Many consumers today tote their preferred brands like badges of honor — so much so that these brands become part of their identities.
In a time before the world went digital, the only point of connection between customers and brands was when customers actually purchased a product or service. Now, brands have the opportunity to tell stories through social media messaging and other branding methods. When companies build their brands, they build their personalities. When customers relate to those personalities, they connect on an emotional level.
There’s such a deep brand affiliation that asking consumers to consider an alternative product or service might be like asking them to change who they are as individuals. At the same time, however, if consumers don’t feel like a brand “gets” them, all it takes is a few clicks to find another option.
If brands can become a part of their customers’ identities, they’ll have a secure place in the market. But how do you become that integral in the lives of your consumers?
Build a Lifestyle, Not a Brand
The health-and-wellness sphere is an excellent representation of this “identity” idea. Many successful brands in the space reflect a lifestyle more than anything else.
Take Lululemon Athletica, for example. It uses authentic brand storytelling on its blog to connect with consumers by telling real stories about real people, and it goes even further to become a part of consumers’ lives in the real world through activities and conversations. Its “Sweat With Us” campaign, for example, is a collection of local events encouraging people to connect with others who enjoy the same activities — all under the Lululemon name.
Lululemon is transcending traditional marketing and showing what it truly means to be a customer-centric brand — and it’s working quite well. Today, the 22-year-old brand is an established player. In 2018, Lululemon reported approximately $3.3 billion in total revenue, and, as of February 2020, it has a network of almost 500 stores around the world.
How to Earn Your Place in the Lives of Consumers
Brands need to form real connections to become a part of their customers’ lives, but strategies for doing so elude many. Instead of focusing on how you can build your brand to meet your customers, it’s time to start focusing on how your customers can build your brand. These steps can help you shift the focus to become more customer-centric and build better connections:
1. Listen and engage on social media.
Social media is still one of the most straightforward ways to connect with a target audience. It’s where a lot of people spend their downtime, after all. It’s also where people will be discussing your brand. Listen to consumers. Take their comments and complaints as feedback, and respond when necessary. Being part of the conversation allows you to exact some control, helping to maintain your brand reputation should things go south. Just make sure to establish an authentic, two-way exchange. Now’s not the time to market to them.
Skincare and beauty brand Glossier does a great job of listening to its customers on social. On more than one occasion, Glossier has utilized what fans are saying about the brand to create products — and marketing materials — to ensure that any new launch resonates with its target audience. If you’re a super fan, you’ve probably found a free product or two in your mailbox.
2. Maintain authenticity.
This is a digital world. Jump into a conversation where you don’t belong, and the backlash can be instantaneous. If you want to take a stand against the daily controversy, think long and hard about whether it fits with your brand alignment strategy. It must be relevant to your brand if you weigh in. The same goes for leveraging trends — as many brands seem to do these days. Either tactic comes with risk, but you can minimize it by watching the wording of your messaging. Remember, tone is often lost via text.
3. Reflect customer values.
Social responsibility, diversity, sustainability, workplace fairness, and ethical treatment of animals are just a few of the issues both Millennials and Gen Zers value. Being a belief-driven bunch, they want to buy from brands that support those same causes. This isn’t to say you need to take on all issues. Only do so with those that make sense for your brand — or your target audience. Beware: Consumers can sniff out when brands are being disingenuous. If you’re going to commit, then commit.
Instead of just jumping on board to support a cause because you know your target consumers care about it, take some time to look at where your brand could have the most impact. Then form authentic brand storytelling around why the cause is important to you and how you’ll actively support it.
4. Reward loyalty.
Almost 80% of respondents in Bond’s “2019 Loyalty Report” said loyalty programs increase their likelihood of continuing to do business with brands. Strong loyalty programs can have a real impact on making your consumers feel connected. Reimagine your loyalty program like Lululemon did with its “Sweat With Us” campaign. These types of events reward people while also driving community involvement, highlighting brand value, and potentially creating some brand evangelists.
Becoming a part of consumers’ identities doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build connections and become part of the public consciousness. But once you become a valuable part of your customers’ identities, they’re not likely to drop you for another brand. That’s why customer-centric brands take the lion’s share of the market, while others struggle to find their way in.