Transforming Your Consumers into Fans
Fans Who Are Loyal to the Old and Innovating the New
Consumers, customers, and brand fans invest a lot of time, thought, and energy into the choices they make and the products and services they choose. They choose the ones that they think will meet their current needs and expectations—after referrals, research, nostalgic feelings, or impulse.
After they have made a choice and used your products/services, they consider the next purchase. Stay the course or try something new?
Over time, customers often want to express their needs, wants, and expectations to business directly. A direct line of communication helps businesses build strong relationships with their customers so that a single facet of your product (that lacks or disappoints) is not a factor in them moving to the competition. Your business needs to continue to engage customers regularly to reduce the risk of them treating your product as a commodity—and moving on.
Why would a long-time, loyal customer simply move to a new product? They have options—sometimes new options every week as new competitors arise and new technologies disrupt.
Brands that want to stay ahead of the curve no longer wait to perfect new products and services before introducing them to the market. As Julie Collins, global head of digital at Alcon, the sight improvement company, explains to Jack Dyson (2017): “We work toward a minimum viable product that’s safe, legal and compliant and then get it to the customer to help them help us improve it. Millennials want to play with things, and that’s a powerful tool.”
Brands must connect to those customers who want to be loyal to your existing offerings and also to those customers who want to help you develop and influence the new ones.
Connections Are Key
As I walk down the aisle in any supermarket, I have thousands of choices for how to meet my nutritional (and other) needs. What keeps me attached to one product over the other is how the product meets my needs and how the brand makes me feel connected. Or, as Fast Company put it in 2013, how the brand “makes you fall in love.”
If we forget the customer, if we let the product become stale and we neglect to build a connection—we lose a ton of business.
Businesses have at their disposal many choices to communicate with their customers: email, feedback forms, focus groups, customer service reps, surveys, social listening. Simple, right? Then why do so many businesses miss this opportunity?
Stay in Contact
Years ago, my mother wrote letters to her favorite brands—not to complain, but to say thank you. She would take out a sheet of paper and, in some of the best penmanship I have ever seen, write a letter explaining why she liked a product. Most, if not all, replied with a simple but very effective response: a Thank You and a You’re Welcome and a coupon for her loyalty.
At times, she would complain to a brand about a less-than-stellar performance. As a result, the business would apologize and, again, often send a coupon thanking her for her loyalty.
In both cases, she was thanked and, in both cases, she was rewarded. In both cases, the business received valuable feedback. Unfortunately, it had no way of keeping the channel open and reaping further rewards of a customer reaching out. It was a laborious task on both sides, this letter-writing.
Today, people neither have the time nor the energy to take up such tasks. The needs of the consumer have to be met in an instant. The Internet and mobile devices have necessitated immediate gratification. If companies are not able to meet that expectation, we are gone.
In today’s market, brands have become susceptible to two things. First, a customer can and will drop your product faster then ever when a competitor comes along or something is not quite right. Second, there is a high probability that, like the first dissatisfied customer, others will follow suit, especially when the customer uses social media in addition to word of mouth.
So how does a business keep a customer from leaving?
Change Is Inevitable
Pick up a bottle of salad dressing and look at it. Was that same bottle of dressing available 20 years ago? If so, did the packaging and ingredients look the same? Now, look at the changes in other products, such as cleaning supplies, coffee, ice cream, oatmeal, pasta, or yogurt. How many changes has the yogurt industry alone undergone in the last 20 years? The coffee industry? Massive shifts in taste and quality occur, and now they happen each season, rather than each decade.
The Wall Street Journal (Byron, 2017) recently explored the stats on just a short list of those recent shifts. Consumers have recently shifted from margarine to butter, from bar soap to liquid variations, from processed cheeses to fresher ones, from ground coffee to pods—and now on to whole coffee beans. (Consider how quickly the coffee pod alone phenomenon passed, once the environmental considerations were talked about and flavor was compared—even though companies and consumers made significant investments in the technology.)
The Choice Is Yours
How does a business make its choices about the products and services it offers?
Initially, decisions are often made based on a vision of one the founders or a well documented perceived need in the market. Either way, these decisions are calculated risks, with the latter being perhaps less risky than the former. Needs and attitudes change and shift so quickly that ideas can go from good to bad in an instant. Good ideas and hit products are usually preceded by research, knowledge of the marketplace, and, let’s face it, a bit of good timing.
How can business reduce the risk of products failing in the market?
Listen to Your Customer
If you are not listening to your customers, then to whom are you listening? Small business and big business have many things in common. Chief among them: Both have to put out products or services that meet the needs of their customers, and they have to do it consistently and do it well.
Instincts, research, and luck can get you there, but developing relationships with your customers will keep you there.
Expensive paid research such as focus groups and surveys can be great, but they have to be current and accurate.
If you have your finger on the pulse and not in the air, the likelihood of success is higher.
Make sure that you are taking measurements along the way and that you deal with the aberrations of conflicting information by getting lots of data. Business has to be intentional, deliberate, and constant in its moves. By listening to and responding to customers in real time, business can cut down on customer churn, improve customer relations, and build better products.
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Byron, E. 2017, January 10. “Last on the Shelf: How Products Dwindle Out of Favor.” www.wsj.com/articles/last-on-the-shelf-how-products-dwindle-out-of-favor-1484069058
Dyson, J. 2017, March 28. “Disruption Isn’t A Buzzword—It’s A Way To Beat Your Competition.” www.digitalistmag.com/digital-economy/2017/03/28/disruption-isnt-buzzword-way-to-beat-competition-04992617
Miller, J. 2013, June 4. “Researchers Explain How Brands Make You Fall In Love.” www.fastcompany.com/1683024/researchers-explain-how-brands-make-you-fall-in-love