Modern entrepreneurs face a conundrum: it’s easier than ever to connect with your customers through Facebook, Instagram, email, text, or dozens of other methods. These diverse customer conduits also mean saturation is a problem. You’re clearly not the only business owner with access to your audience, and any message you send will be a single drop in their ocean of daily content. Making your messages stand out is more crucial than ever. And the best way to make a message stand out is to make it personal. Of course, you can only personalize what you know. Otherwise, it’s like receiving a letter from your grandmother that refers to you as grandchild #5. Taking it personal Engaging with customers on a different level than the other messages they’re receiving requires understanding and engagement. And it’s imperative for your business. “Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day,” says Forbes.com. “At some point, we start a screening process for what we engage with and start ignoring brands and advertising messages, unless it’s something that we have a personal interest in. Of the brands that you have interacted with today, which ones did the best job of marketing to your needs or interests? Do they have a clear message? How did they connect with you?” The trick is to stand out from the clutter while staying true to your brand’s voice and personality. It’s hard for customers to engage with a moving target. And they won’t stick around for stunts. You should strive for what some experts refer to as “continuity of customer experience.” You can’t greet a stranger by name To create familiarity and trust with your customers, you’ve got to learn more about them than that they’re one of the 40,000 contacts on the latest email list you bought from a shady business you found online. Take it deeper by leveraging resources like Google Analytics, market research, surveys, and reviews to learn aspects of your customers: \tage \tgender \tlocation \toccupation \tincome \tinterests \tshopping habits \tpain points Once you’ve gathered these kinds of relevant data, you’ll be better equipped to connect with your customers. This stage is when brand intimacy, sparked by an emotional connection, helps you relay messages that matter. “We now know more about how the human brain processes information and triggers our behaviors than ever before,” reports Branding Strategy Insider. “For example, we know that the majority of the decisions we make are based on emotion and instinct, not rational thought and measured consideration. It’s been revealed that our decisions are the result of less deliberate, linear, and controlled processes than many of us realize.” A relationship with benefits According to the researchers behind Brand Intimacy: A New Paradigm in Marketing, the ways people form relationships with brands aren’t much different from how they form them with humans. Thus, not every customer who has a relationship with a brand is intimate with it. However, every customer who is intimate with a brand definitely feels a strong emotional connection. Notable brands that have established this level of emotional connection with customers include BMW, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Target, Netflix, and Google. If you’re not currently in an intimate relationship with any of those brands, take a moment to think about what brands you feel close to. What was it about that brand that made you want to connect on a deeper level? What have the benefits of your relationship been? “In terms of revenue, intimate brands exceeded the Top 10 companies listed on both the Standard & Poor’s 500 and Fortune 500 lists,” reports Delianet.com. “The Top 10 companies from the Brand Intimacy Ranking had a whopping average growth rate of 10.3%. Meanwhile, Standards & Poor companies were growing at 5.7% and Fortune 500 companies at a low 3.2%. Intimate brands also established an upper hand in pricing as well: 33% of people are willing to pay 20% more for an intimate brand, whereas only 6% of people were willing to pay that same 20% increase for non-intimate brands. Intimate brands have been proven to excel over time, have stronger growth revenue, and command price premiums.” Whom do you trust? Since relationships with brands are akin to relationships with humans, it’s worth looking at various ways they’re initiated. For example, what would you do if you were single and were contacted out of the blue by an individual who said they wanted to pursue a relationship with you? You’d immediately block that person’s number. It’s highly unlikely you’d ever meet up to learn more about them and ask how they acquired your personal contact information. Now, imagine an acquaintance from work tried to set you up on a date with someone. Because your relationship with this coworker is surface-level, you probably wouldn’t trust them to match you with someone who complements your unique strengths and would appreciate your quirks. Because random set-ups like this rarely go anywhere, you’d probably decline from the beginning. Finally, think about what you’d do if a trusted friend told you they had someone special you should meet. This friend knows enough about you to understand what you’re looking for — and they know what kind of person you’d appeal to. Due to your emotional connection with your friend, you might give the green light to meeting up with the person they’re recommending. Unsurprisingly, it often works this way with brands. If a business sends you an unsolicited and irrelevant email, you’ll most likely delete it. If the guy sitting next to you on the subway says you’ve just gotta try the new TurboTax software, you’re probably not going to rush home to download it. But if your friend recommends a brand, you’ll probably listen. “Marketers worldwide would be surprised to learn that 70% of customers trust recommendations from friends but only 10% trust advertising