How to build brand loyalty with relationship marketing
If you’re like most small business owners, you’re likely testing different approaches to generate new leads and gain more customers on a regular basis.
One of the most effective ways to guarantee the growth of your business is by building strong, long-term relationships – with your audience, existing customers and partners.
Let’s take a look at what relationship marketing is, and explore how to make it a core part of your growth strategy.
Table of contents
- What is relationship marketing?
- Connect face-to-face with customer events
- Boost retention with a loyalty program
- Invest in content marketing
- Offer incredible customer service
- Invest in a CRM
- Get inspired with these relationship marketing examples
- Wrapping up
What is relationship marketing?
Relationship marketing is the art of establishing and fostering long-term connections with your customers. A relationship marketing philosophy can contribute to customer acquisition, retention and business development initiatives for your business.
Activities include email marketing, referral marketing and influencer engagement. For many brands, the ultimate goal is to build a tribe of loyal customers who love what they do.
In short: relationship marketing builds a strong brand with loyal customers and advocates.
But how do you actually build a company that wins over the hearts and minds of your customers? Let’s explore five proven relationship marketing techniques that you can implement today.
1. Connect face-to-face with customer events
Bringing your customers together is one of the best ways to foster strong relationships. While inside sales and remote working are becoming common practice in the workplace, nothing nurtures customers like a face-to-face interaction.
The bottom line is this: bringing customers together shows they’re in good hands. They’ll talk to each other about your brand, products and services, demonstrating that you’re helping people just like them.
Let’s run through some simple steps to get started with your own events.
Step 1: What are your goals?
Start by listing out clear goals for your event. Aim for one or two business objectives that are easy to measure.
- Generate customer insights
- Acquire new customers
- Guide existing customers to the next step of their journey
Once you know why you’re running the event, it’s time to tie some metrics to it. Event marketing metrics include:
- Number of event sign ups
- Number of event attendees (and conversion rate with the above)
- Number of new customers acquired
- Product/service upsells
- Referrals generated
Not all event benefits can be measured with cold hard metrics. But the connections you make, and value you add to your community, will be invaluable to your business.
Step 2: Organise your content and agenda
Set out a clear schedule for the day, with a focus on your key goals. If the goal is to increase customer loyalty, talk to them up front and identify the topics they care about.
Depending on the format of your event, inviting influencers and thought leaders to present a keynote will help increase the value that your event delivers. People love to learn from experts, and having them share stories and advice will ensure you provide awesome content.
While content is key, make sure you also allow plenty of time for networking. For example, if you’re running a conference, your agenda might look like this:
- 11:00am – 11:15am: Registration
- 11:20am – 12:00pm: Introduction to your company and client benefits
- 12:00pm – 12:45pm: Keynote from first speaker
- 1:00pm – 2:00pm: Lunch and networking
- 2:00pm – 2:40pm: Keynote from second speaker
- 2:40pm – 3:00pm: Panel discussion with thought leaders
- 3:00pm: Drinks and networking
To attract speakers, reach out to existing customers, partners and industry connections. If they’re already creating content for other events, there’s a high chance they’ll jump at the opportunity to gain the extra exposure.
You can also offer speaking slots to potential sponsors. Sponsor benefits include the opportunity to share their own content with attendees, build brand awareness and generate new customers. Remember, sponsors need to bring value to your audience too. Set clear guidelines about what you expect from sponsors, and how they should make the most of your event.
Step 3: Prepare your registration flow
To generate event registrations, you’ll need a landing page that captures attendee information. Your landing page should include the following information:
- Who the event is for
- What they will learn
- Your agenda (see above)
- How they’ll benefit from attending
- Day and time
- Ticket price (if applicable)
- Registration deadline
For example, Content Marketing World includes key information about their event above the fold of their home page:
Below this, they include all pertinent information to attract the right attendees:
With your landing page in place, you’ll need a registration page (including a form). Make sure to include an email field in order to nurture attendees before, during and after the event. Only ask for necessary information. Including too many form fields risks turning your audience off and reducing conversions. Here’s how Content Marketing World does this:
Make sure to include a checkbox for registrants to opt-in to future communications, and ensure you’re GDPR compliant.
Step 4: Nurture & follow-up with attendees
Once you start generating attendees, it’s important to keep in touch and remind them about your event. Especially in the weeks leading up to it.
