Beyond Repeat Business: 6 Ways to Build Brand Loyalty

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I read an article recently on Freelance Advisor on the subject of drumming up more repeat business. It was all good advice: contact customers who no longer do business with you, look at what additional services you can provide existing customers, stay in touch with clients through social media, your blog, or newsletter.

The problem I have with these tactics is not that they’re bad, but that they’re typical. It’s what everyone else is doing.

Repeat business is great, but loyal clients are even better. Working with a client over the course of a few months is an opportunity to build a relationship that leads to trust, loyalty, and sometimes friendship.

I like author Simon Sinek’s comparison of the two, from his book, Start With Why:

There is a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers often don’t even bother to research the competition or entertain other options. Loyalty is not easily won. Repeat business, however, is.

Because loyalty is harder to earn, most companies settle for repeat business, through tactics like price breaks, promotions, or fear of loss. The author makes the point that these are perfectly valid strategies for driving a transaction, or for any behavior that is only required once or on rare occasions, but they do nothing to build long-term customer loyalty.

When you want more than a single transaction, or hope for a loyal, lasting relationship, you need different strategies, because you’re playing an entirely different game. Here are six ways to create brand loyalty that lasts.

1. Uncover an Unrecognized Problem or Unseen Opportunity

I once turned a business card project into a marketing discussion by asking, “How do you plan to get these cards into the hands of your potential customers?”

I’m not sure if that was an unrecognized problem, or merely an unspoken one, but it definitely turned the project into a different type of engagement.

2. Address Their Unspoken Need

Companies buy for two reasons: the “official” reason, and the unspoken one. The official reason is what the company stands to gain—increased revenue, higher sales, more customers. You get the picture.

But the unspoken reason is what the person doing the buying gets out of it. For a general manager, that might mean a raise, promotion, or bonus based on improved sales. And while a business owner would certainly stand to directly gain from increased revenue or higher sales, consider what that might mean personally to him or her. Things like retiring early, opening another location, or sending children to college. Those are all emotional—and so is loyalty. Get the connection?

3. Tell Them When They’re Wrong

I recently read that the higher leaders advance in an organization, the less truth they receive. This explains why a company can crumble beneath a CEO’s feet as he’s wondering how it could be happening.

If this is true—and I tend to believe it is—then I imagine a world where business owners and decision-makers are hungry for people who will tell them what they need to hear, instead of what they’d like to hear. Just be diplomatic.

4. Expect to be Treated as a Equal

This goes along the lines of the above. I’ve written many times of the necessity of establishing a peer-to-peer relationship with your clients. It’s simple. How can you have a loyal, lasting relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you as an equal partner?

5. Make it Right When You it Screw Up

Oddly enough, properly handling a mistake can create a customer that turns out to be more loyal than one whom you’ve never wronged in the first place.

According to a recent customer experience study, there is a brief window of opportunity following a service failure where clients can recover their trust in a business and actually leap from a state of disappointment to a state of loyalty.

6. Unleash Your Secret Sauce

I always like to say, “be yourself, but be your best self.” We all have flaws and faults, but stubbornly clinging to them with a “this is just the way I am” mentality won’t get you very far in business, much less life in general.

Unleashing your secret sauce means recognizing your personal strengths and leveraging them as assets in the relationships you seek to develop, without fretting over the strengths others’ posses which you do not.

Concerned that you don’t come across very self-assertive or self-confident? No worries. You have strengths these types don’t. Figure out what they are and don’t look back. Success doesn’t come by focusing on your weakness; it comes through using your strengths.

You might say the best business comes from repeat business. But I say the best business comes from loyal customers who give you repeat business … because they wouldn’t dream of going elsewhere.

Have I missed anything? Share your experiences and techniques for building customer loyalty in the comment section below.

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John TabitaJohn Tabita
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Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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