DeSantis Breindel recently met with Forrester as part of Huddle — an intimate community of B2B marketing leaders who come together to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other and from outside experts. Forrester researchers and branding experts shared some of their latest CMO research about human-centered branding and B2B customer obsession. Here are key…
From the movies we watch to the friendships we develop, loyalty is a quality that plays out in culture, life, and, of course, business. In a crowded marketplace, brand loyalty is something that many companies strive to cultivate among their customers. But what if these organizations could take the concept of brand loyalty even further?
Loyalty versus affinity
Clients and consumers who are “brand loyal” may purchase a product or service for a number of reasons. They might appreciate the quality and value it adds to their lives, be motivated by compelling marketing and branding, or simply buy out of habit “since they always have.” It’s these last two factors that often make brand loyalty less influential than we think.
Why is this? Well, marketing strategies can shift, causing brand loyalists’ allegiance to shift as well. For example, when SciFi Channel adopted the name “SyFy” for trademark purposes and to appeal to a more tech-savvy, millennial audience, even this small change made waves, “alienating many longtime fans,” according to Business Insider. Customers who buy into a brand because they like a campaign, tagline, or even a certain spelling, may not stay for the long haul if those elements shift. And consumers who are attached to a brand because it’s part of their routine can easily be tempted by competitors who drop prices or offer other incentives to “poach” them. So while brand loyalty does drive sales, it alone may not be enough to retain customers far into the future.
Brand affinity, on the other hand, is much more powerful. The strongest connection that a business — both B2C and B2B — can build with its customers, brand affinity ensures that buyers remain emotionally invested in a company because they believe it shares their personal values. And this, in turn, keeps them committed for the long term. Take Harley Davidson, for example. The iconic motorcycle manufacturer represents freedom, independence, and authenticity. These qualities draw its customers in, helping it create a cult-like following of riders who identify with the brand — and with whom these traits resonate. This “kinship” has become a foundation for the company’s success. Brad Marg, the former COO of Clutch, a B2B market research platform, believes that Harley Davidson’s ability to grow brand affinity among its customers helps it transform what is typically a “once-in-a-lifetime purchase” into “strong lifetime bonds” with its customers — bonds that endure well beyond the initial transaction.
Brand affinity boosts the bottom line
Perhaps the biggest benefit of brand affinity is the fact that it can convert regular customers to brand ambassadors. When clients feel strongly about a company, they’re more inclined to share that opinion with their networks — becoming advocates through word-of-mouth referrals both in person and across their social channels. Consider Alaska Airlines, which, in marketing surveys, is consistently ranked high among its own customers, as well as with those who’ve never flown with the airline. These survey scores show that testimonials from regular flyers who championed the brand left a strong impression on others who hadn’t traveled with the company. And ultimately, these types of recommendations can boost sales and help businesses generate a larger customer base.
It’s clear that brand affinity can have a huge impact on a company’s success. But how can B2B businesses transform basic brand loyalty into a sentiment that’s so much stronger? By incorporating these four key tactics into your marketing strategy, you can foster greater affinity among clients — and reap the rewards.
1. Use the power of data to personalize
While your business may serve a well-defined market, every client is unique. Each will have specific needs and require different solutions. By recognizing this and tailoring your offerings to the individual client as much as possible, you can begin to create a stronger connection with your customers.
So, how can brands prioritize personalization? It all starts with data. By using digital resources — tools like Google Analytics, MailChimp, HubSpot, and others — you can begin to segment your audience into smaller groups. Being able to differentiate customers based on factors like their location, industry niche, and role within their organization means that you can customize communications accordingly. Consider B2B software company Brainshark. Harnessing the power of data analytics to review its free trial users, the company was able to categorize these customers based on how they were interacting with the product. Once Brainshark had this information, it sent personalized pop-up messages across its interface to address gaps in certain groups’ usage. The result? Registrations increased by 15 percent and the company’s pipeline grew to over $1.1 million. Ultimately, receiving more relevant communications resonated with users — helping to boost brand affinity and generate sales down the line.
2. Create a seamless customer experience
Amplifying client appreciation for your brand is often one of the first steps in building affinity. And to ensure clients truly value your organization, you have to create an experience that is second to none. Inspired by their experiences with B2C brands like Uber and Amazon, B2B clients are demanding the same convenience and ease in their business relationships that these B2C brands provide in their personal lives. By making customer interactions smoother and simpler, a company clearly conveys its commitment to them — and this can lay the groundwork for a more emotional bond, even in the B2B space.
