Spark a Summer Love Affair with Your Customers

Spark a Summer Love Affair with Your Customers
by Lindsey Pedersen 

Brand speaks the language of love. It’s what breaks through the millions of messages out there and persuades people to say, “Yes, out of all the products and services out there, I choose yours.” In short: It’s what makes us feel deeply, fall in love, and stay loyal for life. There’s no time like summer, when love is in the air, to focus on how you might deepen your customers’ love.

Customers like brands because of the way they make them feel, not the way they message. The brands we love are the ones that make us feel understood, that provide a solution to a deep problem, that help us transcend. With so many eligible brands out there, make sure yours is the one giving customers butterflies and stealing their hearts.

Flourishing businesses take specific steps to earn customer love. If you’re not performing these courtship rituals, another brand could sweep in and steal your customers away! Read on to learn four tactics to embrace this summer that will deepen customer love.

Be sure you’re letting everything matter.

Brand makes a promise to customers. Make a point to check yourself from the customer’s vantage point and ask if you have earned the right to make this promise. Earning stems from delivering on your promise, not just with the letter of the law, but the spirit of it as well. If you’re a high-end coffee house, it’s as important to keep the restrooms sparkling clean as it is to deliver a high-quality latte. In other words, brand shouldn’t be just a marketing activity; it must be reflected in everything you do.

Brand encompasses your customer’s total experience of your business. Let it mold their experience. If it is an airline, customers do not experience just the advertising message, just the baggage car, just the food, or just the banter with the flight attendant. Those little things matter on their own AND combine to something big, showing the customer that you care. The more you imbue everything with your brand, the more it can deepen customer love.

Make a gesture to “model” your brand.

When CEO Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks in 2008, he perceived a growing gap between what Starbucks promised and what they delivered (for example, baristas were reheating milk, the primary ingredient of café lattes)—and customers were losing trust. Schultz sought to close that gap in a sweeping, expensive way: He closed all U.S. Starbucks stores for an afternoon to retrain baristas on the art of espresso.

Closing the stores for training was a public demonstration of the brand’s sacredness. Though expensive in the short-term—an estimated cost of $6 million that day—the move was invaluable in the long-term. Within the year, the brand was flourishing once again, despite the Great Recession.

Ask yourself, How can we “ladder up”?

Your brand’s “benefit ladder” depicts the levels at which your business benefits your customer, from the functional and grounded to the emotional and transcendent. Bounce dryer sheets started out promising “wrinkle-free clothes” and after gaining consumer acceptance eventually “laddered up,” moving from offering wrinkle-free clothes to the higher-order benefit of “attractive clothes.” A few years later, they laddered up to the even higher-order benefit of “feeling pretty.”

Importantly, at each rung of the ladder, Bounce connected the dots for the consumer so they could understand how it represents what they stand for. The brand’s emphasized promise became: With Bounce dryer sheets, you can feel pretty. Why? Because your clothes look attractive. Why? Because they’re wrinkle-free.

The higher on the ladder you can deliver, the more value you provide to your customers.  more value you deliver, the more delighted your customers will be, the more loyal they will be, the more willing they’ll be to pay handsomely for your benefit, and the more likely they will be to tell others.

Figure out a way to “plus it.”

As you grow, always consider ways that you can increase the thing that customers love about you. As Disney used to tell his Imagineers, “plus it.” To “plus it,” you iterate and build and take the promise from awesome to mind-blowing. Disney plussed the earlier Mickey Mouse cartoons by adding sound to them. He plussed the movie Bambi by bringing live animals into the artists’ studio so the Imagineers could observe and copy their natural movements.

Volvo is plussing right now as it develops self-driving cars. The current technology still requires significant driver participation; therefore, Volvo plussed safety by naming the feature Pilot Assist—not Auto Pilot, as competitor Lexus calls it. As Sven de Smet, Volvo’s head of brand, reports, when your brand equals safety, you don’t want to exaggerate how passive the driver can be—you want to reference supporting the pilot, not taking over for the pilot. This is plussing. Plusses expand your brand promise so that it touches more target customers more deeply.

Brand is the meaning you stand for, so really stand for it. To make customers love you forever, strive to make that meaning ever more resonant. If you do this, your summer romance will mature into a love story that stands the test of time.

Lindsay Pedersen is the author of Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. She is a brand strategist, board advisor, coach, speaker, and teacher known for her scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building. She developed the Ironclad Method for value-creating brands while working with billion-dollar businesses like Starbucks, Clorox, Zulily, T-Mobile, and IMDb, as well as many burgeoning start-ups. Lindsay lives in Seattle with her husband and two children.