Think back to the last time you visited your local mall. Whether it be an addition to your wardrobe, some new electronics or a new piece of furniture, was your purchases made based on customer loyalty to the best price available or were you making purchases based on actual brand loyalty? If you’re like most consumers, your purchases were probably a mixed blend of purchase motivations. Even the most loyal of customers can become easily swayed away from their brand of choice by the slightest flurry of promotions offering a significant discount to try another option. As a brand marketer, I know quite well that price is never a sustainable differentiator. There will usually be another brand (or private label) out there that will have the economy of scale to offer a lower price. A brand must represent much more if they want to earn the advantages for having obtained brand loyalty.
Once you’ve identified any of your purchases that were clearly not influenced by price, but motivated by a purchasing routine or perceived reputation of a brand, ask yourself the question: Have you at any time ever interacted with any of these brands on social media? Have you liked their Facebook or Google+ brand pages or followed them on Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Instagram? Can you recall the first time you were introduced to their brand? Was it through a sponsored post on social media? Did a friend share some branded content on one of their social networks? If you’re an average American consumer such as myself, your decision to purchase a particular brand may have been influenced by a social media plan to build brand loyalty through one or many of the following social advertising principles:
Principle #1: Showcase Social Proof of Brand Loyalty
From the beginning of time itself, it has been human nature for most people to follow the lead of similar others. In other words, people will be more apt to embrace a brand if they see evidence of their peers having endorsed the brand. Shares on social media can be very powerful brand builders. Consumers taking the time to mention a brand on social can be extremely persuasive to prospective customers. One brand that understands the value of social media branding and peer validation is Crate and Barrel. A brand of this size could easily ignore the average customer on social that has mentioned their brand and instead focus their efforts on only pushing out their own messages or only recognizing the mentions by high-profile accounts or celebrities. Crate and Barrel does a great job of recognizing brand love by giving out a little of their own through mentioning and retweeting their customers on their Twitter account.
A simple mention by a brand already adored by a single consumer can transform this individual into a mega-fan, motivated to continue evangelizing on behalf of the brand on-and-off social media.
Social media is flooded with customer testimonials. Far too many of these endorsements go unnoticed, or even worse, are simply ignored by brands. Having a social media marketing strategy in place to recognize and promote these social endorsements is vital for growing brand loyalty. Furthermore, social mentions from satisfied customers work best when the satisfied customers and the prospective customers share similar circumstances. If your brand’s products are typically purchased surrounding certain lifestyles, activities, or events, showcasing these targeted testimonials are vital for prospective consumers to identify with and make your brand top-of-mind when faced with their next purchasing opportunity.
Principle #2: Establish Your Brand as an Industry Authority
It is our natural instinct to seek out and follow trusted sources. However, the internet is flooded with brands making marketing claims such as being “the leader” of something or another in their industry. It can be downright confusing trying to discern which brands are deserving of our trust. Actions will always speak louder than words, especially on social media. A common mistake that many brands make is that they automatically assume that their expertise is self-evident to the marketplace. Consumers will always appreciate and often endorse expertise through sharing of good brand storytelling on their social networks.
For example, Whole Foods has become much more than just a specialty natural food retailer since their founding back in 1980. The company has a clear social media plan to establish themselves as a true thought leader when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. Whole Food’s ongoing commitment to shopping, cooking and eating healthy can be found in their “Homemade Healthy” video series which provides nutritional education and cooking tutorials.
This wonderful collections of videos can be seen throughout their social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. As a result, their content receives hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of social shares each day. Whole Foods could have easily assumed that their shoppers perceived them as being a trustworthy source based on the healthy products on their shelves. They were smart enough to realize that exposing their expertise openly on social media, further strengthens the bond between themselves and their loyal base of shoppers.
Principle #3: Be Reciprocal: Give What Your Brand Wants on Social
Consumers follow brands on social media for a variety of reasons. Some just like to stalk their favorite brands to stay informed about changes with the brand. Some like to give shout-outs to brands on social for the slight possibility (but not usually the expectation) of receiving some form of response. Some like to use social as a means to ask questions of a brand and post problems they’re experiencing with a product or service. Regardless of the consumers’ motives for engaging with a brand, it should be a top priority in every social media plan to build their level of consumer engagement.
The epitome of consumer engagement can be found on the Facebook page for T-Mobile. They respond to more than 86% of questions posted by fans on their Facebook page. Now that’s impressive.
It’s one thing to talk about the importance of engagement and entirely something else to invest the time and resources that is required to develop it, and subsequently, manage it. If your brand truly wants to benefit from high-levels of consumer engagement, it better be ready to reciprocate when their customers reach out to you on social. Engagement is not a one-way street.
Principle #4: Surround Your Brand with Resources for Consistency
Every social media plan needs to ensure there are ample creative and social media management resources in place to maximize a brand’s potential reach and maintain brand consistency across all social channels. Many brands have tried and failed at making their brand’s social media a one-person operation. It is rare, if not impossible, to find an individual that has the technical wherewithal to effectively manage a brand on social while also having the brand storytelling skills and technical capabilities to produce branded photography, videos and creative graphics to feed a brand’s social media streams on a consistent basis. Social media takes a dedicated internal team or a social media agency that can collaborate on producing a consistent stream of brand messaging, implement a daily content marketing strategy and maintain a clear brand personality and tone of voice.
Tossing the responsibility of a brand’s social media to various people within an organization whenever there is the available time to invest in social is a huge mistake. People align with clear commitments, thereby making brand loyalty difficult to earn without evidence of having a true commitment to connect with them on social media.
Social media has transformed how consumers relate to and communicate with brands. Has your brand been using social media correctly to enhance this relationship? If not, you have to ask whether your brand is actually deserving of your consumer’s loyalty.
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