This example from Coindesk shows it’s never too late to attract new attendees. Here, they send a promotional email to their customers to entice any last-minute registrations:
When putting together your event email sequence, consider the following messages:
- Event announcement: The first email that announces your event, including what it’s about, any confirmed speakers and how attendees will benefit from attending.
- Speaker announcements: This will get attendees excited and encourage people to register.
- Confirmation email: Send this to attendees after they register. Confirm details such as time, venue and provide links to key information (such as directions to the venue).
- Warm-up email: Reach out to attendees in the weeks leading up to the event. Remind them what’s in store, as well as any last minute surprises you’ve managed to secure.
- Feedback: After the event, take the opportunity to reach out for feedback. Ask attendees what they liked about your event, what you could do better and things they’d like to see next time.
- Follow-up: Finally, use email to build upon new and existing customer relationships. What is the next step? As small businesses owners, relationships are key. But you also need to get results to make your event worthwhile. This could be a simple offer, or an upsell for existing customers.
Your first event might not be an instant hit, which is why it’s important to start small. We have given you the basic steps to get started with your events and create amazing experiences for your audience.
2. Boost retention with a loyalty program
With this in mind, let’s explore three ways to foster customer loyalty and repeat purchases:
Use a point system
Point-based loyalty programs are one of the most common customer retention tactics. The premise is simple:
- Customers earn points for every purchase they make with your brand
- As they collect more points, they can exchange them for products or discounts
Take Sephora as an example. Every pound spent by a customer is matched with ‘Beauty Insider’ points, which shoppers can redeem to purchase beauty products or take part in “members only events”:
You can build your own loyalty program using a tool like ReferralCandy, Swipii or Smile.io. These platforms allow you to implement point-based systems into your existing website without much technical knowledge.
Partner with other brands
It’s likely there are other non-competing companies with access to your target audience. By partnering with these brands, you have an opportunity to offer new products or services to your customers.
These partnerships were chosen carefully. The products listed above are all relevant to Nike’s mission, which is to inspire athletes around the world.
How would this work for your small business? Think of other businesses that offer non-competing products to the same audience. For example:
- An app that helps you be more productive could partner with meditation apps
- Coffee ecommerce brands could partner with coffee shops
- Marketing agencies could partner with web design firms
Reach out to these brands, and suggest the idea of promoting each other. Alternatively, set up a co-marketing campaign where you create a piece of content or marketing collateral together. Whatever form it takes, your partnership should be a win-win for all involved – including the customer.
Demonstrate an understanding of your customer’s values
While this concept may seem “fluffy”, emotional attachments to brands do exist – and are usually the strongest kind of attachment. These connections begin with a belief or values that the customer shares with a brand.
For example, The Body Shop has integrated a message promoting animal welfare into their marketing. And it’s not just a strong branding play. They follow through on this by providing great products that avoid harming animals.
While members earn rewards and benefits through purchases, the company offers them a choice to donate their rewards to charity instead.
Look at ways you can make your values a core part of your product and marketing. For example, are your materials ethically sourced? Do you pay your employees above the minimum wage? Make these clear throughout your marketing.
3. Invest in content marketing
Content marketing allows you to add value, entertain, educate and build authority in your market. Creating content like blog posts, videos and visual formats on social media are time-test and proven ways to build strong customer relationships.
Let’s take a look at three content marketing ideas that you can include in your strategy today. These techniques are fast and easy to implement.
Create an email newsletter
Setting up a newsletter is a budget-friendly tactic to boost brand loyalty. If your content is genuinely valuable, and you commit to setting expectations of what your audience will receive, you’ll find people are eager to open your emails.
At Tide, we use our newsletter to share new features, offers and business tips with our members. The example below, we encourage our members to refer Tide to their friends:
Your email newsletters can be a blend of useful content, product offers and updates. First, figure out what you’re trying to achieve. For example, are you looking to nurture leads or increase sales? Once you have this figured out, choose an email format that serves this goal and your customers at the same time.
Be careful not to go overboard with offers. If you send nothing but emails asking people to buy, you’ll find your unsubscribe rates increase and open rates will drop. Add value first, sell second.
Start a blog
According to Demand Metric, 70% of customers would rather learn about a company through an article than an advertisement:
Blog posts are a great way to build authority and credibility for your business. You can use them to share case studies and stories about your customers and to introduce your team.
At Tide, sharing stories helps us empower our members to grow their businesses as well as attract new ones. By sharing our small business tips and in-depth guides, we are a reliable source of support to our members:
The more your customers return to you for your resources, the more likely they are to keep you top of mind and turn to you when it’s time to make a purchase. This is how you reach your goals while building a brand.
