Growth Insights for CEOs

Creating An “Authentic” Customer Relationship (Part 1): Three Macrotrends To Understand Right Now

Posted by The Chief Outsider


There’s a “Holy Grail” that the best marketers rarely mention out loud, but represents the ultimate victory in the loyalty game – keeping a customer or guest until they pass on to the great beyond.

In reality, having a “customer for life” has become a concept that few can truly visualize anymore. The effect of protracted worldwide recessions, the arrival of finicky Baby Boomers and restless millennials on the scene, and the effectiveness of technology in leveling the marketplace, have threatened the existence of the concept – for those who are unwilling to make significant changes to match the cadence of today’s consumer.

Understanding the three most pervasive macrotrends in consumerism today may not, on their own, recapture this magic – but having some perspective about how they are shaping consumer decision-making and loyalty can get you on the road to providing the kind of exceptional experience that will secure your market share.

1. Honesty and Transparency: Today’s consumer is simply looking for us to tell it to them straight. The days of whitewashing any communications intended for consumption by the consumer are over. Problems – if not addressed right way – will become the subject of hateful posts on Yelp! or TripAdvisor. Leaky showers, mold, a bug problem – or even dated décor -- are just a smartphone-tap away from appearing on photo sites like Oyster.

Where some see this consumer-driven reportage as a detriment, savvy brands can leverage the consumer’s desire to share by creating an honest and transparent relationship with them – perhaps even deputizing them as brand ambassadors in a bid to use their powers for good, not evil.  This is a fact of today - an honest relationship with your guest will lead to a healthy and loyal relationship.

Sites like TripAdvisor take the extra step of proactively sharing – and requesting corrective action on – negative feedback directly with hospitality companies. This kind of third-party intervention is leading the charge in requiring the kind of openness that resonates with today’s guest.  

2. Brand Loyalty/Speed of Innovation: — Staying ahead of the curve is EVERYTHING. And today’s consumer will only trade his or her loyalty to a brand if they can count on that brand to be constantly innovating. For example, as the owner of a smartphone, I have an expectation that if I download a bunch of apps onto my phone, that the companies behind those apps will constantly improve them – and push updates without me having to ask.

We live in a world where data moves in 140-character streams of copy, and consumers are constantly being distracted by today’s boast of whose product is the latest and greatest. This thirst for the next trend requires that we be equal to the task – a detail as small as providing the appropriate connection to charge a guest’s smart device can loom large as a symbol of how well you are addressing their expectations for currency.

In order to be able to continually innovate, you must also have a clear idea of what your brand stands for – otherwise, you risk innovating in the wrong direction. Innovation, for innovation’s sake, will lead to a loss of loyalty -- but innovating in a manner that’s consistent with what you stand for will build your base of loyal customers.

This means that your messaging must be clear about what you are doing to keep pace. Are you providing conveniences – like USB chargers and upgraded high-speed internet? Are you greeting your consumers by name and providing them with their favorite pillow and newspaper upon arrival? Are you offering expedited check-in for your frequent guests?

Lack of innovation will jeopardize your consumer’s brand loyalty. If you can’t or won’t take a future-forward approach to your business, they’ll simply find someone who will.

3. The Days of “Selling” Are Over: Today’s connected client is sick and tired of your “pretty-picture” advertising. In fact, a study by Elite Daily found that only 1 percent of millennials think advertising would make them trust a brand more – but 43 percent of that same census said that authentic content would foster such connectedness.

In a world where we Facebook, Tweet, Pin It and Snapchat – grassroots communications – word-of-mouth -- is the only thing that truly drives brands and purchases. Indeed, an Ogilvy/Google study cited word-of-mouth as the most powerful factor when it comes to consumers’ relationships with brands. There is nothing you can do about this, unless you proactively monitor, manage and understand these channels.

Your customer is going to Google you. They’ll go to Retail-Me-Not to make sure they’re getting the best price. They’ll write a social media post to their friends, asking if your hotel is “any good,” before they book. There are just so many ways for your customers to gather information. So you’d better be doing a great job to create positive experiences; cultivate positive word-of-mouth; and ensure that your consumer is evangelizing about you. But a message, coming directly from the brand? It simply doesn’t have the impact it once had.

Concerned? That’s understandable. But if you fail to understand these three macrotrends, or fail to leverage them to your advantage, you will soon fall behind the curve – which, in marketing today, can happen pretty darn fast. In Part Two of this blog, we’ll offer you eight steps that will jump-start your efforts to gain a toehold in building a lasting, authentic and contemporary relationship. 

Topics: Consumer Insights, Innovation, Customer Value Alignment