There’s no getting around it. When you start up your own business, the odds are not in your favor. In fact, there’s a 50% chance your business will go under within 5 years. Yet, legions of people still have the guts, ambition and outright temerity to start businesses of their own every year. While their drive should be lauded, we must keep one unavoidable truth in mind. Consumers are fickle, and getting even more fickle despite brands of all sizes spending billions on securing their loyalty.
In the digital era consumers are better informed than ever and have access to a wealth of deals. While they are not necessarily all motivated by price, they are most certainly in the driver’s seat. What’s more, when you start up your own business in the (nearly) 2020s you compete with big brands who already have the advantage of familiarity. And you should underestimate the power of familiarity at your peril!
So, does this mean that you cannot engender brand loyalty in a crowded and competitive business landscape? Of course not. But it’s not enough to simply start trading and assume that loyalty will follow. Through a combination of astute marketing choices and operational excellence you can unlock the recipe for brand loyalty. Like any recipe there’s lots of opportunity for adaptation and improvisation, but feel free to use the following as a guideline…
Take one great idea
Let’s face it, a great business needs to be built on a great idea. It needs to identify a gap in the market and capitalize on it accordingly. It needs to know the landscape of its industry intimately and identify something that prospective competitors either aren’t doing… or aren’t doing well enough.
While you shouldn’t blindly assume that your success is guaranteed because your idea is awesome, your idea at least needs to get you excited. That passion will propel you through the inevitable trials, tribulations and challenges of running your own business.
Finely filter through market research
Once you’ve identified and refined your idea, you need to ascertain for sure that there is a quantifiable interest and desire for it within your target market. This is why every business plan needs to be backed by comprehensive market research. Market research will give you a clearer idea of what your target market wants and how you can tweak or refine your idea to better meet their needs. Without market research you risk telling consumers what they want rather than listening to what they want.
Use only the finest ingredients
Have you ever had pizza in Italy? It’s beauty is in its simplicity. Italian pizzerias are very different to the kind you’ll find in the US. They don’t try and load their pizzas with as many toppings as possible. They keep their ingredients simple. Flour, water, yeast, salt, tomatoes, herbs and buffalo mozzarella. So why does it taste so good? Simple. They use the best quality ingredients and let them speak for themselves.
The same principle applied to the world of business.
Your ingredients will determine the operational standards which your customers will associate with your brand and eventually come to expect. This means that your product(s) must be of the highest quality. Your customer service ethic must be impeccable. Your employees must be properly trained and highly motivated. If you have a physical business premises, it needs to be represent your brand not just in its decoration but in its cleanliness, tidiness and organization.
Clever marketing bells and whistles might be what get consumers through your door, but if your “ingredients” are found to be lacking in quality, they won’t stick around for long.
Add a liberal dash of SEO
How can you expect customers to be loyal to you if they don’t know who you are? There’s no point striving to be the best there is at what you do if nobody knows who you are. In an era where consumers trust search engines more than they trust word of mouth recommendations from friends and family, Search Engine Optimization is king.
But there’s much more to “doing” SEO than ensuring that your website uses the right keywords. SEO is a complex and multifaceted discipline and your strategy will depend largely on the market you’re trying to corner (local SEO is a subtly different beast to international SEO). Unless you’re prepared to dedicate a lot of time and effort to positioning yourself above your competitors in Search Engine Results Pages, you may well benefit from the aid of an SEO company. While you may be conscious of overhead costs, there are few investments more likely to generate a lasting return.
Sprinkle in a generous helping of rewards
You’ve drawn a customer to your business and gotten them to part with their hard-earned money for your goods or services. That’s a great start! However, making a sale is only half the battle. Brand loyalty is about getting customers to come back time after time.
In order to do this you need to ask yourself, “will my customers remember my brand after our business is concluded?”. Even if you provided them with an exceptional service that sad truth is… Probably not. They need to be properly incentivized to keep you in mind when they next have need of the services you provide. While outbound email and social marketing campaigns can be effective here, one of the most effective ways to get customers back through your door is through a rewards scheme.
For your rewards scheme to be effective, it needs to give customers more of what they want, rather than what you want to give. The really great rewards schemes (think of the Uber model) incentivize customers not just to come back, but to introduce friends, family and colleagues to the business.
Have a taste of what your competitors are cooking… And try to better their recipe!
Finally, if you implement the above strategies but still find that you’re losing business to your competitors, it begs the question… What are they doing that you’re not. There’s absolutely no shame in taking a taste of your competitors’ recipe and implementing elements of it yourself… Or, better yet, finding ways in which you can better it!