Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Use Social Media to Make an ‘Emotional Connection’ that Increases Brand Loyalty

Take a peek in your wallet. How many brand loyalty cards are you currently carrying?

It’s reckoned that the average UK household is signed up to 12 store/ retail loyalty schemes – everything from collecting points to save money on your supermarket shopping and cash-back on credit card spends, to getting a free cappuccino for every 10 purchases made at your favourite high street coffee shop.
It seems all our favourite brands are leveraging the power of brand loyalty – encouraging customers to shop with them more often.

Many of the top brands like Starbucks and Coca-Cola have long recognized the increasingly important part that social media plays in their customers’ lives and are using it to their competitive advantage.

Using established interactive social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to bring together fans of your brand makes perfect sense, because you will be harnessing the ‘share’ potential of the Internet.

But how do we define brand loyalty? And is it necessary to make the distinction between someone who will buy that 10th coffee from you just to get the freebie, and those who love your Java recipe so much, as well as the ambiance of your café bar, they’d never go anywhere else regardless?

If you belong to a Frequent Flier Programme, ask yourself whether you would still fly with that same airline if a competitor launched a significantly cheaper, but similar service in terms of standard and quality. And if you’re someone who checks price comparison sites regularly, as an increasing number of us do these days, then brand loyalty may not be something you’re driven by, as much as value for money.

As creatures of habit, many of us shop at the same places, at pretty much the same times, week on week, whether the retailers concerned have a loyalty scheme in place or not. These shopping ‘repurchases’ are justified through considerations such as convenience, price, service, or quality. You see, ‘repurchasing’ is not the same as loyalty.

True brand loyalty is achieved when our brand makes an emotional connection with its audience: We love it that Innocent smoothies are 100 per cent fresh fruit and no junk; that Apple computers are cool; that Lego has built a great online community we can be a part of; that Harley-Davidson represents the “adventure of a lifetime.”

And, as fans of brands, we love connecting with those brands via social media, because they reward us with something extra for our loyalty. There’s newsletters, competitions, giveaways, online interaction with fellow enthusiasts – all the extra stuff we get for free, just for signing up to their sites. And here’s the thing, we’re getting an exclusive deal other people are missing out on because they choose not to be a part of that community.

These socially-connected brands have established an emotional rapport with their followers that that goes way beyond ‘repurchasing’ and creates ‘fans for life’.

By using social media to engage and communicate with your target audience – and by offering exclusive deals to those who follow you – your brand could do the same. A recent study found that 37 per cent of Facebook users who have ‘friended’ a brand, cited ‘product discounts and special promotions’ as their main reason for doing so.

Consider how your brand might use Facebook Pages and other forms of social media to connect with more like-minded people who could become valued customers. What emotional message might your brand build its fan base around? And how will you reward your followers for their loyalty and thus create fans for life?

Creating exclusive offers for your online community is a proven way to establish a fan base and encourage more sign-ups. As well as making more sales, you will have a ready-made focus group that will help you with research into your current business, as well as ideas for developing and marketing new products and services.

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