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We live in an age of growth hacking and rock star startups taking the world by storm. As a result, many of us focus on new customer/user acquisition, even though it can cost 7x more than customer retention.

While there’s nothing wrong with working hard to grow your customer base, it’s important to remember the value behind customer retention and brand loyalty. Internal research from social analytics platform SumAll shows:

“25% to 40% of the total revenues of the most stable businesses in the SumAll network come from returning customers. Even better, steady customers help businesses weather lean economic times; businesses with 40% repeat customers generated nearly 50% more revenue than similar businesses with only a 10% repeat customers.”

Brand loyalty is one of the most difficult assets for a business to attain. Or, at least it was. We used to have to rely on customers having a great experience with our product/service, or with our employees. Now, we can give them a great experience, but most businesses still haven’t figured out how to do it.

Before we get into specific tactics that you can use to increase brand loyalty with your customers, I recommend checking out the Global Loyalty Sentiment Report from Nielsen. It’s filled with insight into what customers from different international markets and different verticals care about most when it comes to the brands/products they buy. This data could/should influence how you use each (or any) of the suggestions below.

Loyalty Image from Nielsen

1. Feature Your Fans in Your Content

Embed social media posts from fans who have shared your content or said something great about your brand to their followers. Put them in the spotlight and let them know how much you appreciate them. Once they see the reciprocity, they’ll make your brand a priority and become one of your most valuable marketing assets.

Soda Stream does a great job of regularly putting their fans in the limelight through their Facebook page and on their blog. Not only are they regularly engaging their fans with contests, they are making sure everyone knows who won, and creating a lot of buzz while they’re at it. On top of that, they’ve been able to gather a lot of user-generated content they can employ in the future to bring in more fans.

Soda Steam

2. Send Fans Something They Didn’t Know They Wanted

If your fans take an interest in what you’re talking about and what you care about, it’s only fair for you to do the same. Take a look at their social accounts to see what kinds of things they really enjoy, and then send them something you know they’ll love. They’ll definitely talk about it through their social accounts and, more importantly, they’ll talk about it in person with their friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else who will listen.

General Electric sent me a pretty awesome Batman book, and I’ve referenced it in 3 widely shared articles and shown it to everyone who has entered my office.

Batman Book From GE

Here are some things to look for if you’re not sure what to send:

Don’t pick out something obvious when it comes to the gift you send. Do a little research and find something unique or, at the very least, different from what most people are talking about. (Unless they flat out said, “I would really love_____.”)

3. Take Customer Advice (and Credit Them for It)

One great way to keep your customers loyal to your brand is to constantly improve. Instead of just going by the numbers, or your gut, try figuring out what your customers want next. Create a poll with a few of the ideas you’ve been thinking about and send it out via your blog, social media accounts, and email.

ALWAYS leave room for your customers to make suggestions that you didn’t list, and always offer some kind of incentive for participating in the poll. Even if it’s just a chance to win something small like a gift card or early access to the new feature, it will make a huge difference in the number of people who actually participate.

If you end up making a change or update based on your customer’s feedback, give them credit for coming up with the idea. Announce it through all of your marketing channels, and send them something to show your appreciation (don’t be skimpy).

SumAll just sent out an email asking if anyone would be interested in their new Facebook analytics. I replied, and their analyst got back to me within a few hours with access and asking for feedback. I sent over a couple things I noticed right away, and he got back to me in just a few minutes, answering my questions, letting me know what else they were working on, and thanking me for my feedback.

Here are a few great tools you can use to get feedback from your customers:

For Surveys or Polls – Polldaddy or Survey Monkey – Both offer simple setup options and user features.

For displaying the results – ChartsNinja or Infogr.am – Both let you upload spreadsheets and create cool charts or infographics you can share on your blog or social channels.

4. Give Customers an Upgrade

If some of your customers are actively and openly engaging with your brand on a regular basis, they’re the best possible people to give the full experience. If you have a product line, send them something they haven’t tried. If you have a premium service, give them the upgrade for free. The actual cost to you is miniscule compared with the impact those customers will have on their friends, family, colleagues, and social followers.

Before streaming became the best thing since sliced bread, Netflix rolled it out as a free add-on for their existing customers. It was in its infancy as a service at the time, but it allowed them to give their customers something they didn’t know they wanted. That, undoubtedly, contributed to their leading the charts for brand loyalty in 2011 and to their amazing growth since.

