need and expect in order to stay connected.