Truth is, customers build brands, not companies. It's the customer who experiences a brand and becomes connected to it on an emotional level and makes it their own that actually builds the brand.
Every existing business, most especially start-ups, should know that everything they do to market their brand depends on how customers perceive it. It doesn't matter what you think about your brand. What matters is what your target audience thinks of your brand.
Today, to achieve loyalty, a brand needs to establish a personal relationship with its customer by projecting warmth and competence. Humans are known to be very perceptive and make quick judgments about the intents of other people toward them (warmth) and the capability of carrying out intents (competence). You can tell customers over and over again that your product is the best, but until they experience it, believe the brand's promise, and develop perceptions of it, your brand has little chance for growth.
Here are some key signals outlined by authors Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske to help you determine if your brand is projecting warmth and competence to your customers.
1. The loyalty test.
For your brand to gain loyal customers, your business should demonstrate genuine warmth, concern, and commitment. You save more by selling to loyal customers than acquiring new ones. If you want your loyal customers to actively recommend your business to others, go beyond loyalty expectations.
2. The principle of worthy intentions.
Always put your customers' best interests ahead of your brand's to maintain a healthy relationship with them. Keep in mind that only the emotional connections of worthy intentions ensure loyalty.
3. The price of progress.
Viewed as less-than-worthy intentions, offering discounts doesn't buy you loyal customers. Your website must offer more than discounts and faceless commerce that only work one-way. Offer interactive relationships, and warmth and competence, through worthy intentions.
4. Take us to your leader.
Because of an initial desire to judge brands based on the people behind the brand, most especially the owner, customers today are looking for hands-on leaders, those who inspire employees to put in extra effort on customers' behalf.
5. Show your true colors.
Believe it or not, mistakes and crises pave the way for loyalty. We were programmed to forgive as soon as we understand where an offending party is coming from. Customers watch and judge whether people or profits come first. A brand representative can either show worthy intentions or avoid blame and twist things to his own advantage.
Today's market environment exists in the revival of relationships. Perception is reality, and businesses can no longer stay hidden behind their brand. As transactions move faster and mistakes happen faster, customers are able to watch for warmth and competence, or selfish intentions. Here are fundamental steps to keep you on the right track:
- Become more self-aware. Every brand and every business leader shouldn't be afraid to ask what their customers think of them. Listen with an open mind and genuine interest, and be willing and able to adjust to the needs of the customers.
- Embrace significant change. Change is now a business standard, so not welcoming change over a period of time is tantamount to moving backward. Businesses and brands must switch from being too controlling, defensive, and unresponsive to being more open to understanding how they are perceived, and adaptable to change and seeing it as an opportunity, rather than a problem.
- Fundamentally shift priorities. Constant change requires an honest examination and adjustment of objectives and priorities that have led businesses off course in the first place. To maintain success in the future, businesses should shift their attention from short-term shareholder value to shared value for multiple stakeholders.
Customers now have the power to hold businesses and brands accountable for their words and actions - power that will continue to grow in the years ahead. Now is the time to consider whether your brand is ready to prosper in that environment, or vulnerable to blunder.