One of my best buddies is a fellow named BJ Bueno. He is one of the best marketers, thinkers and strategists I have ever met.
BJ is all about creating cult brands and how small businesses like ours can, in fact, do it without spending zillions of dollars. He write a blog called Cult Marketing & Branding Insights. What BJ preaches is basic human nature. People like to feel welcomed, like to have different needs fulfilled, like to feel good about the places they spend money in, and will tell others about their experiences.
Most of my best ideas and the way I run my businesses all have a bit of BJ thinking in them. He trained me to ask the question, “What will my customers think?” before I do anything. The goal according to BJ is to build a business of fanatical followers like Apple or Harley-Davidson. Can you imagine customers tattooing your logo on themselves?
So the question is how do we build such a fanatical customer base? It’s not easy but it is very doable. In no particular order here are just some of the things we need to do. I say need because competition is going to get fiercer and tougher for folks like us.
You have to know who your customers are. You simply cannot build a relationship with someone you can’t communicate with. At the last Central show I ran into a retailer who has been pummeled with new competitors in the past year. I think every major chain has moved close to her. This person runs such a good store and is so on top of her game that even though the store is down, it is not out. Sales are starting to inch back up. I asked the retailer if she is at least collecting emails of their customers. The answer was no: “My customers don’t want to give us their emails.”
Your customers absolutely want to hear from you when you are telling them about something that they are interested in. Do you think your customers don’t want an email telling them about a recall or a sale on the brand of food they use? You bet they do.
We just did a postcard with a $4 off coupon for one of the brands we sell. We went into our database, got a list of everybody who bought that brand in the past year and sent the postcard just to them. Typically, we would get at least 20 percent response rate. It has only been three weeks but we have not gotten very many coupons back. Something is screwy. We checked with the post office, the cards went out so this is a mystery. The rep and I were really scratching our heads trying to figure out what happened. Then it hit me: I can email the folks who were sent the snail mail postcard to ask them if they did indeed get the postcard. Then we figured why not resend the coupon in the email? The point is I couldn’t communicate with them if I didn’t have contact info.
Back to BJ. If you know your customers are mostly women, is your store “woman friendly?” Are your shelves, floors, window and sidewalks clean? Are your heavier products easily reachable for the average height of a woman? I suggest reading, “Why She Buys” by Bridget Brennan. As I think about it, a large amount of stores that I visit all over the country are run by women. That probably explains why they are successful; they know how to cater to themselves. You cannot create a cult following if you don’t cater to your followers!
The next thing is you need to bond emotionally with your customers. The one advantage we indies have is the big chains can’t do that. They run great ads saying they do it but they can’t. It is up to you to make your customers fall in love with and spend their hard-earned money in your store.
To me – and BJ agrees – nothing can be built without trust. The easiest way to build trust is make sure you and your crew practice the adage of “when there is a problem, there is no problem.” Fix it immediately and empower your crew to fix problems on the spot.