We all have a company or two that we can't fathom life without. If I told you, "You can no longer do business with these companies ever again?" what are the few companies you would become extremely upset about losing? When I ask my audiences this question, the same brands always get mentioned: Apple, Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Amazon, along with numerous local mom-and-pop shops.
Now the important part is to think about what they have done and what they consistently do to make you so loyal, to make you feel that you cannot live without them. That is power. That is brand loyalty. The more people you can make feel like they cannot live without your brand, the closer you are to making price irrelevant.
The key deciding factors to being a business people cannot live without are: 1) great service/product; 2) consistency; 3) ease of doing business; 4) employee evangelists; 5) educate versus sell; and 6) personalized experience. Let's take them one at a time.
1) Great service/product.
This is a given. It is the price of admission that your product or service better be damn good. However, this is typically not even listed in the top three reasons people love a brand. A company is in trouble if it is relying on its product or service to differentiate them in their market. Today every product or service is eventually commoditized.
This is huge and cannot be overemphasized. More than anything else, customers want brands to be brilliant at the basics. Forget the bells and whistles; just be consistent, reliable, accurate, and friendly in every interaction. Don't make it dependent on which location or which employee your customer deals with.
3) Ease of doing business.
See Amazon. See Zappos. See Nordstrom. See Uber. Amazon is the easiest and most convenient company for purchasing, from one-click to returns to customer support. Companies like Zappos and Nordstrom do not have return policies. Bring it back in a year; you don't need your receipt. Does your company have policies and rules to make your life more convenient? How easy is it to speak to a human being? How easy is it to find a phone number on your website? Is the buying experience for your customers convenient for them - or for your company?
4) Employee evangelist.
Great brands have employee evangelists for two things: 1) what they do, and 2) the brand they do it for. Shop at Teavana (owned by Starbucks). Their employees love the product, love helping and discussing the benefits of different types of tea, and love working for Teavana.
5) Educate versus sell.
The best brands teach their employees to educate customers, as opposed to sell to them. I love technology. The moment something new is released, I have to have it (worst thing a consumer can do). One time, when Apple released a new iPad, I ran to the Apple store to upgrade. When the Apple employee asked me what I wanted, I said, "I currently have the iPad, but I want the iPad 2." He could not have had an easier sale. However, he asked me what I used my iPad for. I said, "For email, surfing the Internet, social media, and I read articles and books on it." He said, "Do you play games or watch movies?" I replied, "No, never." He said, "Don't get it. It won't be worth it. The big difference between the iPad and iPad 2 is the resolution that you would appreciate only if you played games or watched movies." I couldn't believe he talked me out of spending $500. I was actually bummed! I said, "Well, maybe I will start playing games." Seriously, I would have bought anything in the store from this employee after that. He wasn't about selling me; he was about educating me and making sure I spent my money wisely.
6) Personalized experiences.
Every regular customer at Starbucks has "their order." It is unique, different from anyone else's. It usually is something long and complicated like a "grande single shot 4 pumps sugar-free peppermint nonfat extra hot no foam light whip stirred white mocha." Did you know there are more than 80,000 ways you can order your Starbucks drink? What is easier, and more personalized, than that?
How can you be the company your customers cannot live without? Review the six things that make a company a brand that customers cannot live without. Do an audit of how your company fares in each of the six categories and see where you can improve, so you can become the brand your customers can't live without.
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