In the first half of 2020, marketers took a heavy hit due to the pandemic. With brick-and-mortar stores closing down and budgets being cut, brand marketers have had to maneuver through a completely new landscape impacted by changing consumer behavior and an intensified focus on how companies treat consumers.
But in the second half of this year and beyond, there’s an opportunity to leverage some of the effects of COVID-19 — such as the surge in time spent online and the accelerated pivot to ecommerce — to create more meaningful relationships with consumers and build a long-term business plan set up for success.
Going forward, here’s how to bridge the gap between your brand and your customers and build a community of brand advocates along the way.
Rethink customer lifetime value
Traditionally, customer lifetime value (LTV) has been a metric used to measure how much a customer purchases. But this view is changing.
According to Forrester, brands should measure customer LTV today as the sum of a customer’s expected spend, plus the influence they have on others to also make purchases from the brand. In other words, customers provide value far beyond their purchases, as they have the ability to create a buzz around the brand and inspire purchases in others.
This type of advocacy is priceless, particularly in these unprecedented times. While consumers are less trusting of branded messages, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family over any other type of advertising. And because 70% of consumers “intend to buy from brands they know and trust” during this time of social distancing and economic downturn, brands need to create authentic connections with their customers, build deeper relationships, and turn one-time customers into long-term brand advocates. This is key to weathering this climate successfully and future-proofing your brand.
As customer LTV changes, brands must focus less on targeting consumers with ads, emails, and other impersonal touchpoints, and do more to actively engage their community through activations like loyalty programs, events, and more intimate conversations.
Turn customers into advocates
Not only do customers wield a lot of power when it comes to swaying the purchasing decisions of their close friends and family, an increasing number of them also want to contribute more to their favorite brand by co-creating its story, content, product, or service.
That’s why the smartest brands have been building deeper relationships with their customers and turning them into brand advocates. These trusted sources have the power to organically generate interest among your target audience and spread word-of-mouth buzz far and wide.
Here are some ways that top brands have engaged their customers in meaningful ways to work with them as brand partners and loyal advocates.
Share community-generated content
Today, brands don’t control their own narrative — their customers do. Because consumers hold the opinion of other shoppers higher than any advertisement, brands must amplify customers’ voices and co-create the brand’s story.
To do so, many brands repurpose influencer-generated content (IGC), as influencers are well-known and create eye-catching content. However, it’s just as important to share content created by other members of your brand community, such as your loyal customers, employees, or ambassadors. Community-generated content not only has the ability to drive conversions, but it is also extremely authentic, cost-effective, and collaborative.
Industry-leading brands like Glossier and Taco Bell frequently share their community’s stories around their brand on their own social channels, either by reposting images from customers on their Instagram or by retweeting customer sentiments on Twitter. This showcases that they are more than just another brand to its customers — they’re a big part of their customers’ lives.
But social media isn’t the only place to repurpose community-generated content. Other successful brands share customer reviews in their paid ads or have dedicated customer testimonial pages on their websites. For example, Patagonia shares many of its community’s stories on its Worn to Wear page. This page goes beyond listing a bunch of customer reviews, and instead highlights customers’ experiences with Patagonia gear and the adventures that it has taken them on. By allowing its community to share their fond memories with friends and family revolving around Patagonia, the company showcases how much the brand means to its customers and makes emotional connections with future customers as well.
Customers want to feel heard. The best way to show them that you’re actively listening and taking their thoughts into serious consideration is by co-creating products that incorporate their feedback.
Recently, DTC personal care brand Native committed to offering sustainable packaging for all of its products by 2023, following feedback from its customers. According to the brand, Native’s customers started voicing concerns about plastic-free packaging in 2018. As the company tracked those requests on its social channels, customer service calls, and surveys, it found that requests for sustainable packaging increased by more than 900% in the last year. So, after an initial roll out last October, the brand listened closely to customer feedback and debuted its better-than-ever paper-based deodorant applicator this month.
A spokesperson stated, “[Native] has over 15,000 five-star reviews from consumers and they are able to leverage that and let their consumers tell the story.”
Build a true partnership
Chances are, your biggest brand enthusiasts are already raving about your brand on social media and IRL, leaving positive reviews, and purchasing your products time and time again. These types of customers have a lot of love for your brand and the power to spread advocacy in the most authentic way possible.
So, how can you show them that you value their continued support?
Reward them by turning them into true brand partners. You can do so through:
- Brand ambassador programs: Turning your customers into brand ambassadors is a great way to find brand partners who can seamlessly embody your brand, provide valuable feedback, and promote your products in an authentic way. Brand ambassador programs typically entail monetary compensation, invites to exclusive events, free products, and more benefits on top of traditional perks like discount codes and early access to products. With this tactic, your VIP customers will get the opportunity to become a true extension of the brand family.
- Affiliate programs: Offer your most loyal customers affiliate links or codes to encourage them to continue promoting your brand organically. This strategy is a win-win for both parties involved — brands get increased awareness, traffic, and sales, while affiliates have a source of passive income coming from a brand that they love. As an added bonus, consumers, too, get exposed to amazing products or services that they never knew they needed.
- Customer referral programs: More than 50% of consumers said they are likely to give a referral if offered a direct incentive, social recognition, or access to an exclusive loyalty program. For fashion brand Missguided, this incentive is a customer referral program where customers can refer their closest friends to get 30% off and enjoy the same discount.
Plan for long-term success
Turning your customers into brand advocates is key to long-term success. Whether it’s by sharing their content, co-creating products with them, or inviting them to join a rewards program, build deeper relationships with your customers and give them a say in your brand building process.