Nothing is more powerful (or cost-effective) than word-of-mouth brand promotion. When customers love your product, service or company, they will tell anyone who will listen about the wonderful experience they have had–in essence becoming an advocate for your brand. One need only look at the type of relationships that Apple, Nordstroms, and even Starbucks have created with their customers, who are loyal fans who are, well, fanatical about each of those brands. But how do you create this type of relationship with your customers?
While it’s true that the examples above are more consumer-oriented, it is possible to create strong brands around business-to-business products or services that will generate the same type of “buzz” and excitement. To accomplish this goal, build a brand experience that accentuates the core values of the organization and fulfills the promise of your product or service. In other words, practice what you preach. For example, does your product or service deliver on the promises it makes by meeting the needs of the customer in a user-friendly and compelling manner? Is it perceived to be of a fair value for the time and money spent? Companies that do what they say and deliver on what they promise are able to create loyal customers who will become advocates for their brand.
Not only will the quality of service or products build an experience, every aspect of the sales process can also support and enhance a brand image and garner customer advocacy. Throughout every contact and touch-point is an opportunity to build a relationship with the customer, and their perception of the experience of your brand. This includes PowerPoint presentations, leave-behind sales sheets, brochures, sales and media kits, as well as a highly customized proposal. It is important that all of these materials have a consistent message and professional look and feel. Simply having a compelling business model with a great web presence is not enough to drive sales and increase profits—support collateral (in some form or another) is necessary to enhance any online initiative.
Building a positive perception for a brand that will in turn create brand advocates sometimes requires good public relations and community involvement. Simply placing Yellow Pages ad will not do–besides being incredibly expensive (sometimes costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars annually), they are often highly ineffective at creating awareness of the company, its products or services. Contributing to charities or creating a philanthropic event around a noble cause, as well as sponsoring other local events helps build positive perception about the organization within the community. There is a reason why companies pay millions of dollars for naming rights to entertainment and sports arenas and stadiums: positive experiences in those settings, as well as support of the local team will always translate into greater customer affinity for a brand.
Although a challenging task, creating excitement and fondness for a brand does not require lots of money. By providing an essential product or service, doing the best job possible, and making sure that the needs of the customer are met on time and within budget, even business-to-business brands can leverage word-of-mouth promotion by harnessing the power of brand advocates who won’t hesitate to refer them to their friends, relatives and neighbors.
—Ryan Hembree, principal/brand strategy