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How to Stand Out From the Crowd and Cultivate Passionate Fans Treat your customers like friends: Give them something for free. With that mindset, you'll shine.

By Stephen Key Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


In today's world, loyalty often seems to have gone out the door. No wonder: Online, everyone is screaming, "Listen to me!" "Watch me!" "Buy my product or service!" It's enough to send consumers running for the hills.

Related: 3 Great Ways to Create an Emotional Bond with Customers

Understandably, people (including me) who are selling services are using social media to attract attention. Unfortunately, many of the "experts" they quote seem to have little-to-no actual experience.

And, let's be real. How many quotes can one individual copy and paste? Are they quoting friends? Spouses? Themselves? True, internet audiences love quotes, but it's important to exercise some integrity there. If you are going to produce content, at least make it original.

There are also marketers who give you just enough information to pique your interest. Only, there's a catch! To access the rest (the real substance), you must make a purchase or provide your email address. I'm amazed, in fact, how many people still use this outdated technique. You haven't even begun to build a relationship with that visitor to your site, and now you want something?

I'm guessing that if you're that user, you're as tired of these gimmicky marketing techniques as I am.

Creating a "tribe"

The most successful content producers today are those who are serious about giving back. For evidence, look no further than popular podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience. A few weeks back, Rogan released four nearly two-hour long podcasts in a single day. All for free.

So, emulate his example; cut down the noise out there. Be that entrepreneur for whom the question becomes, How do I cut through the clutter and create a community of people who follow and trust me? This is the meaning of tribe. How do you create a tribe of people who are not merely customers, but also passionate fans?

After 30 years as an entrepreneur, I've learned that the most important rule is, It's not about you. As someone once said, You have to feed the village before you feed yourself." People don't care about what you've done -- they want to know what you are doing for them.

In practice, that means four moves you should make:

Actually delivering

Great content, products or service will get you a great following. Period. Nordstrom, for example, encourages customers who are not completely satisfied with their purchase to make a return; they have 90 days to do so! Even late returns are often refunded by half. Couple that with free shipping, and you'll understand why fans can't get enough.

Related: How Storytelling Helps Business Connect With Customers and Drive Growth

Costco has great products, uses bulk distribution to offer superior pricing and provides a satisfying shopping experience. You're not just shopping, you are resupplying. Because you can snack or enjoy a cheap lunch on the premises, you can take your time and stay longer.

Then there's In In-N-Out Burger, another truly beloved brand. Have you ever been to one that wasn't crowded? The brand's service is dependably friendly. You know what to expect, and you love it.

Building up and celebrating your community

About a decade ago, I began selling guitar picks that were unusually shaped, and designed to look, like vampires and skulls. Marketing was a concern. We knew we needed to promote ourselves, but ads and endorsements from big-name bands were cost-prohibitive. What could we do to stand out? How could we compete against well-known players that already owned the space?

This was right around the time the social media site Myspace was popular. I thought about what I could provide that my competitors did not. And that something became clear: We could offer picks to smaller bands in exchange for promotion. So we reached out to garage bands that had thousands of fans on their sites. We endorsed them.

We then sold them guitar picks, at cost, with their name on the back. The contests we ran motivated the bands to reach out to their fans about us, magnifying our reach. (The prize was a national ad campaign.) The effort was a huge success.

So, do what we did: Don't think about what you can't afford. Think about what you can do. Competing head on, especially on price, is often brand suicide. You have to think differently and find your blue ocean.

We succeeded because our objective wasn't just about us; it was about them. Our customers. Of course it was fun for us to see the bands include a little icon of our "grave-digger" guitar pick on their pages, but we let them be the stars, not us.

We started out packing picks on my family's kitchen table. In a few years, we had a warehouse. Eventually, we became one of the largest suppliers of lifestyle guitar picks in the world, selling in Walmart, 7-Eleven and big box music stores. We even became a Disney licensee and produced a pick featuring Taylor Swift (in 2008, I sold my part of that company.) This all happened because we gained the initial support of small bands who liked the look of our designs on Myspace and were willing to trade for what we needed.

Truly caring about your customer

If you don't love your audience, do something else. When an entrepreneur named Juan Hernandez came up with an idea for a Halloween-themed plush toy and storybook, he built a huge fan base that eventually led to an order from Walmart. His secret? He deeply cared for and respected his audience. On his Ghoul on a Stool Facebook page, he made posts not about his product, but about the magic of Halloween.

He thought of content his audience would appreciate. Halloween fans began liking and sharing his posts, drawing in more and more eyeballs. To date Hernandez has collected more than 106,000 followers.

Being willing to provide valuable content for free

I believe that if you are truly an expert in your field, you should have no problem giving your information away. When you become an expert, you build trust and loyalty by giving away unique and actionable advice that works.

If you are a coach or writer who wants to help people, then help people! Their success is your success! I truly believe this, which is why I publish videos every week on my YouTube channel inventRight. I also write articles like this one, include additional resources on my website and publish books. Yes, I charge fees for coaching people who want personalized help, but my goal is to benefit everyone.

I know what you are thinking: "But if I give everything away, why would someone ever purchase?" Very simply: Because there's always more to give.

Last words

In today's world, you need to think about marketing differently. Build your brand by giving fantastic advice, not just samples or leftovers. Don't sell anything that isn't valuable; you'll only make people angry that you wasted their time. I believe it was Seth Godin who told me that if you're truly good at something, you don't have to be boastful or a braggart. At the time, I relied on marketing copy like, "Make millions with your idea!" He told me I didn't need to do that. Once we toned down the hype, our business grew.

Related: The 'Why Before You Buy' Is Key to Connecting With Customers

There are so many competing options for products and services these days that to truly stand out you must be authentic. Be consistent, own your mistakes and make every interaction count.

The formula really isn't complicated. Treat your customers like friends. With that mindset, you'll shine.

Stephen Key

Co-Founder of inventRight; Author of One Simple Idea Series

Stephen Key is an inventor, IP strategist, author, speaker and co-founder of inventRight, LLC, a Glenbrook, Nevada-based company that helps inventors design, patent and license their ideas for new products.

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