Bear in mind, it can take time for fruits to bear from your blogging efforts. It requires long-term investment and patience. Do it right and the results can be well worth it.
Launch a podcast
Launching a podcast as part of your content strategy has never been easier, and can quickly increase your reputation as a thought leader.
For example, Alison Colley launched the HR and employment law podcast in early 2014. Since then, it has amassed 40,000 downloads or an average of 3,000 per episode. It helps her keep her clients and wider audience up to date with new developments in the HR world:
“It’s one area of law where there’s always something going on, either in Europe or in the appeal tribunals or the courts,” says Colley. “My audience is fairly niche – it’s only UK and only people interested in employment law and HR, so I’m quite pleased with the downloads I get.”
Each episode takes her and her husband around two and a half hours a week to produce. This includes research, recording, editing and uploading notes to iTunes. It’s a task she usually fits in on a Sunday evening so it doesn’t have an impact on her weekly schedule.
“For me, it’s part of a wider marketing strategy. It’s another way of showing what I do and it differentiates me from other solicitors and employment law providers. If you’re thinking about it, just go for it. It’s really low cost, and it helps to build your confidence in speaking about what you do.”
Pro Tip: Video is another great way to build customer loyalty and nurture the emotional connection to your brand. Here is our guide on how to grow your business with video (on a budget).
4. Offer incredible customer service
Every single interaction with your customer counts. A study from Zendesk and Dimensional Research claims that 39% of consumers avoid vendors for over two years after having a negative experience.
How do you provide incredible customer service? Let’s look at the channels and principles you should use to delight your customers in every interaction.
Customers expect fasat and instant communication with your brand. Live chat can deliver upon this expectation, delivering a direct line to your customer service team. The technology simply replicates the experience of walking into a brick-and-mortar store and approaching a member of staff.
As a founder, it’s wise to handle customer support queries yourself in the early days. Not only does this keep costs down, but it helps build a deeper understanding of your customers and their needs. If you expect the number of customer queries to increase as you grow, look into hiring a dedicated support or customer success team.
Quick response times
Whether it’s email, live chat or telephone – the longer you make the customer wait, the less likely they are to do business with you again.
It’s key to treat your customers as a priority. Here, we’ll share three tips to help you serve them quickly and efficiently:
- Set up an auto-response email: Upon receiving a customer service request, make it clear that you’re handling the customer’s query. A simple, automatic email will reassure them that you’ve received their question or complaint, and that you are working to resolve it.
- Commit to a timeframe and stick to it: Set customers expectations by setting clear timeframes. For example, in your automatic email response, you can say something like “we will reply to your request in the next 12 hours.” But be sure you stick to this promise.
- Create email templates: Over time, you’ll find you send the same emails over and over again. Email templates can help you run your support processes more efficiently, instead of typing them from scratch. Every time you respond to a request, save your response as a draft or template in your customer service software.
Making the customer a priority helps them to feel valued. Do it consistently, and you’ll have raving fans for life.
Compensating unhappy customers
Unhappy customers are a fact of business life. You can’t please everyone, and if you haven’t yet experienced your first complaint, it’s going to happen eventually. Make sure you’re prepared with these tips.
If a customer becomes agitated, do not react and don’t take it personally. Set aside any feelings you might have about the situation not being your fault, or their criticism being unfair.
Make sure you allow the customer to fully express themselves. Remain impartial, and hear what they have to say. Encourage them to share their experiences to get to the bottom of their complaint. You can do this with phrases like:
- “I’m sorry to hear this, let’s go over what happened” or,
- “Please tell me why you’re upset”
This creates a connection with the customer and shows them you are ready to hear them out. You have to listen to your customer fully before being able to offer a solution they will be happy with.
Repeat these concerns back to them
Once you understand their complaint, repeat it back to them. You don’t have to retell everything, but offer a brief summary of what has been said. For example: “I understand, so you’re unhappy with the quality of the product you received, is that correct?”
This shows that you have been listening, and that you are ready to offer an appropriate solution.
Present your solution
Be empathetic while offering support. If you know exactly how to fix the problem, suggest it right away. If you’re not sure, or if it’s new territory for you, ask the customer how they’d like to resolve it.
Try your best to make things right, even when you think the customer is wrong. While a single bad review won’t destroy a 5-star rating, it can become hard to manage if they decide to kick up a fuss. Giving a full refund, or replacing a faulty product, is far more efficient than trying to fix a broken reputation.
