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Woo Loyal Customers for Life With 4 Winning Ways Convert engaged shoppers into lifelong ambassadors for your brand

By Virginia Miracle

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There's a point in almost every romance when it's time to either move forward or break up. The same is true for the brand-customer relationship. At some point, your best customers want recognition for their loyalty or they'll quickly go from loving your brand to dumping it.

That's why companies must focus on identifying and activating potential advocates -- their most loyal, engaged customers -- during the "dating period." Reaching out to advocates while they are positive and excited will help ensure that they go from "just dating" your brand to "marrying" it for life.

Most chief marketing officers are focused on finding influencers -- people in the limelight with large followings. While influencers serve a purpose, marketers' time could be more powerfully spent in finding advocates.

Advocates may not have social influence, but they are passionate about a brand and personally invested in it. Connecting with these folks will have a longer-lasting effect than trying to approach an influencer who's probably bombarded by other pitches. Advocates are often regular shoppers, willing to spend significantly on products they love. And their advice and endorsements can be exposed far and wide through various digital strategies.

Here are four strategies every brand can use to turn fans into life-long partners.

Related: Reach Millennials Through Brand Advocates

1. Play detective. Finding advocates takes patience and good old-fashioned detective work. They may or may not be highly active or influential on social channels. But they are out there purchasing products in stores and online and recommending them to friends.

Finding advocates requires sifting through social data; advocates may have small followings but often post positive comments about brands on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Marketers can mine the purchase, customer and customer-relationship management (CRM) data to find those who frequently buy their products.

Businesses can even go the extra mile to find customers who love competitive brands -- and aim to lure them away.

A Porsche dealership in Beachwood, Ohio, has rewarded local enthusiasts by letting its venue be used for private events by community organizations and residents -- at no cost. The goodwill not only generated positive word-of-mouth and brand awareness, but a few cars have been sold as a result.

2. Reach out proactively. If certain customers are big spenders or frequent social posters, extend in thanks a VIP deal (a special discount or insider access to the latest product). Showing just a little special attention to brand advocates can pay dividends later on. Also, ask for honest feedback: which products they love or loathe and why. Find out which attributes they appreciate and how to improve products or services.

Related: The Psychology of Discounts and Deals (Motiongraphic)

3. Embrace naysayers. Sometimes, the biggest fans may be the first to complain. After all, they care enough to wish the brand were better. A disinterested customer simply would not bother to voice concerns. Find early detractors, and quickly reach out to resolve their issues or let them know that their strategic concerns were heard. Apologize, try to make things right and be sure to ask for feedback about how to improve products to avoid such issues in the future. By handling complaints with aplomb, a company can transform complainers into advocates.

Discover maintains high expectations for the customer service it provides card members. The company's social service team takes pride in resolving customer issues swiftly and tries to ensure the interaction is a positive experience. By listening to existing customers (regardless of whether the feedback is good or bad), Discover creates valuable interactions with its brand.

Related: Listen Up: How to Respond to Customer Complaints

4. Keep it interesting. As is true for any relationship, as soon as one party becomes bored, the other will likely become distant and unengaged. To get brand advocates excited, companies must always deliver fresh, relevant content. Share content about the inner workings of your company or highlight the individuals behind a brand. Be bold and unexpected. People love a good surprise, whether it's an unanticipated discount or content that's more humorous or informative than usual.

Recently Seattle-based insurance company Pemco created a fun and bold campaign related to the Seahawks' trip to the Super Bowl. Pemco collected signatures of more than 15,000 fans on a giant banner, by inviting people to sign it at sites across Seattle or virtually by using the hashtag #12banner. Pemco flew the banner over MetLife Stadium, enabling people to feel part of the Super Bowl and in the process perhaps creating fans for its brand, too.

Marketers spend millions trying to convince new customers to try their brands, while sometimes ignoring loyal customers. A robust advocate program recognizes those who are passionate about a brand and can turn them into life partners.

Related: Trouble in Paradise? How to Reignite Customers' Interest in Loyalty Programs.

Virginia Miracle is chief customer officer at social-media marketing-software company Spredfast. She leads teams focused on multiple elements of the customer experience, including account management and strategic services.

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