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Friday, February 7, 2014

Is Your Brand Ready for the Next Level of Customer Commitment?

By Taylor King, Associate Account Manager. Follow Taylor on Twitter @TaylorKing_479

If most corporations were asked to describe the relationship between them and their customers, they would probably answer with a resounding, “It’s complicated.” Like any successful relationship, it takes work. And when it comes to developing and maintaining relationships with customers, it takes a lot of work. Consumers in this “social age” are complex – powerful, opinionated and more demanding than ever before. Some would simply describe them as high maintenance. And as we have come to expect, high-maintenance comes with high standards. Consumers are connected. They have access to endless amounts of information, and, most of all; they have a menu of choices when it comes to the brands they engage in. While companies are battling for attention in this digital space to claim this unique “share of voice” in their respective markets, building awareness and traffic are only half the battle. The ability to drive conversion and advocacy actually involves a much deeper level of engagement.   

Social media communication has allowed relationships between brands and consumers to evolve more rapidly than ever. Now, relationships with brands are packed with PDAs (public displays of affinity), and consumers like it that way. Seriously, they can literally press a “like button” to show their affection for their beloved brands. It’s that easy. But things aren’t all packed with hash tag love and smiley emoticons. Consumers are afraid of “getting hurt” by a brand. Bad service. Bad product. Bad experiences. It happens all the time. They see it posted, tweeted and blogged about every day. Consumers don’t enter a committed relationship with a brand lightly. So what does it take for a brand to get out of the friend zone and move the relationship to the next level of commitment? Here are five traits consumers are looking for in “commitment material” brands:  

Authenticity
“My relationships with brands have been so fake, but you seem like a real genuine brand.”
In a world full of scams, spam and greed, consumers are looking for brands with an original story, a real identity and a sincere commitment to deliver what they promise. Social media marketers that rely on sweepstakes, contests and freebies just to gain fans, likes and shares are not building authentic affinity towards the brand. Authenticity, at its core, is about practicing what you preach and being totally transparent about who you are and what you bring to the table. If your social media strategy provides this kind of valuable content, the kind that actually builds trust with customers, you are more likely to build authentic fans. Those kinds of customers are more likely to stick with you for the long haul, and you better believe they are going to brag about you any chance they get. In a world filled with fakes does your brand stand out as authentic?

Reputation
“All my friends have told me what a great brand you are.”
Brand integrity is everything and the only opinion about your brand integrity that matters is the customers’. Customers are talking about their brand experiences, and it’s not in a secret diary. It is out there for the world to see on their status updates, tweets, reviews, blogs, even photos. Some companies feel like any publicity is good publicity. But to encourage loyalty and advocacy, those social mentions need to be appealing to potential customers not merely just contributing to social “noise.” Brands are quite literally one viral story/comment away from gaining or losing hundreds of customers. Why? Because customers trust other customers to tell them what a brand is “really” like (back to authenticity). Do you know what are consumers saying about your brand?

 Great Listener
“Oh brand, you’re just so easy to talk to.” 
Social media is TWO-way communication. Consumers today not only expect brands to share content that is meaningful, relevant and authentic, they also expect brands to recognize they have a voice, too. Brands that involve customers in the conversation, actively listen, and act upon the customers thoughts, goals and concerns are fostering engagement. And brands that address a negative comment or situation with an explanation and solution have the potential to recover a relationship with that customer. If a brand dominates the conversation, the customer is not going to feel valued. As a result the chances they will look to a competitor who will “hear” their concerns and feelings increases exponentially. Is your brand actively listening to its customers? 

Romance
“You make me feel so special brand. You always know just what to do to brighten my day.”
Okay maybe HR wouldn’t go for love notes, flowers and expensive chocolates, but making your customer feel special is imperative to brand loyalty and advocacy. Besides actively listening to feedback, leveraging Big & Small Data can help you customize the brand experience and drive engagement. Big Data allows your brand to spot trends and behaviors with your target customers. But Small Data may play an even more important role. It’s powerful because it provides information specific to individual customers, allowing your brand to customize its experiences for your customers. Wow your customer with surprise and delight, and you will build a loyal customer relationship. Is your brand leveraging this valuable data to deliver the meaningful experiences that create lasting customers? 

Availability  
“You’re always there for me brand. I don’t feel like most brands are available enough to be in a committed relationship.”
Today’s customers demand convenient customer service. Making it easy for customers to solve their problems and get even the most complicated questions answered quickly and efficiently is a must have for building brand advocacy. This means having a multitude of customer service channels with cross-channel integration that allows multiple channels to communicate customer information in real-time. This is the type of communication that appeals to customers. After all, nothing is worse than having to repeat the details of a problem again and again. Whether you have a mobile service app, call center or live chat feature, the ultimate focus should always be on what works best for the customer. Are you ensuring it is easy and convenient for customers to talk to your brand? 

Total Commitment
“Brand you’re the only one for me.” 
Driving conversion and advocacy through a strong social media strategy is not a nice to have it’s a must have. Ultimately, consumers want meaningful value from authentic brands that care about them as individuals, listen to what they have to say and are willing to make the extra effort to wow them. It takes work to maintain that level of engagement, but if your brand delivers, you are going to find yourself in long and healthy relationships with your customers.

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