Building a Sustainable Brand through Customers

“A sustainable brand is one that has a meaning or purpose that goes beyond making money, instead seeking to increase the wellbeing of humanity and all life on our planet. It sees people as creativists, not consumers. And it understands the lifecycle and environmental impact of all its activities, so that it can seek to continuously innovate and reduce its impact to a minimum”. – Olivia Sprinkel

A business could put its best efforts into communicating and promoting its brand, however, unless customers have positive experiences with it, building a sustainable brand would not be possible. For sustainability, a brand must be perceived as strong, credible, trustworthy, and one that addresses customer problems. Building a sustainable brand through customers means that your brand is able to establish a relationship with them and the stronger the association becomes, the stronger the company gets. Other stakeholders of the company such as employees, vendors, investors, and other such groups too feel empowered and are would me more inclined to associate / sustain their association with the company.

Building a sustainable brand is obviously not an overnight activity. It takes time to create a special and robust connection with customers, such that over time customers become active brand advocates. Through brand advocacy, customers take pride and responsibility of the brand, thereby empowering it. It is a known fact that people are more easily convinced when they hear / read positive comments about a brand from the existing customers. Brand advocacy through multiple customers provides a huge impetus to the company’s promotional activities and would be instrumental in building a sustainable brand.

Some companies could find so much control to customers, daunting, since they would ideally like to be in-charge of the messages that go out about the brand and company. However, with so many channels of communication – especially social media – do companies really believe that they can control the voice of customers. The fact is that whatever customers say about your brand – good and bad, would have a significant impact on the brand and the company’s profits. In building a sustainable brand, it would be prudent to allow happy customers to take charge of telling others about how great the company and brand is. The company should rather, use their experiences and feedback to improve product quality, strengthen the brand, and enhance customer service standards. This is turn would elevate customer satisfaction levels and would create a large number of brand advocates.

Building a sustainable brand would not be possible without the support of the customers. While promotions and advertising are important activities, people are less inclined to believe them and would much rather listen to an existing customer. The company’s brand messages would have limited impact – to capture the minds and ‘wallets’ of prospective customers, give charge to your existing customers to promote your brand. Happy stories and experiences would be a great way of building a sustainable brand. Of course, brands that want customers to continue as their ‘advocates’, must make every effort to reward their existing customers. Creating advocacy and loyalty programs show your dedicated customers that your company values their association and is grateful for their help with building a sustainable brand through word of mouth.

A customer loyalty program usually rewards customers monetarily. By offering discounts, free stuff, coupons, and other such rewards that have some monetary value attached to them, companies believe they can permanently ‘buy’ the loyalty of their customers. This is not true or sustainable. If customers do not perceive top quality service, products, and commitment from the company to make their lives easier, no amount of freebies would matter after a while. Customer loyalty and advocacy comes from first giving them what they want and then growing their ‘love’ for your brand through other means. This encompasses building a sustainable brand and your company would always have some customers willing to spread consistently the positive word of mouth, without any monetary or other expectation. It may not be easy to do but when it does happen, a company would reap rich rewards and benefits.

The idea of building a sustainable brand must be the starting point of every customer relationship. A company must think creatively about how it would want to engage with its existing and prospective customers – based on their needs and expectations. It is vital for a company to tap into the basic desires and needs of their customers and use the channels of communication and the large variety of engagement tools to create and sustain brand advocates. Companies can share value added content, acknowledge the achievements of their customers, thank them publicly through social media sites – recognize and appreciate their customers at every opportunity they get. Customers love brands and companies that make them feel valued and important on a sustained basis. Brands that can do that successfully would then become the obvious choice, with customers inviting their friends, family, and associates also, to be part of their experiences. As word spreads and more people become interested in the brand, building a sustainable brand would not seem so hard.

To further engagement and sustain interest in the brand, many companies create contests and related fun activities for their customers and ‘fans’. They encourage their customers to ‘share’ their scores and top results with others via social media pages, which actually also spreads news and information about the company and its brand. Customers feel glorified with their achievements being broadcast and enthusiastically wait for the next contest. By getting customers involved in such activities a company is drawing them closer, cultivating loyalty, showing them that their achievements matter to the company – all stepping stones towards building a sustainable brand.

We have discussed several times in the past that customers are reservoirs of information, ideas, and insights. It depends on the company how they draw out all this great matter from customers – actively soliciting customer feedback could help a company gain access. It is important and critical to a company’s success to know, on an on-going basis, what customers think, how their expectations may have changed, what the company could do better, and other such information. In addition, by asking for customer feedback, a company would let customers know that they are extremely valuable to the company and what they say matters. By putting customers in the driver’s seat, a company would make some serious advancement in the loyalty area and be well on its way to building a sustainable brand.

There are, of course, several methods and tools to ensure that customers remain loyal and become willing brand ambassadors. It is the onus of the company to see what would work best for their brand and their customer base. Commitment and discipline, though, are indispensable to ensure the success of your advocacy programs and endeavour of building a sustainable brand. Planning is essential – it starts with making a thorough analysis of the current and potential customer bases, with a view to understanding their needs and expectations. ‘Armed’ with this knowledge, a company can segment the customer base ranging from the most interested and likely customers to become brand ambassadors to the least profitable. By focusing on the best customers, a company can build strong relationships with them by addressing their concerns and giving them privileged member status. The more engaged and interested this smaller group of customers would get, the more likely they would be to advocate, enthusiastically, your brand. Building a sustainable brand is about long-term commitment from everyone associated with the company. It is a journey requiring relentless passion and enthusiasm – does your brand have these qualities?

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