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Fickle Friend or Fan for Life? Turning Customers Into Brand Ambassadors

On the tail of LeadMD customer and vendor, Extole, announcing funding and expansion today we take a look at the best marketing channel that has ever existed – the referral.  As our offline processes bend into online scalability the customer advocate is no different.

Strangely, so much of what we do is Internet-driven, and yet consumers want to feel a more personal connection with a brand. Now that companies are more faceless, customers want faces and personalities. We’re just an emotional bunch of folks adding our own level to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—the need to feel understood and connected to the companies we buy from.

The thing is, companies that do this well find that their customers are suddenly doing their marketing for them. Look at Apple fanatics. Ok, yeah, they’ve become the butt of so many jokes by now, but the fact remains that their customers love the brand, feel connected to it, and thus go out into the world trumpeting their love and devotion. Steve Jobs was an adored face of the company, giving it a particular personality and public vision people could grab onto.

As much as you might snicker at Apple now, deep down, you want that kind of loyalty. But you’ve got to earn it.

  • Know thy customer. It’s amazing how many of our tips and strategies start with this seemingly simple mandate. Don’t assume you know who your customer is. Do the research, ask questions and create solid personas that guide your content and messaging.
  • Focusing on product is boring. Alright, that’s not entirely true. But people want to know who you are as a company, beyond what you sell. Give them a taste of what your company is about—your values, your culture, your service. Blog about social causes your company cares about, and your involvement in your local community. Highlight cool employee achievements outside the office. Remind your customers that behind your logo is a team of real people with real passions and values.
  • Make customers feel involved. “I have a feedback form!” you shout at me gleefully. Forgive me while I laugh in your face. The best way to get customers really invested in your brand is to get them invested. Actively invite feedback through social channels. Let your best customers test out new products or services first.
  • Don’t think you know better. So you find some people posting negative things about your company or product. “They’re the minority,” you sniff. “Everyone else loves us.” Hate to break it to you, but those negative customers probably have a point. Customers can reveal painful disconnects between what you think of your brand and what the true brand perception and company reality really is. Ignoring these signs will only widen that gap.
  • Communicate intelligently. Marketing automation has eliminated any excuse companies had for not engaging in personalized marketing. Right message to the right person at the right time. Sound familiar? This is what marketing is all about today, and customers expect it. The most fundamental tenant of good marketing is to identify a pain and show how you solve it. But people have different pains. Use automation and its capabilities to their fullest to speak directly to your customers. And go a step further—wish them a happy birthday or customer anniversary with a special offer (that they’ll actually want to use).

Here’s a secret: Customers want to like brands. It makes purchase decisions much easier for them. If they’ve had good experiences with you before, they’re going to turn to you next time they—or their friends, family, colleagues, social network or the stranger in line next to them at the coffee shop—need a product or service you provide.

Everyone knows how effective word-of-mouth marketing is. So do what you can to make sure the words coming out of your customers’ mouths are complimentary.

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