No one ever became your friend because you simply said, “be my friend.” No one ever became your friend because you laid out a presentation stating all of the benefits of friendship and the value that you bring to each one. No one ever became your friend because you begged and pleaded for them to like you.
Friendships are built through time and the recognition of shared values, camaraderie, trustworthiness and the potential of positive growth. They are not demanded. They are not solely benefit driven. They are, and have to be, enjoyable on many different levels to work.
But why are friendships important to us as humans?
Because with friendship there becomes a shared sense of belonging—a sharing of experiences, encouragement, support, celebration of achievement and responsibility to one another’s well-being. Also, with friendship, there is a large component around grace and forgiveness that help make the relationship stronger in tougher moments. And probably most importantly, the time spent with a friend is fun and exciting and emotionally supportive and beneficial.
Now, replace the word “friend” with “customer.”
There are those that believe the relationship between a product or service provider and their customer is solely transactional and totally driven by benefits. The simple idea that, “I have something that you want or need, and this is what you need to do to obtain it.” And to an end, there is a strong financial benefit to this type of approach. If you throw out 1 million coupons and get a 3% return on those who use them, that’s thirty-thousand people. Not too shabby. But that was for a single transaction based solely on a benefit driven offer.
What type of relationship have you built with your customer?
Do they know your rich history of building products with quality? For families? For specific industries? For dogs with sensitive skin? Do they know that you use only certain sustainable materials to build your product and why? Have you told them that the only reason your company exists, outside of making money, is to fulfill your founder’s dying wish of, well, whatever? Do they like you enough to forgive you after you do something to offend their children or when they find out your product stains their carpet on Thursdays?
In reality, your brand has so much more to offer than just selling a product or service at a certain price. When you build a relationship with your customer, both of you begin to operate on certain understandings found between friends. You begin finding common goals in making life better, situations better, more successful. You offer each other grace—they forgive you when you mess up, and you forgive them when they use a different product and then work hard to get them to come back. You each feel a responsibility to each other—you’re responsible to provide a product or service that works for their needs and they feel responsibility to keep using your offering because it has served them so well. You want to entertain them in the moments that you interact, and they want to evangelize you to their friends. And no, corporate brands won’t replace actual, human friends (or they shouldn’t, because that would be creepy). But the fact that customers and brands have emotional allegiances to each other is a fact.
At ELL, we place a high value on how we help brands find customers and then connect and relate to them on a human level. And although the end run is always to achieve a transaction (after all, this is business), the formation of a strong, honest relationship and line of communication will ensure a better future for your brand—more transactions, better product development, free promotion through brand evangelists and so on.
In actuality, today’s consumers expect their brands to build more than just worthwhile products or deliver quality services. They expect their brands, even outside of their deliverables, to help build better communities, protect the future wellbeing of the ones we love, operate safely and with care for others, be entertaining, be educational, be inquisitive, do the right thing even when the wrong thing may make more money and the list goes on. Essentially, brands need to operate as good citizens to the world—good friends to their customers.
And all the while, be interesting while you do it. Nobody wants to hang out with a smart but boring do-gooder that isn’t fun to be around. Make them want to listen to you and be around your brand. Make your identity so worthwhile and engaging that, by association, they use it to help identify themselves. For the love of God, people put stickers of coolers and truck stops and computers on the back of their cars. It’s a thing.
Teach your customers. Learn from them. Make them laugh, think, cry or just get them excited about something. Business is more about relationships than it is numbers.
Build a good relationship and the numbers will come.
That’s our philosophy (and we promise you it sounds so much better over a beer).