Five ways to tap into your most profitable customers
By BJ Bueno &
Marketing used to be fairly straightforward: Throw money at
advertising in order to influence people to buy your products and
services. If your advertising campaign was decent, the resulting
sales outweighed the cost of advertising. If your campaign was
excellent, your business grew like a wildflower.
Fast forward to today: The customer is now in control. Media
fragmentation from hundreds of cable networks, millions of Web sites
and new emerging delivery channels like the Apple iPhone make it
more difficult to reach the general market. And even if you do reach
your potential customers, they don’t have to listen, and probably
won’t. What’s an intelligent marketer to do?
1) Understand what
branding is really all about:
Management guru Peter Drucker explained that the purpose of
business is to create a customer. In contemporary marketing, your
job is to create a repeat customer who is likely to build a
relationship with you and buy from you year after year. In order to
accomplish this magnificent feat, you must develop what’s called a
brand. A brand is an association that a customer has with
certain feelings and images represented by a company, not simply
a company name or a logo. You cannot create a brand by yourself
because branding is a co-authored experience between you and your
When a group of customers has strong associations between
your brand and a desired feeling, the brand has “equity” it can
leverage in order to grow. Southwest Airlines offers warm, friendly
service to its passengers in an industry notorious for a ubiquitous
subpar customer experience. Southwest Airlines’ brand has become the
“heart of the sky,” symbolized by a heart on the belly of its
airplanes. In an industry where most airlines go bankrupt, Southwest
remained profitable for over 30 years.
2) Focus on your
ingredient to Southwest’s profitability and that of any sustainable
enterprise is called Brand Lovers: The customers who love you
the most. Brand Lovers emotionally connect with what you do and want
to celebrate who you are. Their connection with your brand is so
strong that they often don’t consider doing business with anyone
else. Apple’s Mac users, for example, don’t consider purchasing a
PC. To them, there is no alternative.
At the very least, your Brand Lovers choose you more often
than your competitors. For many companies, the best customers drive
over 80 percent of the business’s profitability and yet, the
business generally knows very little about them. Basic market
research does not offer you insights into your best customers. The
true drivers of choice for your best customers are emotional
connections to your brand.
Certain brands have a legion of Brand Lovers – we call them
Cult Brands. In a Cult Brand like Apple, CEO Steve Jobs knows he’s
selling a unique way of life that’s intelligent, creative and
special – he’s not just selling computers, digital music players and
cell phones. The executives of Harley-Davidson know they are selling
freedom of the open road and a special kind of family, not just a
motorcycle. Oprah is far more than just another talk show host:
Real, honest and loving, Oprah radiates hope and promise for a
3) Identify your
enterprise doesn’t have Brand Lovers like Apple, Harley or Oprah,
but you do have your best customers – customers who give you repeat
business and who may tell their friends and colleagues about your
So how do you find your best customers? Actually, they often
find you. They congregate at your stores. They send you e-mails and
call from time to time to tell you how great you’re doing. Some
customers might even blog about your products or services, or create
videos and post them on YouTube. These special customers might
mention you on their personal Web pages on Facebook or MySpace.
On the financial side, if you maintain a customer database,
you can sift through and determine who purchases from you with the
greatest frequency – and for the longest time span.
What if none of the above helps you locate them? Then get
creative. Carefully crafted surveys might point you in the right
direction or you may need to hire a firm to help you identify who
your best customers are.
4) Get to know your
Talk to them. Find
out why they keep doing business with you. Don’t be afraid to ask.
But listen carefully. Conducting online surveys can be helpful, but
if you have a physical storefront, meet your customers face to face.
Sam Walton would often tell his executives: “If you don’t know what
to do, go ask the customer. If it’s not happening in the store, it
is not important.” Look for the intangible clues that make you
unique in your customers’ eyes. Uncover the emotional effect you
have on them.
5) Serve your Brand
Lovers better than anyone else:
There are always ways to grow your business by embracing your
best customers. Once you understand why your best customers enjoy
doing business with you, you will be better prepared to serve them.
The answers don't have to be complex.
How can you recognize your Brand Lovers—and show them that
you honestly care about them? For World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE),
offering free meatball subs before the show increased the love among
What problem are you helping your best customers solve? What
need are you helping them fill? Skaters were ostracized by most
businesses, but Vans listened to its customers and developed
products aligned with the skaters’ lifestyle.
What are meaningful ways to celebrate their loyalty?
Harley-Davidson developed leather jackets for its riders. Apple,
listening to its Mac User Groups, through a long string of failures
and innovations, created the iPhone specifically for its customers.
Are you grateful for your best customers? Do they know it?
What are some ways to acknowledge your appreciate for their
business? You don’t necessarily have to give them a gift; sometimes
a simple “Thank you” will work wonders.
The role of marketing is to create the future today, which
requires you to know what your customers will want tomorrow. The
only way to anticipate the future needs of your customers is to
understand who they are, talk to them and listen. Then, you can
create the future together.
A final word of advice: Don’t try to be all things to all
people. You don’t need everyone to like you. You only need your
Brand Lovers who already love you. Remember, your best customers are
the lifeblood for growing a sustainable business. By learning to
understand their needs and serving them better than anyone else, you
can build a legion of brand loyalists that catapult your business
growth without throwing more money at directionless advertising
Welcome to the New World of Marketing!
Cult brand expert Bolivar J.(BJ) Bueno and author Scott Jeffrey are
managing partners at The Cult Branding Company, a brand loyalty
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