5. Be There When Customers Need You

Your social media channels or your blog may not be your primary channel for customer service, but they are touch points. Make sure the people manning the stations are capable of helping your customers solve common problems.

That doesn’t mean redirecting them to the customer service page. It means holding their hand while the problem is solved, helping them cut through the confusion to find the solution, or getting them directly connected to the person who can help them (without having to sit on hold or wait for an email response). Great customer service is a commonality among most truly successful businesses.

Remember that WOM (word of mouth) doesn’t just happen when you do something right. In fact, a study from ZenDesk and Dimensional Research found that people who had bad experiences with customer service were 50% more likely to talk about it on their social channels than those who had good experiences. Also, they shared the bad experience more than 5 times.

6. Help Customers Do Something They Love

Dollar Shave Club recently started a campaign to “Sponsor Your Thing.” They asked their fans to tell them about something they were passionate about. Then, Dollar Shave Club actually started “sponsoring” their customers’ things.

They usually give the member whose thing is being sponsored something that will enhance their thing or make it easier to accomplish. They also include a customer’s thing on their monthly mailers that go out to all subscribers and post it on their blog and social channels.

I asked them to sponsor my band’s new album, and indeed, they are using a track on their new podcast. Even though they didn’t fund the project or help us “go viral,” they’re doing something to help me out, and I’ll probably be a lifetime customer and evangelist.

DSC FB MustachePrezels

7. Give Customers Something Your Competitors Aren’t

We’re not talking discounts here. We’re talking features, services, resources, or whatever else your customers will place some value on.

Buffer does this almost daily with their blog. SumAll does it with their image library. And, Sharpie does it simply by having the superior product (IMO). The point is that, instead of providing equal value to all of their customers, they’re providing incredible value to a specific group of customers, and it’s paying off on the loyalty front.

If you can’t do it with your product or service, do it through your customer service. For example, there are multiple comic book stores in my hometown, but the owner of Shield Comics sets aside the comics he knows I’m interested in and actually hunts them down for me if he doesn’t have them already.

On top of that, he pings me on Facebook to let me know if I missed something good. Keep in mind that I had never met the owner prior to the shop opening. The first day I visited, he struck up a conversation and asked about my interests. He puts extra effort into making sure I keep going back.

8. Be More Convenient than Anyone Else

Last year my glasses broke and my car died at the same time. I was working from home in the middle of nowhere so I didn’t have the time or the opportunity to get to the eye doctor and order a new pair of glasses. Enter Warby Parker. They made it really easy and affordable for me to get a new pair of glasses quickly, and they helped me solve a few conundrums along the way.

I didn’t have to call an 800 number and wait on hold for hours, and I didn’t have to fill out a stupid ticket and wait days or weeks for a reply. I sent them a tweet, and they got back to me quicker than any other business I’ve engaged this way. I’ll keep buying from them and saying great things about them until they give me a reason not to.

Another type of convenience to consider would involve normal user or customer actions. This includes auto-billing, automatic orders, refills, and reminders. All of those little things make it easier for users to enjoy what they’re paying for. As a rule of thumb, your users/customers should spend the least amount of time possible trying to use your product or service, so they can spend the majority of their time enjoying it.

9. Solve a Problem for Your Customer

Go beyond your actual product and give them something that makes their life easier on a regular basis. Neil Patel did this with his website analyzer on QuickSprout, and Portent did it with their content idea generator.

Understand your customer, figure out what would make their life easier, and build it. When you can pull this off right, you make your customer rely on you for more than just your product or service, and that makes you almost irreplaceable.


10. Make Quality a Priority

If you have the best product, and you keep making it better, you’re going to have loyal customers. If you pair that with any of the above strategies, you’ll be close to unstoppable. People love to feel like they have the best thing, no matter what that thing is, and they’ll do way more than talk about it if they really feel like it’s the best.

Apple fans are the perfect example. A widely shared report from 2011 showed that Apple products actually triggered the parts of their fans’ brains normally associated with religion.

If you want to build your business on loyal customers and brand evangelists, you have to do something more than the mass consumer expects. Like any other asset, brand loyalty isn’t free. But like anything good in life (or business), it’s worth working for.

Whether that means making an effort to put your customers in the limelight or offering extreme convenience is up to you. Just make sure you’re doing something that makes you hard to replace and impossible to forget.