Today, customers are seeking a great experience above nearly anything else. If they need to buy products and services – which are inevitable – they want to do it in a way that’s personalized, convenient and easy. Customers have a sixth sense for sniffing out companies that are only out to pad their bottom lines and who view customers as merely a pocket to pick. What customers really want today is authenticity, and branding needs to follow this desire.
Authenticity is easy for small businesses that cater to local populations. Think of the corner grocery, the full-service gas station or the record store of decades past: what these businesses had was knowledge of their customers, the ability to cater to them personally and a true human presence. It’s harder for large organizations to create this personalization and authenticity in branding.
In a recent article for Forbes, brand consultant Fabian Geyrhalter noted that it was the financial crisis of 2008 that led, in part, to a desire among customers for authenticity and local goods and services. Uncertainty and unemployment gave rise to people becoming more frugal and crafting and cooking again, which has led to a greater preference for local eateries and locally made products.
“Many of these products were passionately created by people who had just one product and little to no business background,” wrote Geyrhalter.
“The best (and often only) way for them to market was by talking to their neighbors. At the same time, a new generation was becoming fed up by corporate America.”
Forward-thinking brands today are appointing community managers whose job it is to fit brands’ images in with local-themed social media. But there’s more to it than that. Brands should consider getting more deeply involved in the communities or cities in which they do business, engaging with city planners and community events. The goal is to contribute as much to a community as they are benefiting from it…something that customers will notice.
“If startups apply this desire to connect with their followers, share experiences, build upon them and use their shared values for the greater good, their brands will win big,” wrote Geyrhalter. “The next time you make a sale, think about what you can give in return (besides the product). If the customer isn't expecting anything additional, a small unexpected gesture will lead to them seeing you as a friend, and that's the basis of any relationship. When you repeat that step and that thinking, you create a community.”