January 6, 2015 | Article | by Pete Larmey | Branding
Keep Customers From Experiencing a Brand Identity Crisis
Recently I experienced a brand identity crisis.
You see, ever since I can remember, I’ve been a bookworm. I devour novels like some people eat bonbons – right after the other. My go-to place for this habit has always been the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain. It’s been a staple for me since I was younger. I have fond memories of browsing through the stacks and leafing through books and magazines. These days I’ll occasionally take my young daughter to the store to play with toys and read children’s books.
Sadly, Barnes & Noble is failing in today’s ebook economy. Sales are down across the board, from ereader devices to print books and beyond.
I realized that I was part of the problem. Although I still purchased from the company (and, in fact, continued to pay a $25 annual fee for a customer loyalty membership), I had begun buying more from places like Amazon and Apple. In doing so, I felt as if I was leaving a piece of me behind.
Isn’t that weird? I actually felt bad for not spending money with a particular vendor.
What I felt exemplifies the true essence of brand loyalty — a company and customer developing deep, even emotional ties. It’s the creation of an extremely strong bond – so strong that the customer should feel a near visceral reaction when the thought of potentially breaking it comes into play.
This type of brand loyalty is not something that is developed over the course of a few days, or weeks, or months, or even a year. It’s cultivated over a period of time. Generally, it starts with a single event – the customer makes a purchase. That purchase is accompanied by an interaction with a vendor’s representative. At Barnes & Noble, that’s a bookseller. In the enterprise, that could be a regional sales rep or partner manager. If the customer enjoys the event and interaction, they come back without question. If that goes well, they return again.
At this point, the relationship has begun to blossom, and other incentives can be introduced. For example, discounts can be granted as a form of customer appreciation. Enterprises can offer complimentary training or add-on software or hardware. All of these are good ways to deepen the relationship, and can go a long way toward preventing customers from someday moving on to the competition.
Of course, the bond may yet be severed despite these efforts. This is especially true if the company in question does not continue to push itself forward and attempt to better its competition.
We’ve seen this befall several organizations in recent years. For example, BlackBerry, which at one point had one of the most fervent customer bases on the planet, today has very little market share. This status has forced the company to go back to its roots in an attempt to appeal to that old customer base by releasing the BlackBerry Classic – a combination state-of-the-art smartphone and throwback device that the company hopes will help it recapture its glory days.
That might not be a bad strategy, since brand loyalty is also heavily dependent upon nostalgia. The thought of something that was once great and enjoyable to use can strike a deep emotional chord within customers.
Maybe that’s why, as I write this, I’m sitting in my local Barnes & Noble Café. I decided that, regardless of whether or not other companies may better meet my needs, the connection that I feel to this particular company is strong, and I’m not ready to let it go yet. I want the organization to succeed. At least, I don’t want to be part of its potential failure. I feel akin to the brand, and it means something to me.
That’s the type of connection every company should aspire to.