Three Steps To Turning Customers Into Brand Ambassadors

I work with a lot of solo-preneurs and small business owners who are mystified by branding but are determined to become strong brands in their fields. To simplify branding, I use my easy but powerful 3E continuum.

The strongest brands rely on stakeholders who actively build the brand. Turning stakeholders into ambassadors is a process that requires clarity and consistency throughout all interactions. You can think of brand commitment as a continuum of engagement, where customers move across a spectrum from rational responses to deeply emotional ones.

There are three significant milestones along that path:

Step 1: Get Engaged – Choose me

Good news. You were chosen. Your client felt a connection and made a choice. This means you were visible to the target audience, and your brand promise was clear; they selected you because of the perceived value in your brand/offering. This is the first step in brand commitment. Without being selected, you can’t move forward. In this phase, it’s about delivering on your brand promise. At a minimum, the offering meets the need. For maximum effectiveness, the client’s expectations are exceeded through every touch point.

This level makes you feel exhilarated, but it has the lowest level of brand commitment. If a competitor with a similar or higher value becomes available, there’s little that will keep clients engaged. You have to take extra steps to help them move to a higher level of commitment.

Step 2: Get Enamored – Choose me again

This second level of commitment shows brand trust and deepens loyalty. Loyal customers purchase from you again and again, thanks to your value-added component; you’re using a strategy that ensures your clients are less sensitive to price and are not interested in comparison shopping. Loyalty is critical in branding. It’s a pivotal milestone in moving clients toward ambassadorship. There are two primary ways to cultivate loyalty: Authentic loyalty and Coerced loyalty.

  • Authentic loyalty is directly tied to the brand promise and your company’s ability to deliver on the brand promise consistently. Customers connect emotionally with that promise and become much more valuable to your organization because they are more committed to your brand. When they feel this level of commitment, they are more likely to become evangelists – and that’s the key to growing your client base.
  • Coerced loyalty refers to points-based loyalty programs and other incentives. Although these programs date back to the 18th century, the first comprehensive loyalty program of the modern era was the American Airlines AAdvantage program, which launched in 1981.These programs make you loyal by inviting you to lock yourself into a pair of handcuffs. They may be gold (or executive platinum in the case of AAdvantage), but they are still shackles.

My own experience with American Airlines and American Express AXP -2.25% helps explain the difference between authentic and coerced loyalty. Sure, I’m loyal to American Airlines; I have racked up 4 million miles and spend tens of thousands of dollars each year with them. But am I choosing them because of the brand or because of my Executive Platinum status, which qualifies me for upgrades and other perks? If the benefits of that program went away or were transferable to a competitor, my loyalty might wane or disappear. Either way, the tactic worked: I’m at the Enamored level, but not because of authentic loyalty.

On the flip side, When American Airlines announced that being an American Express EXPR -3.40% Platinum cardholder would no longer grant me free access into the AA Admiral’s Club lounges, I was not ready to give up my Amex platinum card. That coercive park was unrelated to why I genuinely love American Express. Sure enough, over-delivering on their brand promise, Amex sent me an email letting me know that if I wanted to join the AA Admiral’s Club, Amex would remove the expense from my bill. I pay a $450 annual fee for my Amex card, but I am so enamored with every aspect of the Amex brand that I’m willing to make the investment. I don’t even look at zero-fee offers from their competitors.

Step 3: Get Enthusiastic – Tell others to choose me

This is the holy grail of brand commitment. Enthusiasm is contagious. Merriam-Webster dictionary sums up contagion as an influence that spreads rapidly. When someone is willing to promote you to others – to be an ambassador for your brand – you have enlisted a client in your brand mission. I was on a flight from JFK to LAX (yes, it was on American Airlines) and my seatmate was so thrilled with his new Mac that he gave me a demonstration of how fast it was, how it works with his iPhone and iPad and how the battery will last way beyond the cross-country flight. Moreover, he told me that Apple made him feel more successful, and he saw himself as part of an exclusive community that appreciates great design. I am already an Apple enthusiast, but his evangelism for Apple made me want to run to an Apple store as soon as I landed.

When you can enlist your clients in marketing your business, their authentic testimonials are far more powerful than a pitch from you, or from a slick salesperson. Enthusiastic clients can grow your reach exponentially. This phase of commitment has to do with stakeholder experience. It goes way beyond the tangible offering and the value-added features. It’s about how the brand makes them feel.

I once read a review of W Hotels that said, “I love W Hotels. They make me feel hipper than I am.” That pretty much sums it up.

Courtesy of Forbes