Authenticity breeds loyalty: going digital to gain visibility in a saturated market

“A company’s brand is its own unique story. The story of the product, the company itself, the services it offers, the way it uses digital touchpoints,” says Tim Smeets, Senior Manager of Digital Business and Strategy at Cognizant. “An onslaught of competitors challenge that perception from all angles, so the best thing a company can do is remain authentic. Brand Awareness is all about how customers perceive and experience your brand, online and offline. What values does it stand for? Does it have real value and impact in the lives of shoppers? It may sound contradictory, but a company first needs to be true to itself, so it can reinvent and flexibly adapt to changing market needs.”

Tip 1: Get a good start, then dig deeper

David Taylor and Jon Goldstone, managing partners at the brandgym, recently told Campaign about their views on how to build brands that make a difference. “Our research…identified three ways to achieve success.” And the first one is to “inject a greater sense of purpose into your brand positioning by going beyond the role of the product to the role of your brand in life and society.”

But before retailers can identify and utilize their role in society, they must first build a strong brand foundation. Just getting started on the journey? Here are the basics you should master first:

1.Look inside. If you haven’t yet done so, be sure to know what your company stands for. What stand do you take on important issues? What values – the greater social good, the environment, shopper’s health, good fun or quality manufacturing – are most important to your business? What aspects of your company are you most proud of? Express those values authentically and your audience will believe you.

2.Cover the basics. Make sure your SEO is properly configured and targeted, and that your website is mobile-ready and accessible across multiple platforms, so customers can reach you and learn about your brand. “They can’t get to know you if they can’t find you,” Tim explains.

3.Go social. Create a strong presence on relevant social media channels, and run basic digital campaigns to learn more about your target audience. Marco Morales, Creative Consultant at Mirabeau, recommends good analytical tools, like Google Analytics, to learn from the data on an ongoing basis. “That will help you understand where your shoppers are spending their money, what’s putting them off and what’s capturing their attention,” he says.

4.Know your champions. Identify your most active social and digital advocates, and tailor some solutions just for them. “This will make sure you increase the value your business offers them,” says Tim. “If your brand is all about convenience, figure out how to improve your delivery, and start with a VIP test group to gauge interest.”

Is your brand about sustainability, affordability or quality? Marco suggests that you find appropriate actions you can take to ‘act’ upon those values. “When the value your business offers aligns with those of your best customers, they will spread the word to their digital networks.”

One way to act on your values is to track your customer’s other preferences. Sometimes, they engage with brands in non-competing fields that your business could team up with. Weddings and travel, fashion and lifestyle, food and venues… strategic partnerships can lead to great PR, added value for your shoppers and relevant reach into new markets at a fraction of the cost.

Tip 2: Go to the source

The only way to ensure that your brand resonates with your target audience is to ask them – and learn from their answers. Transforming a passive and utility-driven brand into an active and service-based brand involves deep research to get a true understanding of the person behind the shopper. “It’s important to understand shoppers’ motivations, value alignment, tendencies and ambitions,” Tim says. “Then you can identify how those motivations and ambitions align with your brand, and broaden the conversation to include more like-minded people.”

Gaining deep customer insight requires real expertise from professionals who can explore the relevance of brands in customers’ digital lives and environment. These are experts who can identify the culture and context of your customers – not just their product categories. “Once you have your customers’ attention, you can start to build loyalty,” Marco explains. “So make sure you have people on your team who can help you get – and keep – that attention.”

Tip 3: Change your game

Marco warns that ‘business as usual’ won’t get the job done. “Every day, consumers have more options and more information available to them, and the very moment your brand disappoints them, they’ll go elsewhere. Building loyalty for your brand means going beyond selling a product, all the way to providing an experience that really adds value to their lives.”

Value-adding experiences can come in all shapes and sizes, but Digital Intelligence Today can cite at least 40 examples of companies who took the most successful routes, with campaigns that either helped or entertained their customers. Using digital brand utilities, these companies found ways to become truly helpful – or truly entertaining – to their core customer base. Examples include a beer company who attached a free public transport ticket to their bottles. Or ScrabbleTM, who offered free WiFi to mobile users who could solve their word puzzle. Companies are using digital tools to connect with customers, well outside their wheelhouse.

“Brand equity is built through experience, not just exposure,” Marco continues. “Prove you care. Prove you’re listening. Prove you’re trying. Consumers are loyal to the brands that they see making a concrete difference in their lives. Or, at least making them smile. Most importantly, they’re telling their friends and social networks about brands they love. Today, word-of-mouth advertising is still the most powerful tool in a retailer’s toolbox.”

Tip 4: Make your brand useful and purposeful

If you’re wondering how to grow brand loyalty by showing customers how your shoes will improve their lives, you’re missing the point. Once you know who your customers are, and what their values and ambitions are, you can create brand utilities that can reach far beyond the standard marketplace and far beyond your customers’ expectations.

Effie Worldwide published their list of the 2017 winners of brand utility success. When Whirlpool wanted to see how much clean laundry could impact whether kids went to school or not, they likely never imagined they’d increase attendance by 93%. And when IBM saw the number of downloads of their C-Suite Study declining, they listened to their customers and reinvented their offering. The result? Five times more downloads and a 2400% increase in social media impressions.

‘Useful and purposeful’ isn’t a first-time-right endeavor. It’s important to periodically check how you’re doing. What have you done well, and what or where should you improve? Make sure you’ve set objectives and have the right tools and metrics in place to measure the right things, and not just the obvious.

Tip 5: Engage in conversation

The days when monolithic websites were enough to capture consumer attention are long gone. Building Brand Awareness is all about expanding into the world of apps, mobile, conversational interface, AI, one-to-one digital exchanges and social media to connect with customers and keep them coming back.

Marco: “Consumer interactions with brands are nearly always digital first, and human/personal second. So Conversational Branding is essential for any retailer who wants be where customers are, and really connect with them.” That means reaching out with social media campaigns, building insights with AI and machine learning, and of course, listening to your customers.

But while data mining and social listening are two targeted ways to generate these much-needed insights and identify gaps and opportunities in the digital world, they should never replace good old-fashioned conversation. “Direct, real-life contact with customers is also essential,” Marco continues. “After all, no brand can learn to engage in conversation with their customers unless they actually engage in conversation with their customers.”

Authenticity breeds loyalty

There’s no shortcut to building customer loyalty. And no guarantee that reputation will get you there. To survive the oversaturated retail market, you must connect with your customers wherever they are, and offer value-adding experiences that resonate with their goals, ambitions and values. But that doesn’t mean putting on a mask and pretending. Today’s savvy consumers will identify a fake faster than they click their browsers closed. Only when you are true to your brand, will your customers be true to you.

Previous Article in The Click: Evolve-or-Suffer

Our Top Tip:
Use the most authentic version of your brand to provide real value to the lives of your customers through digital means and brand utilities.

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Engagement: Establishing a connection with information-overloaded customers.

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