In my opinion, there’s two ways to build a well-known, enduring brand:
- Spend tons of money on advertising and PR campaigns
- Let your customers do the marketing for you
With the rising cost of most traditional forms of marketing, who wouldn’t prefer the second option? Unfortunately, very few customers ever become true fans. After all, many businesses focus entirely too much on customer acquisition and neglect customer retention. But in order for customers to become fans, not even traditional retention strategies will suffice. Companies must go out of their way and transform their customers into friends, advisors, and partners. Below I’ve listed some ideas I’ve either used or seen used to accomplish this purpose.
- Street Teams, Brand Reps or Brand Ambassadors: Street Team marketing is a fascinating concept that developed from the underground music industry. It centers around a grass root strategy where your fans do the marketing for you. Using this strategy, an online retailer might give customers access to branded wallpapers, screensavers, or avatars. Customers are encouraged to copy and paste banners ads into their personal Myspace profiles, blogs, or email signatures. Customers can easily email friends through easy to use tell-a-friend forms. Some online Street Teams, such as C28 or Threadless, combine these tactics with a customer referral program, allowing users to earn store credit for sales referred to the site. Street Team marketing will not work for everyone, but it can be powerful if this style of marketing fits your target audience and brand.
- Create a Community: Whether its through forums, Myspace, Facebook, or your own sub community site, allow your customers to interact with others of similar interests. Circuit City recently launched a social networking site complete with forums, blogs, photo galleries, and user profiles. Hot Topic has a robust Myspace profile with over 35,000 members. Only time will tell if social networking continues to grow, but for now it’s inexpensive and effective brand exposure.
- Rewards Programs: Rewards programs are nothing new, but they work well for creating brand loyalty. Maybe your online store doesn’t offer the cheapest prices, but if you let customers earn points redeemable for merchandise, they just might overlook that.
- Recognize your Brand Warriors: Be sure to recognize top spenders by displaying their stats for all to see. Recognizing your top customers will only encourage them to spend more. One company I worked for decided to send hand-written thank you notes to their top customers along with a gift card.
- Share and Listen: How well does your business interact with your audience? Corporate blogs, forums, customer generated product reviews and surveys can be great two way communication channels. Run your business like a democracy. Let your customers vote with their opinions and preferences. Policies and procedures should from the bottom up, not the other way around.
Be sure to leave your comments with examples of anyone successfully using these or other brand building tactics.