That Relationship Thing
I once took a trip with a friend to the Oregon coast. As we drove past the dairy farming community of Tillamook, a large sign beckoned: TILLAMOOK CHEESE FACTORY. TAKE OUR TOUR! Unable to resist this cheesy come-on, we spent the next two hours watching people make cheese, learning about the history and culture of the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and stuffing ourselves with free samples of cheese and ice cream. It was a surprisingly memorable experience.
That trip to Oregon was in 2004. So, which brand of cheese do you think I prefer today? Of course. When I buy cheese I head directly to the Tillamook section of the dairy case. I don’t look at the other brands. I don’t price other brands. I’m not even sure what other brands there are. I only have eyes for Tillamook. It’s a little weird.
Why this peculiar loyalty to Tillamook Cheese? Does it taste better than, say, Kraft’s? Probably not. Is it cheaper? I don’t know. Is it healthier, packaged better or have some other characteristic that has value to me? Nope. I buy Tillamook Cheese because seven years ago they established an emotional connection with me. I met actual people making actual cheese. I watched a video of their creation story. I understood their creed. I consumed their product. In short, Tillamook Cheese made an investment in a relationship with me that will pay off until I either die or stop eating cheese. Pretty good ROI on a two hour tour.
So, how much are you investing in your customer relationships? You may not have a factory in which to offer tours, but you do have some framework from which you can create solid customer relationships. Whatever your product or service or the channel through which it is delivered, you have an opportunity at every touch point to create a customer experience that is unique to you. It is the essence of branding. Here are some tips:
- Be genuine. Customers will sense if you’re not being real, so don’t be afraid to be who you are. If who you are doesn’t appeal to an individual, they’re not your customer.
- Easy on the hyperbole. It’s okay to blow your own horn, but an overblown horn creates skepticism and mistrust, the banes of any good relationship.
- Be customer-centric. Don’t forget that it’s not about you. Build your customers’ experience around their point of view and what they want from that experience. To do that you have to . . .
- Know your customer. The best way to do this is by listening. What are they telling you about their experience with you? And what kind of process do you have in place to ask them the right questions?
- Let them know who you are. You have a creation story that is unique to you. You have a creed that defines your promise to the market. You have a business culture that no other business has. Beyond the assumed differentiators of your product or service, these brand assets can be powerful tools in creating an emotional connection with your customers.
- Be consistent. If your advertising promises one thing and your customers experience something different, you have a problem. Be consistent in your messaging and be sure the experience you deliver matches your promise.
- Leverage technology. A good Customer Relationship Management System can be invaluable in strengthening your customer connections. Your website and social media like Facebook and Twitter can provide a powerful platform for ongoing communication. Use them wisely.
- But don’t rely exclusively on technology. Tillamook Cheese has over 130,000 Facebook Fans. But the more meaningful number is the one million tours they give of their factory each year. Social media can extend and augment your customer relationships, but your strongest relationships begin with personal interaction.
- Train your staff. To provide the experience you promise, you must train your staff to fully understand and embrace that experience, and empower them to deliver it every time.
So, I called my friend the other day and asked her what cheese she buys.
“Tillamook,” she said. “Duh.”
Whatever business you’re in, you too can succeed in marketing when you remember that it’s a relationship thing.