Big companies often pack the necessary budget to recruit high-profile promoters for their brands: from sports figures to celebrities to Madison Avenue ad agencies. While your budget may not support these options, you do have an incredibly valuable network of brand champions: your customers. Not only are your customers your best brand champions, they’re an extremely cost-effective way to build your brand.
For example, Tiny Prints—which started out as a small company offering stylish, personalized stationery—grew by leaps and bounds when some chic moms discovered their easy-to-use, affordable service. Those moms loved the products and brand, and told other moms about their Tiny Prints experience. The company soon had requests from Hollywood celebs…and expansion plans.
So how can you build your own viral network of brand champions?
Listen. Make it easy for your customers to reach you—whether it’s by phone, social media, e-mail or in person. Then listen. If you truly listen to your customers, you won’t need to look far for your advocates.
Free online tools like Google Alerts, Social Mention and Technorati are great ways to actively listen to your customers, wherever they’re talking about you or your business. These tools can help ensure you hear your customers’ comments, so you can understand their experiences with your brand. The best brand champions are those who want to participate, and those who love your product will speak up.
Embrace. Customer input matters—whatever the sentiment—so don’t shy away. Embrace the opportunity and engage in the conversation.
If you get positive feedback, let your customers know it’s valued. Maybe even offer a small token of your appreciation, such as a discount on a future purchase or membership to your customer loyalty program. If what you hear disappoints you, your response is even more important. With the appropriate actions, you can turn a negative situation around. Or at least bring it to a satisfying resolution.
Responding to your customers’ comments and concerns is just the beginning. Continuing the conversation can help you build a stronger brand and give your customers a great experience. Create communities where your customers already gather—Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Pinterest—and cultivate your brand conversations in those spaces.
Empower. Once you’ve established relationships with your brand champions, empower them to share their passion.
The Internet has made it easy and affordable to provide your brand champions with forums for discussion. Give them the opportunity to create a connected community, lead conversations and tell their brand-experience stories.
Consider this tip: Make it easy for customers to review your products and services. Customer testimonials and endorsements impart an authenticity you can’t get elsewhere. Incorporate them on your brand website, printed marketing materials, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—the possibilities are many.
Build. Big, small or in-between, your business can benefit from brand champions. And your best brand champions may already be singing your praises, so listen up, embrace them and empower them to share even more. That connection is one easy, affordable way to grow your business, your brand and your reputation.
Monica Skipper led the brand strategy team at FedEx for six years before becoming the director of Global Brand Management in October 2011.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.
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