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Marketing ROI

Building Customer Loyalty: How and Why to Value Brand Loyalists

10 Minute Read

There’s a very painful moment that happens for many social media managers working to grow their brand’s audience. It usually happens within the first few weeks of settling on a site-tracking scheme that will allow your team to evaluate what your social audience actually does after clicking through to your page.

And often, the answer is “not much.”

For all the work you’ve done towards building customer loyalty, there suddenly seems to be a chasm between the likes and shares on one hand, and the behavior that ends with a conversion for your brand on the other.

“They weren’t in the right mindset to buy; they’ll come back,” we tell ourselves. “Content is just as good as a conversion later,” we say in thinly veiled desperation. And to an extent, it’s all true.

But perhaps marketers think about loyalty in too superficial a way. It’s always good to see activity, interaction, one metric or another grow a bit higher each day. It’s an entirely better thing to have an audience segment you know you can count on in nearly any circumstance.

Defining Loyalty

Children learn about loyalty from a young age through object lessons and vague truisms. It’s sticking by something or someone regardless of difficulty. It’s noble in its intentions. It’s a sign of character, and an uncommon one at that.

At the core of these ideas, however, is a key assumption that is vital for marketers. Loyalty is reciprocal—we don’t let down people or things that, in turn, don’t let us down. Beyond even this, loyalty is also often equitable. The more we gain by being loyal to something or someone, the more we’re willing to give back.

The equity of this relationship is why I think content marketing is such a perfect fit for building customer loyalty. If you want an audience to value your brand enough to stay with it and pour value into it, then you’re going to need to provide something of equal value to your customer in return. Constant advertising, pitches, promotion—these tactics don’t generate value for your customer; they exploit impulse. But useful, specific, and unique content that meets your consumer where they are allows your brand to trade the value of your expertise and creativity for your customers’ time, good will, and hopefully money.

To distill these ideas down, here is a litmus test for identifying truly loyal audiences. Loyalists:

  • Will pass through the bottom of your funnel more than once.
  • Will seek out opportunities to interact with your brand beyond purchase.
  • Will return to or prefer your brand to competition when researching or seeking to fulfill a need.

It’s good to have people that will like and share your posts, certainly. It’s good to have customers buy a product from your brand and leave a good review, absolutely. But when it comes time to project the long-term value of your marketing or to target your most effective audiences, true loyalists will typically return the best ROI for your efforts and provide you with a reliable foundation for building a marketing strategy.

Friends at a music festival hug each other

Image attribution: Dimitar Belchev

Encouraging Loyalty

Alright, so our brand wants loyal customers. Great . . . how do we go about finding them?

We’re going to need two ingredients to effectively drive loyalists to our content and brand: We’ll need something of value to exchange (our content) and we’ll need mechanisms that allow loyalists to identify themselves.

For most content marketing efforts, this is a pretty basic one-two punch. Who of us doesn’t support a branded blog that offers participants a way to sign up for a newsletter or to request more information? What marketer hasn’t happily exported and counted the number of weekly leads they’ve generated from a gated white paper? But leads are just that—leads. We don’t know if these people are simply interested or if they’re ravenous about our brand. All loyalists will be interested in your brand, but not every interested person is going to be a loyalist.

At this early stage in the funnel, encouraging loyalty happens best when you provide your audience easy and accessible ways to interact beyond just completing a CTA.

Customer service systems are a great example of interaction that extends throughout the full life cycle of your customers. A MarketingProfs study from this year found that, when asked what would make them loyal to a brand, most consumers responded that a convenient and helpful customer interaction experience was the decisive factor. Expanding on this idea, content that’s intended to solve audience issues rather than push a sell is what your loyalists are looking for. Further, there are a load of mediums outside of a customer service call where marketers can help create the same experience. Responses to reviews, comment sections on content pieces, or rapid answers to questions or comments on social media all suggest a level of reliability that is crucial for first interactions with soon-to-be loyal customers.

But beyond the moments of acquisition, after your customer has passed through your funnel once and made a purchase, the real work for marketers begins. It may be cheaper and more effective to retain customers rather than acquire someone new, but it doesn’t mean the work is easier. Your brand will need to continue to develop content and experiences that are valuable for customers in between purchases if they’re ever going to pass through your funnel a second time.

