Dec 23, 2010

The Seeds of Brand Relationships

Lots of companies claim to build strong customer relationships. At least that’s what they pitch on their websites and espouse to their staff. The problem is their words don’t always match their actions.

It’s really hard to build a relationship with someone when they’re always trying to sell you. Brands are like people. You don’t build relationships by pitching. You build them on shared experiences.

Sure, you can build strong brand awareness and even brand appeal by pitching. That’s what many big brands have done by spending millions if not billions of dollars on paid advertising. These pitches let the market know who you are, what you do and why customers should choose you. If you do a really good job the phone will ring with new customers, but that doesn’t mean you will develop a relationship with these customers.

Move beyond the pitch

A brand will not build true customer relationships simply by pitching. A relationship requires a common dialogue and shared interests.

Think about your personal relationships. What’s the glue that holds your friendships together? For some it’s a shared sense of humor. You just make each other laugh. For others it’s built on common interests and hobbies. For example, you might see a group of people regularly at your kids hockey games. When you do a little digging, you will find there are common elements that bring people together and help them form relationships.

The same goes in business. A company can form strong relationships with its customers by developing a platform of shared experiences.

The essence of your customer relationships can be built on one of three dimensions:

1. Values and Beliefs: What does your company stand for? Do you have a higher calling? The Body Shop built its brand on their deep interest in social issues, especially ones related to the third world. Interface Global, a carpet manufacturer, built its brand on a commitment to the environment and eliminating negative waste from their manufacturing processes.

2. Activities and Interests: What are your hobbies? Do you sponsor events? What activities are your company passionate about? The Running Room is passionate about running, and getting people active. They provide loads of education and sponsor events to get people running. GE is known for leadership and management. You can see it in the writing and speaking of its former leaders like Jack Welch and Larry Bossidy.

3. Possessions: In many ways, we are what we own. We live in a consumer driven world. Look at the passion Harley Davidson owners share, or the evangelism of Apple customers. These brands provide possessions that help people to express themselves and define their personal identities.

How can you connect with your customers?

What drives your customers? What interests or experiences do you have in common with them? These are the seeds to building your customer relationships.

As you identify the dimensions of shared experience, really work to accentuate them, draw them out and make them noticeable. This will draw in more like-minded customers, and make your brand even more appealing and likable. It will take you beyond the pitch, and towards a relationship.

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