Growing Customer Loyalty & Your Business

Becoming #1 and staying there takes planning  and knowing your market.
Becoming #1 and staying there takes planning and knowing your market.

Some of you may know that one of the reasons I started marketing with the Green Industry was because of my love of gardening. I could spend hours walking around a nursery and plotting my next purchase!

My obsession started when I built my home in Pennsylvania. It was a gorgeous home but there was nothing in the surrounding acre of land. Nothing. Not even grass. We started from scratch. Once the lawn was in it was time to focus on the plants. We had a plan drawn up, full of great ideas, but limited funding. So we worked in phases. (Sound familiar?)

I quickly discovered that there was a lot more to creating my landscape than picking a plan or plants to fill it – there was a lot of work involved. First there is the digging (PA clay doesn’t make it easy) and spacing the plants perfectly knowing how they will grow and fill-in a space. This took planning and careful consideration. Once the plants were in, I had to nurture them. The watering, weeding, fertilizing, and mulching was a task all on its own. Finally there is maintenance; the continuation of the watering, weeding, fertilizing, and mulching but you also have to add in pruning, pinching, and dividing over-grown plants. Somehow, the pleasant task of adding a landscape became a huge job.

The same can be said for your business and your customers.

Sometimes getting customers the first time is easy. It’s getting them to come back time and time again that takes a lot of work. Sadly, there is a reality today that companies have not faced in the decades before – the Internet.

The fact is, we are in a society that has quickly become ADHD when it comes to technology, or as New York Times blog writer Matt Ritchtel says, kids are being “Wired for Distraction.” The upcoming generation spends as much as 7 hours per day engaged with technology, often multitasking by watching television, texting, and Facebooking all at the same time. They are exposed to thousands of messages each day. This means that marketers have had to become more and more creative in reaching that new customer. Gen-X and Gen-Y are not much better – the market you need to reach. The biggest difference here is in Brand Loyalty. Generation-X (42%) tends to be more loyal than Generation-Y (33%) when it comes to sticking to a Brand they like.

One of the more creative ways that businesses have been able to capture new customers is with the DEAL. Daily Deal Sites such as Groupon and Living Social have gone from creating a new niche in the market to being almost instantly saturated. At first, the unique qualities of a daily deal gained fast favor with the audience because it fit today’s economic situation – an easy way to get a great deal. Additionally, it fits with buying trends on the Internet – online shoppers tend to be PRICE shopping. The biggest problem for many businesses is that while it provided many new or first-time consumers, it does nothing to promote customer loyalty unless you are willing to offer price-shoppers a great deal time after time.

Many business owners have turned to Social Media to capture their audience. A new survey from the online market research firm Crowd Science, finds that only a lowly 8% of its survey respondents regularly follow their favorite brands on social media. The numbers are nearly half that for those over the age of 50 with the most loyal followers being the under 30 group at only 9% and 8% for those ages 31 to 49. On top of that, most of that loyalty is to BIG brands like Coke, McDonalds, and Apple (their BRAND is now worth $153 billion).

Even these big companies take a hit and have to find ways to reinvent their marketing and rebuild relationships. Examples of that include Toyota who lost favor (if only slightly) with their consumers. Thankfully they already had strong Brand loyalty among consumers but still went with an honest and straight-forward approach to repair and rebuild relationships. When McDonald’s faced their PR and consumer crisis they wisely listened to their opposition and took the negative publicity to heart to make positive changes. And while all of the nation’s biggest brands tend to have a loyal following, they still spend a lot of money on their marketing machines to maintain that loyalty.

So what can we learn from that?

The answer is, no matter how big you are or how loyal your consumers are, you constantly have to work to nurture those relationships and have continued growth.
Small businesses face a challenge in that they often do not have the finances or the resources to maintain a large or consistent marketing machine.

Just like a landscape or garden, the best thing you can do is make a plan. Figure out what will work best in your plan in terms of your own resources combined with what will appeal to your audience. I find the best way to get that information is through customer feedback forms and surveys. The important thing here is to not discount what people say and truly listen to both compliments and criticisms, and address them honestly and humbly.

Once you have developed a plan and are ready to begin your initiatives, you have to make sure that you keep a few things in mind:

• Focus on what the customer wants to hear, not what you want them to know. Often business owners get caught up developing content that is focused on items and services they want to push or sell. Being a salesperson in your communications can be a turn-off. Keep the audience interested in each communication you put out be focusing on helpful tips and information and let the product and services fit in naturally.

• Keep the message brief. Keep it simple. If you need to get a lot of content to them, put it on your website and provide a link to it giving them the option to read more.

• Create calls-to-action. Give them something to engage them and create communication that involves conversation or feedback. Ironically our society is becoming more starved for human interaction and stimulus even though we are surrounded by it all the time. Creating opportunities for your customers and audience to engage you gives you the opportunity to build the relationship.

• Get creative. Keeping the audience engaged is going to require doing new things all the time. Yet…

• Be consistent. Consistency is also something our society craves in that we are habitual creatures that don’t like change and we have expectations we want met. If we expect to get a monthly newsletter and don’t, it is a letdown. If we expect daily interaction on Facebook or an immediate response to an email and don’t get that, we become annoyed. Whatever initiatives you start, keep them going and keep them consistent.

Hints for Success

• Focus on the right demographics. Whether it is age (Gen-X being the most loyal) or income level (those who earn $100k are the most likely to share Brand experiences and the group whose opinion is most often sought) the key is figuring out the best way to communicate effectively to that group.

• Social Media is important but should not be your most utilized form of marketing your business. Make sure you diversify your efforts to reach the right audience.

• Track your results and keep stats. It’s the ONLY way you will know if it is working.

• Be realistic. Online shoppers will be price shoppers. In fact, the Internet has made price shopping easier than ever before. Focus on those shoppers looking for qualities you can provide that they will see as an added value. These qualities often include: experience, personal attention, great service, attention to detail, and excellent communication skills.

I wish I could give you a secret formula for success. There is none. You can’t plan for drought, floods, or pests. But just like my landscape that I am always working on, you can work on your marketing efforts continuously with the goal of creating, nurturing, and maintaining relationships and that will inevitably pay-off.

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