10 Keys To Building Close Customer Relationships

Mark Di SommaJuly 10, 20144 min

Most brands would say they want to be popular and many of them would see social media as a way to achieve that. But recently David McInnis wrote this in a comment: “You can have all the social pieces in place but doing so does not make you likeable. Most companies that have a social strategy should not. They should focus instead on being likeable first.”

In other words, social media alone won’t improve your affinity as a brand. A great observation. Tempting isn’t it to roll out the social artillery without first thinking about whether a) anyone gets on with you b) wants to socialize with you and c) will bother to give you the time of day even if you do make the effort.

In his book The Likeability Factor, Tim Sanders talks about the need for people to build their own likeability by focusing on four critical elements:

• Friendliness: communicate liking and openness to others
• Relevance: connect with others’ interests, wants, and needs
• Empathy: recognize, acknowledge, and experience other people’s feelings
• Realness: guarantees its authenticity

So, what does it take for a brand to be likeable? I figured this functioned as a good starting list for those keen to build closer relationships with their customers:

1. Be real – authenticity goes without saying. It’s as true for brand as it is for people. Don’t over-promise, hyperflate, deceive, lie or engage in what is, or feels like, dubious behavior.

2. Don’t play us and them – increasingly, brands must look to identify with their customers as part of a shared community rather than engaging in the old-fashioned seller-buyer dichotomy. That sense of community generates both relevance and empathy.

3. Be different but be intriguing – do enough to stand out and to bring a real point of view to your work but don’t get so out there that people literally don’t recognize you as a brand that is part of a sector. People need shortcuts. Don’t be a dead-end, but don’t be just another shop on Main Street either. You want people to talk about you. Be different enough to get that word of mouth.

4. Work at it – the competitive environment in which brands work tempts behaviors that are aggressive or corrosive. Work actively to stop yourselves being subsumed by such behaviors. Work at affinity – being friendly, not gooey, but engaging and inclusive to the people you want to bring into your brand community. Provide experiences that people want to come back for, not just tolerate. Have rules for how you will compete that extend beyond what you are bound to do lawfully.

5. Smile – Work to a purpose that generates joy. Give yourselves as an organization a ‘bigger cause’ to work to, and you’ll find people want to commit, both inside and outside the organization.

6. Show interest – and be interesting – Interest is a two way street and social strategies in particular offer immediate and ongoing opportunities to engage ‘i-contact’ (that feeling of personalization that makes each party feel included and involved). Talk about the things your consumers feel an affinity for and want to hear about, not just what you as a brand want to holler.

7. Take responsibility – fess up. When things go wrong, say so, and update regularly. Keep your community in the loop. Don’t just hide behind the lawyers and your risk management framework. Front. Be true to yourself and to those you want to trust you.

8. Get on their wavelength – Get to know them, don’t just presume you know them. It’s amazing how many brands think that because people buy their stuff, they know what’s going on in their heads. You can’t just do the quant and the qual and regard likeability as done. Look for patterns in key places like social media measurement. Find the intriguing breaks in patterns. The purpose of research, in my view, is not to confirm, but rather to explore. So look for what people believe or don’t believe that surprises you, not just the stuff that aligns with what you already know about your brand.

9. Be what they’re looking for – Anticipate. Think of innovation as the ability to be at the next intersection waiting for your customers to arrive. Get it right and they’re going to love what they see, because you did what they didn’t even know they wanted, until they saw it. In today’s upgrade culture, everyone wants the next thing, the next app, the next intriguing idea. Encourage them to look to you not just for delivery but for guidance on that. When you own the vision, you own the future.

10. Be confident – Have faith in who you are. Don’t just like, love what you do. Don’t slavishly chase the latest trend or the highest profile competitor. Don’t imitate.  Don’t just concur in the hope that will make you more popular. Bring the confidence of a point of view, but the humility of objectivity, to everything you push for. Consumers need to see you believe before they will.

Those are my 10 steps to affinity. What would you add?

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