Louise Findlay-Wilson, Founder and Managing Director at Energy PR
It’s certainly worth trying to build a great, loved retail brand. After all, the research for our Brand Love report suggested there’s a clear link between a brand’s lovability and the loyalty it enjoys. We found that people who think a brand is truly great are three times more likely to recommend it and are twice as tolerant of its mistakes. For instance, on average people will give great retail brands or the ones they love 2.44 more chances to mess up before they take their custom elsewhere.
In a world where recommendations matter, and even the best of us makes mistakes, having customers who love you sufficiently that they rave about your business and forgive you when you slip up, is powerful stuff.
In fact you need to look no further than the sales statistics of web-based retailers to see the financial power of such loyalty. In a typical online business, while only eight percent of its customers may be repeat buyers, they account for a disproportionate, 40 percent of its turnover. So, clearly boosting customer loyalty, by just a few percentage points, can have a profound impact on the bottom line.
In short, it pays to be loveable!
But how does a retailer go about establishing the love which drives such loyalty? To answer this we studied over 100 leading marketers; people responsible for the success of top brands.
What Doesn’t Matter
They told us that when it comes to making your brand loveable, price and customer service are not the answer. Don’t get me wrong, these factors are important to most successful retailers. But they’re not the key ingredients behind your retail business being loved. Indeed, according to our Brand Love study, just 33 percent of marketers think value for money is important for brand greatness, and 34 percent believe it is determined by its customer support.
Equally, while innovation may have been central to retail successes such as Apple and Amazon, innovation is also not the answer. People may think you’re clever, but they won’t necessarily love you. Indeed, just 11 percent of marketers think innovation is key to brand greatness.
The Key Ingredients
Instead, the brands we consider great are those we trust (60 percent), and which make us feel good (58 percent). What’s more, our research found brands are loved when they have values which align with the customer’s values (55%), are closely tied with the consumer’s identity (38%) and become part of someone’s life (42%).
This is all very good news for retailers, after all, unlike say a food brand, you are in a prime position to develop an incredibly high level of intimacy with your customers. They often physically come into your store, giving you and your staff a golden opportunity to get to know and understand them, show what your values are and become a part of their lives. This is powerful stuff. Heinz, Walkers and so forth are not in that position.
That said, you still need to work to build this intimacy. So how can you do this?
Know Your Customer
One of the biggest mistakes brands make on the road to greatness is failing to understand their customers. There’s no excuse for this. Use your customer data so that you understand your customers, what makes them tick.
Drawing on this insight your communications with customers should feel personal. The content shared, the products offered and the form and timing of all interactions need to be utterly in step with the customer and fit with their lives. A customer does not want to feel like just another name on a list! So, if you want to be loved mass marketing messages are out. Smart marketing messages are in.
Wex Photo Video, the specialist camera equipment retailer, did this brilliantly with my husband only last week. He bought a second-hand lens from the company. The lens duly arrived. He then received one of his regular emails from them, but in it Wex mentioned the specific lens, and said if he had any uncertainty about how to use it or had any questions, they’d be happy to help. This was smart and well-timed – a time lag of a few days, surely long enough for him to have got the lens out of the box and work out if he needed help or not. Now you may suggest this is simply good customer care, but it’s more than that. It’s smart communications, showing that he’s not a number, that his business matters and that someone is thinking about the way he might be using their products.
Stand For Something
The brands we love and rave about also have values that are in sync with our own. Ikea is a classic retail brand which does this brilliantly. Indeed, it gets an honourable mention in our Brand Love report as does Timpson, the shoe repair firm. Both have absolute clarity about what they’re about and stand for. This translates into everything they do.
For example, conscious that their customers are increasingly expecting a better environmental performance from them, IKEA has created disassembly guides for its biggest sellers. The idea is that consumers are encouraged to take their Ikea furniture with them when they move. The easy-to-use guides also mean people can more easily give or sell their old furniture on to others, as the furniture can be taken apart without damaging it. This isn’t some temporary eco flirtation on IKEA’s part; the tactic is part of an ongoing commitment to becoming a circular business which has seen the home giant announcing that it’s selling spare parts to make fixing things easier and launching a buy back scheme for old IKEA items.
Timpson has a different but equally strong set of values. The company’s management approach is based on a culture of trust and kindness. But this isn’t some mission statement that’s written down, stuck in a drawer and forgotten. The brand ‘does’ trust and kindness. On the kindness front the company has 10 holiday homes and lodges at popular locations across the UK and in Europe. These are offered free of charge to staff (called colleagues) and their families. When a colleague gets married, Timpson gives them a £100 bonus, an extra week off work for their honeymoon and the use of the company limousine and driver for their wedding car! Employees are given an extra paid day off for their birthdays and in September the company announced staff could also take a paid day’s holiday to take a child to school on their first day.
The communications behind this announcement were characteristically in tune with customers. Posting on Twitter, James Timpson, wrote: “If you find our shops a bit short staffed this week, I’m sorry. We have a colleague benefit where you get an extra day off when your kids have their first day at school, so a number of colleagues are doing a very special job away from their shops!”
As you would expect, this was met with widespread praise with one person summing things up when they said: “I love the work life balance and the general empathy from your company. Will make it a mission to find a Timpson before going anywhere else.”
Whilst Timpson and IKEA are far from small, you don’t need to be big to have a purpose. A retailer of any size can stand for something. You simply need to know what your purpose and values are and allow them to truly guide your decision making – as IKEA has with its products and Timpson with its employee perks and relations. You must be authentic. It’s no good adopting values which aren’t your own just to appeal at a particular moment in time or fit with a trend. People will see through this.
One you know what the essence of your brand’s personality is, amplify it wholeheartedly. That means at every touch point, whether that’s with the customer service team, online, face to face, on the phone or on social media. Your communication must be consistently personal and on point. It’s no good being good some of the time.
I recently experienced first-hand Mastercard getting this spectacularly wrong with me. As a long-standing customer they invited me to an online gin tasting, I had a very nice time. When I shared my pics from this on social media, they asked if they could use them in a special social media promotion. I was happy to oblige and, with no little effort on my part, sent the photos they wanted. Some weeks later I followed up on their social channels to see how the promotion had gone (they’d asked me to kindly reshare it when it happened, and I was worried I’d missed it!) Their response was ‘sorry, we didn’t use them in the end.’ Written at speed and with zero thought or care. In eight words one channel undid the good work of others!
Key an Eye on Customer complaints
Our research found that we will tolerate almost five mistakes from a brand we love before we then ‘walk’. This means some of your most loyal customers could be sitting in your customer complaints system and having repeated interactions with your customer service team. So great brands keep an eye on what’s coming into the customer service team – and going out! A complaint gives the retailer an opportunity to demonstrate its true colours, and impress us all over again. Don’t fail at this point.
The last lesson for those retailers who want to be a loved is don’t be complacent. Companies are often so focused on bringing in new business that they forget the customers they have. But focussing solely on new customers is, according to 58 percent of marketers, the biggest mistake made on the road to greatness. Your loyal customers are your most valuable of assets – they are twice as tolerant of your mistakes and are three times more likely to recommend you – nurture them, don’t neglect them.
Retail brands are better placed than most to develop a business which is loved, but it takes time and commitment. Know and show what you stand for and live up to this in everything you do. Understand your customer, see where you fit in their lives and be in-step with them. Lastly, communicate with care and consistency at every turn. If you do all of this, the love with follow.
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Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail’s Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today’s ever-changing market.