Why do we choose one brand over another? Brand loyalty is not a mental act, but an emotional one, and brand loyal customers have an emotional relationship with the brands they're faithful to. And like Woody Allen explained in Annie Hall, "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies."
The challenge for many brands is how to spark that emotional relationship and then keep it going. How does a brand get that first date and turn it into a long, happy marriage? Here are eight steps to creating a successful brand-consumer relationship online.
Determine your type. In today's social media age, almost everyone has a digital profile. And as a business trying to connect with a certain type of customer, you need to create a comprehensive profile of exactly who that person is. You need to be as detailed as possible and know your type inside and out -- what they eat for breakfast, the kind of books they read, whether they prefer kickboxing or yoga and how they spend their discretionary income. The more detailed your profile, the greater the number of candidates your product or message could resonate with.
Tell everyone you're looking. If you were looking for a golf buddy, a gym partner or even a mate, part of your strategy would be to tell everyone you know that you were looking. It's no different when it comes to business. You want to align yourself with people and companies that can get you in front of your type, that ideal consumer you created a profile of. These people and companies are influencers who have a direct connection to your type and already have their attention and trust.
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Find a way to work with and partner with these established influencers. Make them your "passionate champions" -- people and businesses who feel like they have a vested interest in your success. Do this by figuring out how to create a win-win with these influencers.
Look the part. Know what your type is attracted to and make sure you look like what they want. To do this you have to know what kind of social environments your type prefers (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) and what kind of ways they consume their media (e.g. tablet, mobile or desktop). Your online environment has to generate interest and excitement and speak their language.
Look into their eyes. Everyone wants to feel like they're one of a kind. Your customer wants to know that you get them, that you understand exactly where they're coming from and what they're thinking. Create a two-way conversation that allows you to get a more in-depth understanding of where they are and where they want to be. Give them a voice and let them know you're listening.
Deliver value. Make sure your brand speaks to your type about what matters to them. Your customer wants to see how you can enhance their life, because if you can't, there's no reason for them to be a repeat customer. Show them that your product or service has value, and they will be more likely to move forward.
Ask for commitment. If the brand-consumer relationship was one between two individuals, this would be where you would "put a ring on it!" But before you can "close" or finalize the relationship, you have to know what you want your customer to do. It could be to share your message, give you their contact information or make a purchase. Whatever it takes, don't let them walk away without telling them exactly what you need them to do, and then get confirmation that they've done it.
Keep the spark alive. Ask anyone in a successful relationship and they'll tell you that the courtship can never end. Re-imagine your key message regularly and create targeted campaigns that will attract new customers as well as re-engage your "passionate champions." Re-energize your message on a regular basis and continue to drive home the importance and relevance of your brand.
Gauge your performance. The only way to know if a relationship is working is to assess or evaluate results. Likewise, in business, you need to measure anything that relates to achieving your goals -- traffic, engagement, conversions, etc. Metrics help you take stock of how you're doing and help you get to where you want to be.
Apply these eight steps and you should be on your way to a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship with your customers. Effective branding is more complex than ever and the American consumer is more savvy and discerning. It takes real ingenuity and vision to create and sustain the kind of emotional connection that keeps them coming back.
Imani Laners is the CEO of Shinko Media, an online advertising sales company based in Montclair, N.J., that creates digital content promotions and experiences for brands and publishers. She has created online experiences for some of the worlds largest companies with her driving force being an emotional connection. Imani was recently a marketing keynote speaker for Lodging Magazines HR+Diversity Summit, is a 2013 Count Me In Urban Rebound Awardee and sits on the Advertising Women of New York Executive Committee.