Turning customers into social brand citizens study

In our social world, brand development and cultivating loyalty is fast becoming all about managing engagement. In other words, fostering meaningful connections that pull people toward products and services through offering transactional value.

Engaging to create brand pull

Over the past five years, Onesixtyfourth’s CultureQ research on cultural shifts and the impact they have on our interdependence with brands consistently demonstrates that people develop more loyal relationships with brands that advocate on their behalf about and for the things that matter most to them.

Today, marketers and brand managers looking to have customers support their brands – recommending them to friends, ‘liking’ them online and positively posting about their experiences – must love people as much as people love their brands.

Research with nearly 4,000 customers has shown consumers want brands to begin with a ‘me-first’ orientation and then stretch across a continuum that culminates in a ‘we’ orientation, addressing issues that are important to the communities they belong to and society at large. People are calling for, yearning for and paying for brands to actively engage with them across a me-to-we continuum of ‘brand citizenship’.

The me-to-we continuum of brand citizenship

‘Brand citizenship’ is a five-step model that reflects our flattening, democratising culture in which greater customer-brand collaboration delivers significant benefits to people, companies and society alike.

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It begins with trust and an understanding of how their customers live their lives – not just use their products and services – and recognises that brands have a variety of ways to elevate every interaction across the me-to-we continuum to a transactional opportunity to add value. Across generations, people are demanding that brands simultaneously fulfil their individual needs and better society.

They are more loyal to brands that provide solutions to their personal ‘ME’ problems, needs, and dreams and their generalised ‘WE’ worries about the economy, the problems in world, the planet.

The five steps of ‘brand citizenship’ logically flow from one another.

Trust: Don’t let me down

First and foremost, brands that deliver on their promises are trusted more. Morrisons’ positioning that it’s a foodmaker and a shopkeeper, for example, places its employees front and centre in delivering the customer experience.

When a store worker recently allowed a young blind girl to play with the checkout, she brought that promise to life in a very meaningful way. She behaved like a shopkeeper focussed on getting to know her individual customers.

She saw the young girl as a real person, rather than a faceless customer who was slowing down her checkout line. And, Morrisons received kudos on social media and in the press for its worker’s sincere behaviour.

Enrichment: Enhance daily life

Brands that understand the things that are important to people individually engender greater loyalty by simplifying routines, making mundane tasks less dull, and enriching daily life. Consider Sweaty Betty. Appealing to customers’ interests and lifestyles, the brand offers free workout classes in its stores. Virtually, the brand effectively “pulls” in customers and engages them with emails featuring new workouts loyalists can try out on their own.

Responsibility: Behave fairly

Brands that exhibit human traits and behave sincerely, are honest about their shortcomings and strive to be better are identified as leaders and good corporate citizens. The John Lewis Partnership is one of the best examples of a brand that behaves fairly.

rom the way it treats ‘partners’ and suppliers to its Christmas adverts to its incubator JLab, the brand embodies the John Spedan Lewis’s vision to establish a ‘better form of business’.

Community: Connect me

Brands that rally communities, motivate behavioural changes and fix social problems, provided that they are not overtly political, attract more loyalists. The low priced, mobile network giffgaff outsources customer service through its community website. The giffgaff community is a virtual place where customers go for help, posting questions rather than ringing a call centre.

Unlike other ‘community board’ sites where members help one another out of kindness or to demonstrate their tech prowess, giffgaffers reap very tangible benefits: they’re paid by giffgaff each time they answer another member’s query.

Contribution: Make me bigger than I am

Brands that play an active role in creating a more positive and life-enhancing future enrich loyalists’ lives by improving life on the planet. While it’s easy to identify the contribution brands such as TOMS or Warby Parker make, a brand doesn’t have to be a social enterprise to make its customers bigger than they are by purchasing its products and services. Kenco, for example, makes a positive impact through innovative packaging and ‘doing good’ initiatives in the developing world.

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Through its Eco Refills, Kenco coffee helps UK customers send fewer glass jars to local landfills, and through its Coffee vs Gangs initiative, the brand is giving Hondurans a choice to do something more than join a gang or flee their home country.

In 2015, Kenco trained 20 young Hondurans to be coffee farmers and is under-way with its 2016 class. Having completed their year-long course, the first students are now building businesses of their own, backed by funding from Kenco.

From brand purpose, to delivery of goods and services, to social media, sustaining the environment, and bettering the world, ‘brand citizenship’ engenders pull and cultivates deeper loyalty amoung customers.

It’s a natural outcome of the dynamic shift that social media fostered that equips brands to more holistically influence and engage customers.

Sourced from Anne Bahr Thompson, Onesixtyfourth

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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