The following is a guest post from Brian Shimmerlik, co-founder and CEO of Vengo.
Loyalty is the most valuable thing in the world and the hardest thing to earn. It's never handed to you. So how do you earn it? Put your customer first and carry through for them, repeatedly. That doesn't mean you need to literally deliver to their doorstep (although you may have to). You need to create an experience, an emotional connection, or a product that they cannot get elsewhere. You need to create a fair value exchange with your customer, where the inputs (data, money, time) and the outputs (your product, service) create benefits to the consumer that are in beautiful balance.
When you have that first win — a satisfied customer — you have now unlocked the door to earn their loyalty. The harder part is now doing it repeatedly and reliably. You can't deliver the best value for your customer unless you understand them and their needs. Here's how:
Time is a customer's most valuable asset
The most successful brands are solving for a major pain point: lack of time. Think back to a day you went clothes shopping You went to a store, browsed the aisles, tried on a million things until you found the right fit, then asked yourself if it was the best deal, before waiting in line to check out. An entire afternoon could be gone with one pair of pants to show for it. Stitch Fix figured this out by crawling the fashion world for the best offerings custom for you. You give them data (by keeping your favorites, returning the ones you don't like) and they give their users the clothes they want without the burden of searching for them. It's convenient, it's custom, and, as a result, their customers get their time back. Retailers that have implemented personalization strategies see sales gains of 6-10%, at a rate two to three times faster than other retailers.
Similarly, meal kit delivery programs like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are focused on creating personalized, culinary experiences without the hassle of menu planning, grocery shopping, or even leaving home. While they can't design a menu that is perfect for everyone, meal companies can obtain data to continuously improve its meal offerings to cater to super users, which also appeal to a general base. But the biggest perk is the time savings. And it's definitely working — Piper Jaffray predicts the meal delivery market will reach $4 billion near-term, and $36 billion in annual sales by 2026.
Embrace experiential retail
For non-digitally native companies, a primary goal is to get the customer in the doors, but why should she be there when she can shop online at any store in the world? It's no secret that the rise of e-commerce, and its benefits of selection, time savings, and price transparency, has created a challenge for retailers to motivate consumers to walk into their physical stores. The solution, for many, has been to create immersive experiences that connect the digital and physical beyond what is feasible online, and that genuinely provides value to the customer. PSFK's "Future of Retail 2018" report from November found that 55 percent of the 400 retail executives surveyed will spend part of their marketing budgets on in-store experiences by 2020.
Saks experimented with this concept at its flagship NYC location with The Wellery, which boasts an entire section dedicated to wellness classes and services, including salt therapy rooms, guided meditation and golf simulators. Saks looked at using their space in a different way to forge customer relationships around a topic that matters to them: wellness. While athleisure was available throughout, the strategy was focused on building strong emotional connections to the space in order to make Saks a destination for wellness and yoga pants.
"Saks is showing an understanding for me as a human with multiple needs — the dream of squeezing in a workout while picking up a new sports bra — as opposed to just a shopper to be monetized."
Saks is showing an understanding for me as a human with multiple needs — the dream of squeezing in a workout while picking up a new sports bra — as opposed to just a shopper to be monetized. Saks recognizes that customers' desires aren't always leisure-shopping focused: How can I accomplish all my to-dos quickly so I have time for me, my work, and my family? That on-brand experience, awareness of a customers needs, and time-saving efforts will pay off with return visits and maybe, even, loyalty.
For other brands, earning customer loyalty is using curation and changing content to create a sense of urgency to get the consumer into the store. Rachel Shechtman's STORY Store brings in a whole new range of merchandise every 4 to 8 weeks to tell a new story. This is the only place in the world where a customer can view exactly what's on display. This retailer has made the transition from product selector to curator, content distributor, and event planner, with the know-how to present the merchandise in such a way that it draws the customer in and compels them to buy.
Allow for sampling
Beauty brands and consumer packaged goods have long offered consumers the opportunity to experience their product. It's a model that works. But sampling is still one of the most underrated aspects of marketing. It's a solid example of fair value exchange, providing consumers with a real value (e.g., a new beauty product to try) in exchange for their attention. If you want me to get hooked on your product, you need to get it in my hand and give me a taste!
This is where product sampling comes in, which fuels our work at Vengo. One of our clients, Kiehl's Since 1851, followed up with customers asking how their Creamy Eye Avocado sample was and if they have any feedback. It's a great strategy to cultivate a relationship with a customer. Think about the last time you switched brands of a product. Maybe granola bars? What was your first interaction with the brand? Did you get a taste before doling out money? I bet you did.
Provide engaging yet credible content
Your brand is more than your product. The more helpful, engaging, and trustworthy your content, and the more you create a point of view and sense of credibility for your brand, the more likely customers are to trust it, seek it out and feel a genuine desire to support it. Take Headspace, for example. The guided meditation app created The Orange Dot blog and hosts a weekly podcast to address some universal topics, such as managing relationship problems, anxiety, major life events and stress, that could be addressed, in part, by meditation. By establishing itself as a credible, domain expert with a narrow focus, the blog was then able to amplify and become the go-to source for any topic related to that domain. From there they can expand. But even great content will fall flat if it doesn't align with your brand's identity. If Vengo created an amazing article on meditation, it wouldn't connect customers to our brand.
"The days of having a polished banal corporate presence are over. Brands with strong, beautiful, and often funny presences are winning."
To that end, social media has ushered in a new class of customer loyalty. Brands who recognize that their customers aren't ants; they are people who can see through marketing jargon and false pretense. The days of having a polished banal corporate presence are over. Brands with strong, beautiful, and often funny presences are winning. Wendy's Twitter account is notoriously roasting its competitors (and writing film reviews?) to the delight of a new fan base. Staples is another example — the company has been amplifying its social media presence, making paper clips and notebooks entertaining through pithy copy and funny images.
Prioritize customer service
What drives more value for your customer: Watching a 30-second video advertisement that you have to wait through to get to the landing page you want? Or solving their problems efficiently? And are your budgets backing that up? The customer always comes first. Loyalty is earned after the consumer has given up their money and you show that you still have their back.
If your customers aren't happy, you shouldn't be either. Rather than investing in high-profile marketing campaigns, Zappos focused its resources on delivering world-class customer service, creating customers for life in the process. In 2011, Zappos sent flowers to a woman who ordered six different pairs of shoes because her feet were damaged by harsh medical treatments. I can't think of much better customer service than that!
Not surprisingly, Salesforce, which is all about customer relationships, has excellent customer service. Salesforce prides itself on honesty, transparency, and credibility and will publicly disclose in real time when its cloud services are unavailable or having reliance issues.
Gone are the days when brands launched a customer loyalty program or offered a free tote and easily reaped the benefits. Inspiring customer loyalty is tough work. But through customized and creative solutions, you might be that much closer to winning new — and hopefully long-term — customers.