This article originally appeared on Forbes Communications Council CommunityVoice.
As our lives become increasingly intertwined with technology, customers have more choices—and more power—than ever before. Now they can easily shop around, compare brands and product details, and consider peer reviews before making a purchasing decision.
This transparency has also made loyalty more of a moving target than it was in the past. Corporate distrust has led people to spread their spending around. Product satisfaction alone is no longer enough. To earn the trust of today’s customers, you have to understand them on a personal level.
Build trust to increase customer advocacy.
Though it may take more effort to obtain and maintain a personal connection with customers, the bottom-line benefits are well worth it. Once you have made that connection, you get more than traditional loyalty—you get a vocal, engaged advocate for your brand.
In addition to staying with your brand longer and buying more products, they also extend your reach through word-of-mouth promotion, social sharing and referrals. This translates to greater market share and profitability while lowering your cost to serve. In fact, loyal customers reportedly spend 10 times more with your business than new ones.
Every interaction with your customers has the potential to reinforce or refute their belief that you "get" them. People want to evolve with a brand whose products and services help give their business or life meaning. They can tell if you’re faking it; if they doubt you’re sincere, they’ll dump you.
Prioritize mutual trust and respect to create genuine connections—and focus on the experience, not the transaction. Great brands take their customer relationships further, incorporating traditions, practices and rituals that strengthen affinity and make the brand an integral part of their customers’ lives. Consistency breeds credibility in a big way. If you demonstrate your willingness to fulfill their needs, they’ll reward you with fierce loyalty.
Here’s how big brands are already clicking with customers:
- Airbnb: With travelers wanting more personal experiences, the sharing-economy icon struck an emotional chord by using principles of mutual trust and respect.
- Starbucks: By creating a sense of community in its cafes, the coffee company has formed deeper connections with customers to become a place between home and work.
- Patagonia: The socially responsible retailer connects with like-minded customers by supporting causes they care about. Its activist spirit is reflected in every aspect of the organization, from supply-chain logistics to fair wages.
It’s true that connecting with customers on an emotional level isn’t as simple as flipping a switch, but emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. Here are a few ideas on how you can forge an emotional connection with your customers:
1. Prove that you 'get' them.
This starts with knowing what motivates them. Maybe your customers want to stand out from the crowd, or maybe they just want to feel good about their future. Motivations change depending on the industry, brand, touch point and the customer’s current position in the buying journey. You might be surprised by your customers’ motivations. Rely on data insights and analytics rather than blindly guessing.
Once you’ve determined what makes your target audience tick, present a clear point of view that will attract those who are a strong fit for your brand. Be genuine at all times, and make sure your messaging and interactions consistently align with your brand’s value proposition.
2. Rally your tribe.
A strong community is a well-connected community—its members are connected to one another and share common goals and ideologies. As Seth Godin explains in his book Tribes, membership should be voluntary, dynamic, partisan and noisy. Mutual respect is essential.
Make it easy for your community to connect by giving them unique ways to communicate with you and each other. You can do this through online forums, polls and apps, but also consider organizing live gatherings and other experiential events. Make sure they know you hear them and respect what they have to say—and they will reciprocate.
3. Encourage employee advocacy.
No one knows your brand better than your own employees. Not only are they interacting with your brand on a daily basis, but they also see what you have planned before the public does. This exclusive access helps generate excitement within your organization, and it empowers employees to be brand advocates in their own right.
More than half of your employees are either already employee advocates or have the high potential to become them. Maximize their impact by creating opportunities for them to spread advocacy to customers as well.
4. Make it immersive.
The human-to-human aspect of experiential marketing helps cut through the clutter that defines the digital age. Though live experiences require more resources and their impact can be tougher to measure, there’s no denying the fact that they bring people together. This alone is valuable. Creating a space where your tribe can network and connect helps establish trust and strengthen their bond with your brand.
Plus, live events offer the opportunity for a two-way dialogue. In this way, attendees contribute to the brand story, deepening their emotional connection while offering valuable insight into what motivates them.
Now more than ever, companies have the power to connect deeply with people. Make a focused effort to engage them in meaningful ways. You have to show them why they should connect with you and why you’re a brand they can trust and grow with. Most importantly, you need to start doing it now. If the competition is quicker to demonstrate its commitment to a relationship with your customers, you’ll have a tough time winning them back and keeping them.
Every emotional connection you make with a customer has a ripple effect that extends to nearly their entire network. Starting today, connect with them in more meaningful ways to build brand advocacy.