According to Forbes, B2B customers often progress more than 70% of the way through the decision-making process before ever engaging with a sales rep.
Reviewing your clients’ customer journey allows you to identify the most important moments of engagement, from initial consideration to project completion. According to a recent study reported by Forbes, this is especially important because B2B customers today can progress more than 70 percent of the way through the decision-making process before ever engaging with a sales representative. This means that it’s not just your people who are an essential part of creating experience — it’s also your many touchpoints and platforms, from your website to your social media accounts to your advertising collateral.
By mapping the entire sequence, you can determine which areas your business is excelling in and which need improvement. As part of our work with law firm Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie, we guided them through this process — developing different personas for various types of clients, exploring key moments of engagement between these clients and the firm, and digging into the thoughts and emotions each interaction triggered. This approach provided critical information that helped us enhance Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie’s overall customer experience — and codify it with a set of actionable principles that ensure their clients continue to feel a deep brand affinity for the firm.
3. Build trust with the people who matter most: your clients
The foundation of any solid relationship is trust. This is especially important in the B2B space, where purchases can be far more expensive than in the B2C world. Across B2B transactions, clients need to feel confident in you as a business partner before they make any carefully considered decisions. And both service and transparency are critical components in building that trust.
Understanding how customers define “transparency” is critical to ensuring that your organization applies it across all touchpoints. A recent SproutSocial survey revealed that honesty, clarity and openness were three most common responses.
Being honest and open with your clients won’t just spark gratitude — it can also push pre-existing brand loyalty into the realm of brand affinity. From consistently delivering orders on time to responding quickly to emails, creating a positive customer service experience drives client satisfaction and assures customers that you’re a dependable partner.
Bringing transparency to your operations is another way to reinforce that reliability. Being open and straightforward, particularly when something goes wrong, can actually improve clients’ impression of your business. From supply chain to pricing, offering a closer look into the inner workings of your company will help customers feel more confident in what they’re buying. And when facing a problem, being upfront about the issue from the get-go will convey that you’re a proactive partner — something that can win major points with your audiences. In fact, in the SproutSocial survey, 89 percent of customers were willing to give transparent brands a second chance after a bad experience, and 85 percent said they would stick with a brand through a crisis if it continued to act transparently.
4. Foster an emotional connection through brand
Emotion is a key ingredient in growing brand affinity. While your clients are businesses, they’re also people — and brand can help cultivate a more human connection with them.
Most brands are positioned on a spectrum that ranges from “tangible” to “intangible.” Many B2B brands sit on the more “tangible” side, focusing primarily on product offerings. But this approach can make it hard to differentiate in the marketplace. Creating a more emotive brand can propel businesses towards the “intangible” side of the spectrum — bringing them beyond the table-stakes “what” to the more powerful and persuasive “why.”
So put client challenges front and center in your communications. Explain the benefit the product delivers, instead of including lengthy lists of features. Limit arcane jargon and buzzspeak in collateral and on the website. By building a brand that demonstrates that you can speak their language, you’ll become more relatable, enhancing your ties with clients.
One company that has successfully incorporated emotion into its brand is FreshBooks. An accounting software enterprise that targets small businesses, FreshBooks speaks first and foremost to the benefits it provides to clients. Focusing on “what it enables” — the speed and security it brings to the accounting process — instead of just “what it has” (accounting software) helps FreshBooks connect more with its clients. And its communications enhance this connection. With bite-size blurbs that are easy to digest, and approachable titles and subheads that make navigating its materials simple, FreshBooks’ writing is clear and comprehensible. By using personal pronouns, and embracing everyday words and phrases, FreshBooks serves up content that’s more compelling. Ultimately, this down-to-earth tone elevates the brand — allowing it build brand affinity and, as a result, sales.
Brand affinity isn’t something that happens instantaneously. Like any other relationship, one between a client and a company takes time to grow, evolve, and solidify. But by infusing these approaches into your business, you can sow the seeds for a more successful relationship with your clients today — and enrich and extend that partnership tomorrow.
To learn more about building brand affinity, contact us.
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