What do TOMS Shoes, SoulCycle, Apple, and YETI Coolers have in common?
Each of these companies has a powerful cult following of devoted customers ready to talk about the brand to anyone who will listen. Leaders in their respective markets, these companies have successfully cultivated fans who drive profit through repeat business and gather new customers through word of mouth. Brand love constantly spawns new customers at no additional expense to the company.
Here are four ways you can help transform customers into walking advertisements for your brand:
1. Leverage Communities, Not Influencers
In recent years, budgets have shifted from focusing on traditional advertising to bespoke influencer marketing campaigns. While these campaigns can be effective, they can also be costly and run the risk of appearing inauthentic. Consider going beyond finding a few influencers whom you must transform into brand ambassadors to instead finding satisfied customers and growing that existing relationship. Create an exclusive brand ambassador program and invite your repeat customers to partake. Ask for social media posts and mentions and in return offer them exclusive swag or discounts. YETI effectively accomplishes this by offering customers limited gear with purchase of products, secureing them a loyal following dubbed the "YETI Nation." Over time, you'll create an entire community of fans supporting your brand.
2. Score With Reward Programs
Prior to their infamous E. Coli outbreak, Chipotle Mexican Grill was very much opposed to reward programs. In 2015, Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle's chief creative and development officer said in an interview, "We don't believe the general supposition that loyalty will make less-frequent customers more frequent."
Fast forward to today: Chipotle is currently rolling out its first reward program as a way to bring back once-loyal customers. Loyalty programs have become as important as having a company website. Your program should be complimentary and easy-to-follow. When developing your program, ensure there is also a component that offers rewards for referrals. This will encourage customers to promote your program and garner registrations. There are various software companies that have already developed loyalty program systems. All you'll need to do is brand what has already been created.
3. We Need To Talk
One thing I tend to do is speak directly with our guests. As the co-founder of a restaurant chain, I'll visit restaurant locations and ask customers about their food and their feelings regarding the brand. From menu items to packaging suggestions, guests offer their input and I take every comment into consideration.
In fact, earlier this year our company underwent an entire rebrand prompted from feedback from guests who referred to us as "VERTS," as opposed to our original name at the time, VertsKebap. We listened and decided to shorten our name and update our logo.
If you can't physically speak with patrons, ensure that you have feedback cards or surveys readily available. Take time to personally read online reviews and never be quick to dismiss unsatisfied clients. Share company updates and changes with them so they feel involved. Your customers want to be heard. By engaging with them, you will fuel brand devotion.
4. Impress For Success
Create personal experiences your customers will remember. The experience you extend to your customer can be untraditional to your business. We recently launched a test kitchen in one of our restaurants where we offer guests complimentary samples of off-menu items. It's an unexpected surprise they wouldn't typically receive at a fast-casual restaurant chain. If your customers are spread across the globe, consider sending them handwritten thank-you cards or small gifts found locally. Sites like Mark and Graham offer a variety of personalized gifts with complimentary monogramming. The impressive gestures will create a lasting connection between your brand and customer.
Michael Heyne is the co-founder and CEO of VERTS Mediterranean Grill, a fast-casual chain with over 30 restaurants across Texas and an upcoming expansion to the East Coast this summer.