Most importantly, use each customer complaint as feedback to avoid similar situations in the future. Learn from this feedback. Every unhappy customer offers an opportunity for your company to improve and learn.
Going above and beyond
Going the extra mile creates a positive and lasting memory for your customers. Delighting your customers beyond expectation builds loyalty. Fans who are more than happy to refer your business to their friends and family.
Here are eight simple ways you can add an “extra touch” to your customer experience if within your means:
- Offer multiple forms of communication; email, telephone, live chat, Twitter, etc
- Offer custom solutions based on their needs
- Offer discounts or store credit for their next purchase
- Include handwritten notes when shipping products
- Respond personally to social media comments
- Respond to reviews (both positive and negative)
- Be proactive in asking for customer feedback
- Say thank you
5. Invest in a CRM
Customer relationship management software (or CRM) allows you to record engagement data and collect information about your customers.
A good CRM should include basic customer information (such as contact details), as well as purchase history and interactions with your brand, sales teams and customer support.
Let’s look at three of the most common ways CRM platforms make customer relationships a breeze:
1. CRMs allow for personalised customer conversations
A CRM can help you track customer milestones and events, such as their birthday or the anniversary of their first purchase.
When these occasions are approaching, you can schedule automatic reminders to be sent to your customers with special incentives and promo codes to make a purchase. It’s another simple way to make them feel valued.
2. CRMs help you collect customer feedback
Some CRM systems allow you to send polls and feedback forms to learn more about your customers.
3. CRMs let you know what your customers need
Strong customer relationships mean understanding what your customers like and dislike. CRM platforms allow you to collect and track customer details such as purchase history and preferences.
This data is incredibly useful when personalising your marketing messaging. Not only that, but your customer service team will be well equipped to tailor interactions based on past purchases, how they interact with your brand and their interests.
Get inspired with these relationship marketing examples
Now that we’ve established what relationship marketing is and why it’s important, let’s take a look at some examples of brands who have nailed it themselves.
We’ve selected leading brands from a variety of industries. But this doesn’t mean you can’t apply these principles yourself. With each example, we’ve provided key takeaways that any small business can implement.
Content marketing is all about adding extra value to attract and retain customers. Sweaty Betty, a fitness apparel brand, does this by tapping into their customers’ desire to connect with their peers.
Through their blog, they share inspiring stories of women in
the world of fitness. It makes their customers feel part of an inner circle
with people that share common interests and goals.
You can do this with your small business. Reach out to your customers and influencers in your space. Find out what they value most and create content that connects them to those values.
Over the past few years, Domino’s has taken a few risks to cultivate a loyal, long-term customer base. They came up with an ad campaign named the “Domino’s Pizza Turnaround”, where they acknowledge how terrible their pizza has become, and what they’re doing to make it better:
By accepting short-term losses, they’ve focused on long-term gains by strategically re-inventing their product and their brand. They’ve completely owned up to their mistakes.
This is the perfect example of tackling problems head-on. When you’ve made a mistake, own up to it and show how you’re going to make it right.
Every fitness enthusiast needs a good playlist when exercising. And that’s exactly what
Gymshark, an active apparel brand, has created for their audience:
These influencer-curated playlists allow Gymshark to stay top-of-mind when their customers are training. And if they ever need new workout gear, guess who they’ll be thinking of?
This is a great example of offering content outside of your immediate offering. Ask yourself, “what can I create that my customers will love?” Whether it’s a playlist, a tool or a bank of resources. Give huge amounts of value and your customers will love you in return.
Customer success isn’t just about increasing lifetime value (LTV) and retention. When executed properly, it can be the catalyst for a loyal and engaged community of customers.
This is the true benefit of relationship marketing. It’s not a tactic to generate more customers. It’s about fostering lifelong relationships with customers who trust you. Follow these principles, make them a core part of your business, and you’ll attract lifelong customers:
- Get to know your customers by running events and meeting them face to face
- Reward loyal customers with discounts, and consider building referral programs
- Create useful and interesting content to deliver more value to your audience
- Provide a delightful customer experience, and go above-and-beyond to make them happy
- Implement a CRM system to manage and keep on top of your customer relationships
In short, relationship marketing is about adding value – even when you’re not talking about your product or service. Adding value, and connecting with your audience directly, is how you build a strong brand.
Photo by Brooke Cagle, published on Unsplash