In today's ultra-transparent and interconnected world, it's worth paying attention to how you can create super fans and get brand advocates working for you. Your ultimate goal is for your customers to identify so strongly with your brand that they'd actually want to tattoo it on their bodies (think Harley-Davidson, Jack Daniels, and Apple).
So what makes these brand-'repping badasses so passionate about companies? Sometimes, customers organically fall in love with a company because of its great products. But I'd rather not leave it to chance — here are some techniques to help you recruit more of your "Kool-Aid drinkers."
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬â€ÂÂ Â Â Â Â Use your creation story to your advantage. Stories sell. It's the way humans have communicated lessons throughout history. One of the most powerful selling stories you should employ in your business is the 'creation story.' It could be a story of struggle, a story of being fed up and creating your own solution, or it could just be an epiphany moment. Your customers, fans, and even team members can get behind these. But don't just give the sugarcoated version — today's consumers appreciate transparency. So tell all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Make your brand creation story public, and use it in your marketing. Humans instinctively want to know how things began, and it's a story that can be spread by your believers.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬â€ÂÂ Â Â Â Â Authenticity matters. People want the genuine article; they don't want to feel like you've "sold out." A great example is Johnny Cupcakes. The brand relies on an offbeat cult following that appreciates the uniqueness of the brand and its products…and the company knows that. People like things that are "exclusive" or "limited edition." And they like to feel they've 'discovered' something that not everybody has. If this is your positioning, then selling your product at a Wal-Mart Supercenter doesn't make sense (no matter how many commas you think it might bring to your bottom line).
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬â€ÂÂ Â Â Â Â Create insider lingo and ritual. All cohesive groups have common shared language. It helps them communicate who's in and who's out. One way can be self-identifying your tribe with names like "Parrot Heads," "Trekkies" or "Deadheads." There's a reason Lady Gaga calls her fans "Little Monsters" and asks them to come together. Or consider rituals; fraternities and sororities use rituals and ceremony to bond their new brothers and sisters.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬â€ÂÂ Â Â Â Â People love to belong, so let them. Our whole lives are based on belonging. We belong to families, friend groups, health clubs, high schools, alumni groups, grocery stores, teams, businesses, etc. Pink by Victoria's Secret has created "Pink Nation," and more than 3 million college-aged women have joined the online cult following. The brand tugs at school pride heartstrings by holding campus-vs.-campus competitions. Victoria's Secret's "Pink Nation" creates social networks of mostly college-aged underwear and sweatpants lovers while further promoting the brand.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬â€ÂÂ Â Â Â Â Create "Conversation Catalysts." Give your customers a reminder to talk about your brand. LIVESTRONG did this with the yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet. The bracelets were conversation pieces, as well as a vehicle to strong brand recognition. But all sorts of companies can get into the act. One of my favorite examples is from Fallen Whistles, a charity dealing in war-torn countries in Africa. They use a whistle as a talking point for their supporters, who wear whistles around their necks.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬â€ÂÂ Â Â Â Â Make your customers part of something bigger. If you help consumers understand what else they're supporting when they make purchases from you, you can compete outside of simply having the lowest price. Many customers out there will buy impactful and socially conscious products simply because these products provide more value; two examples include TOMS Shoes and The Honest Company. Your customers will not only get their identity needs met, but they are part of something bigger than themselves and the brand.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬â€ÂÂ Â Â Â Â Side with Cinderella to differentiate your product. Making the "other guys" look like the evil stepmother makes your brand look like Cinderella. Apple has done it, again, with its "Apple-versus-PC" commercials. The campaign made PC users look outdated and nerdy in contrast to the young, hip Apple user.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬â€ÂÂ Â Â Â Â Create an interactive community. Involved customers are good customers. Jones Soda involved its customers by asking them to send in pictures and phrases to be printed on the bottles. Customers felt like they had power, and they did. Again, it's all about the feeling of belonging to, and influencing, a brand.
Following these guidelines might not turn your customers into leather-wearing warriors, or entice them to tattoo your logo on their body, just yet — but you will start creating a group of zealots out there spreading your message. Spending the time thinking about how to tap into our hard-wiring to belong will give you a secret weapon to stop competing on price in your marketplace.
Yanik Silver has built multiple successful online businesses, one of which being MaverickMBA.com even though he still considers himself a "techno dunce." He has successfully bootstrapped 8 different product and service ideas hitting the million-dollar sales mark from scratch without funding, taking on debt or even having a real business plan. His newest book, "Maverick Startup," will be available from Entrepreneur Press April 1st.