Customer loyalty. It's the Holy Grail of business, and there's all kinds of advice on how to build it. But despite our best efforts, few companies can claim to have a truly loyal customer base. I'm not talking about customers who have a preference for a specific brand or who tell their friends about good product or service experiences, I'm talking about customers who would travel hundreds of miles to engage with a brand or camp out overnight for that company's next new release.
That's the kind of loyalty typically reserved for Apple.
By now we're all used to seeing lines of people for the newest iPhone or iPad.
Apple does make great products, they also spend millions of dollars to create and promote the “Apple mystique” in their advertising, their stores and in social media.
What about smaller organizations?
What can a small business do to build a loyal customer base without spending millions of dollars?
I took my lessons not from Apple, but from a small independent band in Cincinnati called Over the Rhine.
Over the Rhine (OTR for short) is, at its core, Linford Detweiler (piano/guitar) and his wife Karin Bergquist (vocals/guitar/piano). They've been recording together for more than 20 years, and have released more than 15 albums. You won't see them on the MTV Video Music Awards or headlining Madison Square Garden (although you may have heard some of their songs on various TV shows), but if you go to one of their shows you will see the kind of loyalty that most organizations can only hope for (I know, I've been to 6 of them). Take a look at their Facebook page and you'll see all kinds of posts from people about what their music means to them and how happy they are to have a chance to see them perform (and the lengths some of have gone to in order to do so).
So how do they do it, and what lessons can you learn from Over the Rhine?
- Know your audience – Over the Rhine has a great understanding of their audience and continue to give them more of what they want. They gain that understanding by talking with them - at shows, on the road and in social media.
- Consistently deliver a great product – For more than 20 years Over the Rhine has produced music featuring Karen's amazing voice, great melodies and poignant and playful lyrics. Their fans eagerly await their newest albums because they know they will not be disappointed, and they know that when they go to a show the things they love about the band will not be left behind in the studio but will be enhanced in the live environment.
- Continue to evolve – Over its long career, the band has infused its music with everything from a tribute to their home state of Ohio (the name Over the Rhine comes from a section of Cincinnati), the ups and downs of their relationship, Christmas-inspired songs and old standards. They continue to mature as a band, and their songs remain fresh as they add new spins on their music, both on their records and in their live shows.
- Stay true to yourself – Over the Rhine has gone through many iterations, and worked with many other artists and producers. However, whether recorded in their home studio or at studios in LA and Nashville, they've maintained their signature sound and storytelling style. They don't pander to their fans or the latest trends. Instead, they take in new sounds and make them their own within the context of their own musical style.
- Create real connections – OTR creates genuine connections with their fans; at their shows, through their records and online by focusing on quality content that strengthens their relationships with their fans. Their Twitter followers (about 5,600 as I write this now) and Facebook likes (about 26,000) are small by megastar standards, but the connections they make are strong. Whether it's a look at their newly adopted Great Dane, updates on their next record, or their letters to fans from their Ohio farm, fans can expect a peek into their world normally reserved only for trusted friends. And that's what their fans become – trusted friends who are anxious to buy their next CD, see their next show, fund their next record or share their music with others (for example, I can think of at least 6 people who are now OTR fans because of me sharing their music and/or taking them to shows).
So the next time you think about customer loyalty in the context of your own business, think of Over the Rhine and ask yourself these questions. It may also help to plug in your headphones and listen to some OTR.
What do you think? Have you learned any business lessons from unlikely sources such as musicians, artists, athletes, teachers, or others?