If you’re a small business, then the concept of brand loyalty may seem like a thing of the past. It’s something that worked back when the biggest companies in the world pretended they were a member of your family by showing up on your television every night. But what does brand loyalty mean in the age of Amazon? How do you create loyalty when there’s something cheaper, faster, or flashier available around the corner?
As it turns out, brand loyalty is still about building personal relationships. Even in the era of ‘now,’ what people want is a personal connection, not only to others but to the companies they buy from. What’s more, digital marketing has made building those personal connections easier than ever for those willing to put in the work.
See, where Amazon and other retail giants miss out isn’t on the deals and fast shipping and value. They miss out on something that only small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) can really offer: intimate relationships with your customers based on mutual knowledge and trust. And those relationships are how you can win — even if Amazon tells you otherwise.
Take a Page from One of Amazon’s 32.8 Million Books
Let’s chat (again) about the 500-pound gorilla in the room: the one and only Amazon.com.
In the past, we’ve talked about Amazon doesn’t only offer more products at lower prices with faster shipping. It uses serious amounts of data to cater to customers. It also has incredible brand loyalty. The 2019 Amazon Consumer Behavior Report produced by Feedvisor found that customer loyalty to Amazon is otherworldly. Yes, 89% of U.S. consumers and 96% of current Amazon Prime members are more likely to make their purchases on Amazon than other sites.
On its face, those stats are bad news for the rest of us. As it turns out, Amazon’s ‘harder, better, faster, stronger’ approach to e-commerce is a winning strategy. But there’s one statistic that says a lot more about Amazon than its iron grip on low-cost shipping. While almost all consumers who use Amazon turn to it to search products, only 41% agree they know the brands that appear on Amazon.
Therein lies your opportunity to make an impression on consumers. Because if there’s one thing we all know about consumers, it’s that they like brand names they know. They line up around the block for days before the drop of a new pair of Jordans or an Apple product.
To return to the data briefly, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, 81% of survey respondents said they need to “be able to trust the brand to do what is right.” Trust is almost as important to your customers as the value and quality of your product. How can they trust a brand they don’t know? That’s where you come in.
The Customer Loyalty Program is More Important than Ever
Your game plan to win the war against Amazon isn’t to drop your prices, offer free shipping, or give in and sign up to become a merchant the platform. No, your brand doesn’t need to give away your products: it needs a new loyalty program that adds value to customer’s lives.
Today’s winning loyalty programs aren’t all about the discounts. (Discounts are important). Instead, loyalty programs should serve first and foremost to build a relationship with the knowledge that customers will also spend more to buy from a brand they know and trust.
With Amazon Prime currently boasting at least 100 million subscribers and that figure expected to double in the next ten years, there’s no time like the present to start building those relationships. Remember: retaining customers is far less expensive than acquiring them. So, it’s time to get to work.
For some companies, this is going to require introducing some new or re-focused business processes. And focusing on the emotional side of things can be difficult in a very data-oriented world. It is possible, and if you share your vision with your team, communicate your process changes, and time it right, you’ll start seeing results that you never dreamed of.
Go for the Emotional Angle First, Then Worry About Discounts
There are three types of loyalty available to marketers working in the digital sphere. One is transactional: it’s the buy 9 coffees get the 10th free version of loyalty. The one that brings customers back time and again not necessarily because they love you but because they’re fixated on unlocking the free coffee achievement.
Then there’s functional loyalty. You’re easy, you offer a personalized service, and it’s easy to make buying from you a habit. Think Amazon’s one-click checkout and one-day Prime shipping.
Amazon has a monopoly on both of those first two types of loyalty. But you step in where it falters: the emotional angle.
Emotional customer loyalty is the most powerful because it aligns the brand and consumer identity. Neither of the parties in the relationship are talking about price. Rather, it’s the type of loyalty that makes you an Android or Apple user, Ford or Chevy buyer, or Nike or Adidas wearer. Emotional loyalty is almost inexplicable because the products above serve ostensibly the same purpose. But there’s something incredibly intense underlying it.
A study from Deloitte found that people who consider themselves long-term customers talk about their favorite brands the same way they talk about their friends or their pets. They use words like “love” and “happy.”
Why go for the customer’s heart rather than their wallet? Because come what may, these customers are likely to stick with your product. Their purchase comes from an inner sense of trust and belief, which means once you win them, they’re yours. Keeping them by using the other two types of loyalty (transactional and functional) becomes significantly easier.
How to Use Emotional Tools to Drive Loyalty on Social Media
How do you target your customer’s emotions without your efforts becoming immediately obvious? The same Deloitte study just mentioned provides insight into how to do this well. Rather than using shared values to appeal to customers’ emotions, their research found that brands need to build relationships with brands.
Personal relationships are something new to the social media age because you can’t build a relationship through a billboard or radio ad. It’s not new to the B2B market, who have been able to create that kind of impact from setting up a trade show booth and talking face to face with customers in meetings. For the B2C market, social media (and other digital marketing) allows you to build a two-way, always-on relationship with your customers for the first time.
To dive deeper into what it means to build a relationship with your customers, it’s helpful to employ the psychology of branding, particularly the use of social categorization to craft a sense of belonging. When you build your relationship, you need to leave behind the mentality of us vs. them or business vs. customer. Make the customer feel as though they are much apart of your business’s life as you are in theirs.
- Responding quickly to comments, DMs, and tags
- Using social listening to listen more than you post
- Let people know who on your staff is talking (through personalized messages, staff website bios, etc.)
- Showing your human side through looks behind the scenes
- Offering benefits for subscribing to social channels (exclusive discounts, product sneak peeks, etc.)
Share Loyalty and Share the Love
We’ve talked a lot about how to retain your customers and transform the occasional buyer into the head-over-heels customer who adds value to your business. But what do you do about the cost of attracting new customers?
One way to do this is to get involved with a shared loyalty program. For most businesses, it means signing up with a loyalty scheme rather than running your own custom loyalty program. These programs, also known as coalition programs, give you an extra oomph of branding and offer a chance for new customers to meet you at a place they already love.
Coalition loyalty programs work best when you aren’t competing with the other coalition partners, and you will want to make sure the rewards and offers are both easy to understand and are relevant to your customers. Ideally, you also want to enjoy some of the data these programs create, so make sure to look out for equal data sharing practices.
Building Loyalty Means Building Relationships Every Time
In the age of Amazon, brand loyalty seems like a massive, uphill slog. But the data shows that’s not true — even if Amazon wishes it was. Despite all its AI and fancy tools, what Amazon lacks is the human touch. It offers so much choice and so many brands that customers can’t build a relationship with any of them. They hit buy and hope.
SMEs have the opportunity to regain ground by building relationships to earn loyalty. It requires less data mining and entrapment and instead creates a relationship built on trust. Using social media and loyalty programs can help you get there.
The bottom line: treat your target audience like friends rather than a target market — and make sure not to rush those friendships. Just as in the real world, you get what you give in digital marketing, so make sure what you’re putting out there is worthy of your customer’s trust and respect.