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Just How Loyal are Your Customers and What are You Doing About It?

I recently read an interesting article on Entrepreneur that outlined ten of the hottest online marketing trends for 2013. Although I agree with Joanna Lord and her predictions, I wanted to highlight just one of them:

More Loyalty Marketing: By now, we are all pretty aware that it is more costly to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Add to that how consumers have never before been so connected and willing to share opinions of purchases and experience. Guess what you get? Marketers brainstorming creative ways to make customers feel appreciated and satisfied. What once was an afterthought should now find its way into the early stages of marketing roadmaps.

Most people associate loyalty marketing with things like the frequent flyer benefits offered by most airlines, punch cards at restaurants, and other mechanical-feeling approaches that reward customers for coming back and patronizing your business. Although this is what traditionally is considered loyalty marketing, it’s not what I would like to talk about today.

Customer loyalty is all about your brand, not your brand in the sense of the colors you use in your logo or on your website. Those may be important, but your brand is really your values and how you act on those values at every point of contact—with your customers and even your employees.What’s more, you can make claims and promote a certain brand as long as you like, but you can’t hide from what you really are.

Interbrand ranks Harley-Davidson as one of the top 100 brands world wide. Pretty darn good for what would globally be considered a minor player in the world motorcycle market. What’s more, Harley owners tend to be an intensely loyal bunch. My wife sometimes rolls her eyes because I don’t typically get sucked into wearing company logos, but I regularly wear the Harley-Davidson logo—as do many of my friends. What is it about this brand that generates so much loyalty and what can the average small business owner learn from it?

I think it’s the way they promote and pay close attention to customer loyalty.

  1. They leverage a hip and desirable culture: Like most of the guys I regularly ride with, I’m not into bar-fights or causing trouble, but I don’t mind being associated with ikons like Steve McQueen or Peter Fonda who are considered extremely cool. And, I don’t think I’m alone. Many of my non-riding friends would actually  like to be riding but don’t for one reason or another.  And, I’ve never met a biker on the road that wasn’t friendly and willing to talk about where they had been, where they were going, or what they were riding. What’s more, many of the guys who ride Japanese or European bikes go out of their way to single out Harley as a bike they would never ride (Me thinks he doth protest too much). Harley makes it easy for people to share in the history and culture of their brand—once you throw your leg over your own bike, you’re part of the family.
  2. They sponsor opportunities for people to get together and share the culture: Over the course of the riding season, the Motor Company, as well as their dealer network, sponsors rides, rallies, and other events to get people involved with each other and the community. There’s always something fun going on and those activities encourage people to visit the dealership and get to know the staff. I have a coworker who told me about her first job after high school working in the local Harley dealership. She said there were a handful of guys who would visit the dealership around the same time every day to hang out and chew the fat. I’m sure they bought stuff, but the staff made it easy for the dealership to become a place people wanted to hang out (there are often stools and tables all over the place—one of the local dealerships added a restaurant to make it even easier). The Motor Company understands that business is personal and the easier it is for customers to forge relationships with staff, the more likely they’ll do more business in the future.
  3. They keep in touch: Every month or so there’s something in my email inbox from the local dealership telling me about an upcoming sale or event. I’ve never felt like I’m getting SPAMed by the dealer, and I usually look through what they send me and sometimes even act on it. Email makes it really easy to do and production costs are next to nothing.
  4. They treat me like they know me: Although there are a couple people at the dealership that I know know me, they all treat me like they do. They place seems to be always busy, but they are always friendly and helpful (even with my occasional special orders). Even the mechanics seem to be on their A-Game when I have questions about the servicing of my bike. I don’t know if they’re trained to be that way or if it’s just the nature of the people in the industry, but I noticed it.

I realize that Harley-Davidson is in a unique position to do some of these things, but there’s nothing listed above that any Main Street business couldn’t also do if they wanted to (although being as cool as Steve McQueen might be tough for the local flower shop). Book stores serving coffee and danish, hardware stores that provide stools at the counter, and clothing stores that offer comfy couches or overstuffed chairs so I can chill while my wife looks for the perfect dress are all doing these same things. Building customer loyalty doesn’t really need to be a huge and complicated marketing initiative to be successful, but it does require a thoughtful approach to how  you interact with your customers before and after the sale.

What are you doing to encourage customer loyalty?

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About the Author

  • Ty Kiisel

Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon. Ty writes about small business financing and other best practices for Lendio, in addition to sharing his passion for small business every week on Forbes.com. He's also the author of the book, Getting a Business Loan: Financing Your Main Street Business.

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Comments

  1. Great post, Ty. I think your experience with Harley-Davidson, and that of so many others loyalty to the H-D brand, gets to the very heart of loyalty generation because of the emotional dynamic of the customer experience.

    Your decision to become loyal to H-D is an emotional one – your experience and association with the brand and everything that H-D does with it causes you FEEL great.

    Of course, there is more to loyalty than just the emotional component. It is also a function of how easy H-D is to do business with, and of course H-D has to come through on the product and service side. But the emotional element is critical – your post is evidence of just how powerful the emotional element can be.

    • Scott, you’re right, you won’t build any trust or loyalty if your product or service isn’t up to par. And, the emotional dynamic of the customer experience is a big part of building customer loyalty. Thanks for reading and contributing to the conversation Scott.

  2. Man, if this post doesn’t make you want to ride a Harley, I don’t know what else can!