People don’t wait in line for generic cellphones, fill stadiums to watch generic football teams or pay premium prices for no-name shoes. A strong brand makes people do things: pay astronomical prices, share their passions online and in person, read articles, save money or count days until a new release. These actions are the real-world results of strong brands. The stronger your brand, the more customers will be willing to do to buy your products and utilize your services.
But you don’t have to have a football team or a tech company to build a brand that inspires action. Most of us have waited in line for a table at a hot restaurant or “liked” a great business on Facebook, and these actions are also the product of a strong brand — a strong image in the mind. Two of the most important brand-inspired actions are also the most simple: repeat business and referrals. When a customer returns to make another purchase or recommends your business you receive a real-world return on your brand investment.
Every business owner understands the value of returning customers, but how many go out of their way to make repeat business easy? Many businesses don’t take steps to encourage repeat business, yet new sales from existing customers provide a much higher return on investment; customer retention is far more cost-effective than attracting new customers. For a salon owner it might be as simple as asking a customer if they want to go ahead and book the next appointment. For a software company it might be as simple as upgrade reminders or an email describing new features. But these simple steps shouldn't be the default. Creating an audience of fans requires building a strong brand that encourages action — something well within the reach of most small businesses. The key is creativity.
Repeat Business: Farah’s Fashion
Farah’s Fashion wants to encourage repeat business, but a discount punch card is too common and plain for a high-end boutique that offers exquisite dresses from up-and-coming designers and the latest couture. Instead, Farah gives custom-made charm bracelets to new customers. Returning customers receive charms that correspond with events and seasons. During New York Fashion Week she gives away tiny Empire State Buildings followed by mini Eiffel Towers during Parish Fashion Week. A fur coat charm is given to customers during the annual outerwear promotion, and a tiny handbag that actually opens is given during a month-long tribute to accessories.
The bracelets encourage repeat business by creating a desire to collect the charms. Those who collect more than ten are automatically inducted into “the charmed ones” — a group of VIP customers that receive special invitations and more customized services. The bracelet itself is a wearable advertisement for the business, readily identifiable to all of the women who shop there.
Repeat Business: Mike the Mechanic
Mike the Mechanic wanted to encourage customers to use his services for long-term maintenance, and he knew that making the experience more personal could achieve that goal. But with three locations and hundreds of existing customers, he knew that in-person conversations would be extremely time consuming, and he would only be able to handle so many. Instead, he decided to create a voice for each customer's car.
New and existing customers were encouraged to sign up for a program of personalized email and text message reminders which were written in the first person, making it sound like the car itself was communicating with the customer. Two weeks after a big snowstorm, for example, the car might text it’s owner this message: “Bob, I’m feeling a little raw downstairs, if you know what I mean. I think I traveled through too much road salt, and it’s giving me a rash. Mike’s is having a special — only five bucks for an undercarriage wash. Would you mind taking me over there when you get a chance?” After an oil change, the car might send an email that reads, “Man, I feel great! Everything’s working perfectly and I’m all greased up. Thanks Bob!” To enhance the personal experience, not every message was related to car care. For example, on a nice weekend the car might text: “It’s going to be sunny and beautiful this weekend. Want to go for a drive? There’s going to be a county fair just outside Summerville.” The message includes a link to the Summerville County Fair website and a coupon for $5 off a family order of bar-b-que, a simple gift that Mike was able to negotiate with another local business.