I was catching up on my blog feeds this morning and came across this post by Seth Godin. It's all about loyalty from customers. He makes the point that if you always delivered the best product on the market, that wouldn't necessarily engender a loyal following from your customers ("If your offering is always better, you don't have loyal customers, you have smart ones."). To have loyal customers, they have to be making a choice to buy your product service rather than look elsewhere. I won't summarise the post further than that - you can read it yourself.
What this started me thinking about was the routes various businesses take to build that loyalty, and what role marketing plays in that process. It's got to be the very values that underpin a business that dictate why a customer chooses them over another. In publishing for example, this may be in part down to the ethics of what kinds of books we'd be publishing: the topics and disciplines; the choices we make about authors' rights; the decisions we took on corporate social responsibility; etc.
I just got through reading a book (which I'll be writing a separate post about) called The E-Myth Revisited, which in one section discusses what it is that the founder of a particular company envisions for her business (a pie shop). She realises that she set up her shop as an ethically responsible, highly 'caring' company, without having done so purposefully. But having realised this, she identifies that this is what makes the shop special as a brand and has that to build on. In the publishing world again, a great example of this would be Alastair Sawday. Not only is the product he creates instantly recognizable for its personable charm, but the company itself has been set up as a highly ethical business, right through to having a small farm on site for its employees. With businesses like these two, there's a massively tangible brand value that has wide appeal to potential customers. And with such strong brand I think you are bound to garner strong loyalty.
Going back to Seth Godin's post, loyalty isn't something that is guaranteed to last. So this is the part where PR and Marketing have a key role to play. He talks about the relationships you have with loyal customers. What is your interaction? How do you reward them for being loyal?
I had someone tell me at a conference the other day that they'd spent a certain amount of money with an online retailer, and as a thank you had been given vouchers with which they could spend yet more money on that retailer's site. With offers like that, you get the double whammy of making that customer feel special, and at the same time giving them a reason to come back and shop again with you. Easier for some retailers than others? Perhaps, but it's food for thought...