Try to find creative ways to reward your audience for interacting with your brand. In the B2B space, one of the most impressive examples is Salesforce’s massive Trailblazer community. From interactive training content that rewards users with badges and certifications to a community forum that’s gamified to include points and bronze through gold medals, Salesforce makes it rewarding for customers who don’t know something to seek help.

On the B2C side, we see brands like Patagonia that engage with the political concerns of their audience in a way that aligns with their interests while promoting the brand’s values. Patagonia’s recent legal actions to preserve national monuments were a bold move, but one that reinforced a feeling of connection and common values between the brand and its customers. But even beyond the subject matter of their move, Patagonia also capitalized on the tight-knit relationship that PR and content marketing have formed over the past few years in pursuit of convincing new audiences and reassuring long-standing customers.

It takes extra effort, but retention marketing efforts—particularly those that rely on content—tend to be compounding endeavors that will continue to grow more efficient over time for your brand. The larger your loyal audience base grows, the more of a community you have at your disposal to engage with, which only makes it easier to invite newcomers to a fold where they feel welcome.

Measuring Loyalty

So let’s imagine you’ve done all the work. You see why loyalty is important; you’ve built out acquisition systems that let your loyalists raise their hands early; you’ve created content and reward systems that make it enjoyable for a customer to stick with your brand well after purchase; you’re certain you’re driving a more loyal audience. How do you measure it, and why is it valuable?

Tracking loyal customers can be tricky. If your brand doesn’t have some kind of login or account system in place, you’ll have to navigate the construction of a multitouch tracking system that can keep track of individuals as they interact with your brand in myriad ways. Even then, once you have the data in hand, knowing what to look for becomes a whole new challenge of its own.

So let’s simplify it. Loyalty, at the very end of the day, comes down to one metric: Lifetime Customer Value (LCV).

LCV is a common metric for marketers to know, but one that we often have a hard time calculating. Knowing how much cost went into each individual conversion, or knowing how many times a person is likely to convert over time requires immense analytical capacity and a fair bit of prediction. But simply put, loyal customers mean more for your brand because over time, they are more likely to purchase from you multiple times, while also requiring less marketing expenditure with each subsequent purchase.

Content marketing can play a huge role in these projections, however, because they create bite-size segments for your brand to analyze. For instance, consider a brand that has only one retention effort, in this case a newsletter for customers who’ve purchased in the past. The brand will be able to keep tabs on what percentage of those newsletter recipients eventually make another purchase, and now they have a simple probability to base a projection on. But this is a projection without any redundancy—if that one probability changes over time or doesn’t prove to be true over a long time span, the entire brand’s projection goes sideways.

Image of a cellphone with analytics on the screen

Image attribution: Shotstash.com

Now consider a different brand with a very active content team. They have a newsletter for customers, sure. But they also have a forum page and an invite-only social group. They run events and campaigns for purchasers, hold seminars and post white papers, they ask for reviews and respond to feedback positive or negative.

Now when the brand makes projections of LCV, they have way more points of redundancy to work with: Each effort will have its own probability that customers will convert again, and furthermore, the brand can now analyze if chances improve when customers engage in multiple retention efforts. With more touch points for tracking individuals and more points of redundancy in their calculation, the brand can be more certain of their long-term projections based on retaining audiences.

As for your marketing team, your efforts towards retaining customers now have a built-in ROI calculation you can run annually. Each community, every content effort, every campaign you’ve run now translates to a simple equation for probable LCV that can improve as you nurture more of your audience through those channels. It’s a circle of tracking and reporting that helps the brand succeed while making your content team look good. Everybody wins.

Beyond LCV projection, there are other metrics that your team can keep an eye on to see if you’re improving your standing with loyalists. For instance, how many return purchasers do you see within the first week of a new product launch (and what content were they interacting with just ahead of launch)? What percentage of new leads indicate they became interested in your product because of a recommendation from a friend? Perhaps most importantly, are your average costs for return purchaser acquisition rising or falling from year to year?

Ultimately, driving and valuing a loyal audience has to tie back to ROI for your brand, but often this ROI and an authentic brand experience go hand-in-hand. This is why I think it’s the perfect practice for content marketers to pursue. While engaging your audience in a meaningful way that meets them where they are, your team can generate a fiscal foundation for your brand that ties numbers and growth to your experiences and stories. It takes effort, it takes a lot of tech, but most importantly it requires a keen focus on your audience at an individual level. And who better to see our customers for who they are than content marketers?

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Featured image attribution: Jared Sluyter

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Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?

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