content,” says Delianet.com “What can companies do to obtain and maintain customer attraction? Most decisions are emotion driven, therefore emotive brands that seek to establish profound customer relationships tend to thrive. In addition to nostalgia, fulfillment and enhancement, authenticity is also a stimulant for brand intimacy.” Just as you consider your closest friends’ recommendation to be authentic, you look for that same authenticity from a brand. That driver has become more important than ever in the crowded market of today’s advertising world. Many in-house attorneys spend their days tracking down unscrupulous competitors who copied the content directly from their website and pasted it on their own. That’s how regurgitated and cloned most brand messaging is. The one and only Once you’ve connected with a customer and have a basic understanding of who they are, and your interest seems to be reciprocated, it’s time to set the standard for all your future interactions. You should ask yourself the following questions: \tHow will I connect with this customer? \tHow do I want them to feel when I connect with them? In its purest form, the answer to these questions can be written at the top of a Post-it Note. A prime example of this is Zappos, the footwear giant with more than $1 billion in annual sales. Their simple mantra is "Deliver wow through service." “WOW is such a short and simple word, but it encompasses a lot of things,” says an article touting this core value on the company blog. “To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means do something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. Zappos is not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t intend for our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.” Regardless of what you want to convey to your customers, take the Zappos approach and focus most on what they’ll take away from the interaction. After all, your intentions are practically obsolete. What matters is the result. With this in mind, the following ideas may be helpful in your efforts to establish brand intimacy with your customers. Add something to your customer service: You don’t need to copy the Zappos mantra, but you can learn from it. Customer service is one of the key touchpoints for brand intimacy. Treat them with kindness and empathy, and they’ll come back in droves. On the flip side, research shows that a single bad experience will cause the majority of Americans to ditch a planned purchase. Worse yet, it’ll cause 33% of customers to think about leaving the company for good. To meet your customers’ needs, connect with them wherever they are. These methods include phone calls, emails, social channels, review sites, and forums. Listen first, then do whatever you can to resolve any issues as quickly and fairly as possible. Harness the power of reviews: Don’t simply view your company reviews as potential fires to put out. They can also be leveraged for positive impact. The average consumer checks out 7 reviews before trusting a business, so your objective should be helping to put a handful of positive reviews in front of them. Use feedback software to collect kind words and great examples of what your company provides to customers. Most customer feedback services use a brief survey to collect the gems and also bring bad experiences to your attention so you can reach out with an apology and a solution. Negative reviews are valuable, as they expose weaknesses and breakdowns in your operations. Rather than get defensive, view them as an important way to candidly see your brand through the customer's’ eyes. Reward your customers’ loyalty: Take a moment to think about what you’re doing for your loyal customers. They have plenty of options, and if they’re taking the initiative to return to you, that’s worthy of a little celebration. Perhaps you can offer an exclusive promotion to them. Utilizing your data, you can tailor the deal so it really hits home. Another option would be to send them a gift or resource, such as a product sample, white paper, or software tool. At the very least, keep your longtime customers in the loop. They should be the first to know about new products, expanded services, or upcoming promotions. Hold a contest: Everyone loves the opportunity to win a prize, particularly if that prize is customized to their preferences and interests. For this reason, many businesses allow their customers to select their favorite prize from multiple options when they fill out the entry form. Don’t try to be a wizard and predict one prize that’ll somehow appeal to everyone. Let them tell you what gets them excited. To get the maximum mileage from your contest and to reach as many potential customers as possible, you can even partner with one or more non-competing businesses. This joint effort allows you to show that although you have a unique voice and brand differentiators, you’re not an island. You have connections and are trusted by other brands. Strengthen the homefront: Your customers are a top priority, but so are the employees in your company. By ensuring you’re taking care of your people, you’ll be setting them up for success to take care of your customers. In the end, it doesn’t matter what mottoes you have written on your walls. What matters is how your people are treating your customers. There’s no time like the present It’s important to remember that your customers are the reason you got into business in the first place. Whether you had a product idea you couldn’t wait to share with the world or a service you knew would make a difference, your business’s offerings are essentially conduits to the lives of your customers. Take 15 minutes today to set goals for how your business can improve its interactions with customers. The burdens of running a business are legitimately immense, but they should never be allowed to obscure the purpose of running a business.