Are you generating a steady influx of visitors, but still struggling to convert them to paying customers? The problem may be that your marketing campaigns, your product or the offer you’re making.
It could be that you aren’t building audience loyalty.
When it comes to making sales and growing your business, you’ll build your brand much more rapidly if you invest in creating a loyal audience base. But what is audience loyalty? Why do you need it, and how do you get it it? As it turns out, the best way to build audience loyalty might be to portray yourself as an expert and demonstrate a genuine interest in helping your prospects and customers.
Factors that Build a Loyal Audience
We all know that generating traffic to your website isn’t easy, but earning audience loyalty is considerably more difficult. To do so, you’ll first need to understand the factors that drive the loyalty needed to consistently grow your brand.
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One of the primary factors that affect loyalty is trust. According to a recent survey from Outbrain, two thirds of consumers state that trust is the most important factor that determines their loyalty to a brand.
The same survey found that 94% of people felt that trustworthiness was a key factor in determining whether they would visit a website, 87% felt that trust significantly influenced their satisfaction level with a site and 90% rated trust as the primary reason that they would recommend a brand.
What builds trust, though? It turns out, there are a couple of different factors that play a role. Your expertise, intentions and ability to present solutions in a coherent way are all critical to establishing the trust needed to earn audience loyalty. In the words of Guy Kawasaki: “Knowledge is great. Competence is great. But the combination of both encourages people to trust you and increases your powers of enchantment.”
As a result, you’ll need to pay close attention to your overall branding strategy and recognize the steps that you’ll need to take to start earning the kind of trust that will ultimately generate loyalty. All of the following steps can be helpful in this process:
- Develop an expertise in your chosen niche
- Consistently create remarkable content to showcase your knowledge
- Regularly engage with your customers
- Always consider whether or not the content you’re creating is providing value to your audience
If you’re consistent about helping your audience, they’ll reciprocate by becoming loyal, passionate followers. They’ll also become powerful brand advocates that will help you expand your horizons and reach new followers.
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Build Loyalty Through Expert Branding
Your expertise is the hub of your branding strategy. Demonstrating that you’re knowledgeable in your field is the cornerstone needed to build a loyal following, which is what makes all of the following steps so important:
1) Hone a Specialty
Image by Pete Proedhel
Kawasaki’s advice shared earlier makes total sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to implement. Becoming an expert in your field is important, but it’s virtually impossible to do so without specializing.
The challenge is developing sufficient knowledge to brand yourself as an expert in an age where information is growing exponentially. According to 2013 figures from Google, the search engine giant had, at that point, indexed over 30 trillion web pages.
And while many of those instances share similar content, most of them have at least some unique information on them – illustrating the vast amount of knowledge that’s literally seconds away for anyone with a keyboard. So rather than branding themselves as an expert in every facet of their field, successful business owners build reputations as experts in a subspecialty.
Look around you, and you’ll see that service providers are becoming much more specialized than ever before. A growing number of college students are gravitating towards very specific degrees, such as microelectronics engineering or computer and network security, rather than the traditional, broader options. As a brand, you must also develop a specialty if you want to stand out in a growing sea of competitors.
Your audience will yearn for your content if you’re the undisputed expert on your chosen specialty. The trick is finding a specialty that provides value to them and becoming the only source of information they can turn to. Here’s how to do that….
2) Develop Exceptional Content
Image by Mattias Ostmar
Content serves several key roles when it comes to online branding. It engages your audience, educates them and helps create exposure for your brand. People are far more likely to follow a brand that consistently pushes out exceptional content, as they come to see you as a valuable source and look forward to hearing everything that you have to say.
Evidence shows that content marketing is one of the most important ways to build brand loyalty. A recent study from Newscred found that 62% off millennials feel much stronger brand loyalty to a company that uses exceptional content than to brands that aren’t active with content campaigns.
Image by Dice.com
“Millennials today value quality over quantity when it comes to content marketing,” said Newscred CEO, Shafqat Islam. “Millennials don’t want to have to work to find the value in a sea of sales messages. Brands can earn millennials’ trust, loyalty, and share of wallet with the right content – but they need to invest in being a helpful partner that respects the characteristics, interests, and qualities that make each millennial unique.”
Of course, millennials aren’t the only demographic that’s moved by great content. The AARP has been effectively using content marketing to connect with the baby boomer generation as many members of that demographic reach retirement age every day. In fact, one of their most successful strategies has been creating engaging posts about famous baby boomers that are joining the ranks of the AARP.
Every brand should develop a content marketing strategy that uses great content to build audience engagement and loyalty. But to do so, you must first identify the content that your target customers are seeking and then figure out ways to consistently deliver it to them.
What does it take to create content that earns audience loyalty? There are a number of factors that you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Make sure that you thoroughly understand any problems your target audience is facing. Develop good buyer personas if you aren’t confident you know what your audience cares about.
- Come up with insightful solutions to help audience members address the challenges you’ve identified.
- Present your ideas in an informative, engaging and thought-provoking way.
- Repurpose your content in different formats. For example, turn one blog post into a video, infographic or podcast episode.
- Syndicate content on other platforms to create more exposure. It sounds counter-intuitive, but readers often feel a stronger sense of loyalty if they see your content on a variety of sources.
As the digital world becomes more competitive, content marketing is becoming both much more valuable and much more difficult. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 83% of brands are using a content marketing strategy to grow their brand and build audience loyalty.
But with so many voices competing for the same sets of ears, you’ll need to step up your game to compete. Rather than pushing out larger volumes of content, consider creating fewer pieces of much more detailed content. Your audience will feel more engaged and better informed if you share thoroughly researched content, which will lead them to them becoming more loyal and passionate about your brand.
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3) Conduct Due Diligence When Checking Sources
Creating coherent and authoritative content isn’t the only factor that needs to be taken into consideration. You also need to carefully verify all of your claims. Publishing erroneous information can undermine trust in your readers, which will ultimately cost brand loyalty as well.
Rolling Stone recently experienced a major loss in reader trust after one of its stories was thoroughly debunked. A report from Columbia University exposed a number of fact-finding errors, which caused serious issues for a number of people involved. Journalists from CNN and a number of other media outlets have outright stated that – as the result this single story – the publication shouldn’t be trusted.
While these insinuations may be overly harsh due to a single misstep, they illustrate the problems that brands can face if they don’t carefully check their sources. You’ll need a competent fact-checking team to authenticate anything that you intend to publish on your website or social media profiles.
Be Personal and Engaging
All of that said, being an expert in your niche is only half the equation. Connecting with your customers is just as important when it comes to building a truly loyal and dedicated audience.
1) Observe the Culture Before Diving In
Yes, you need to know the problems your audience is facing. But you also need to be an expert on your customers’ mindset if you want to position yourself to generate brand loyalty.
For that reason, it’s not a great idea to immediately begin engaging with potential followers if you aren’t entirely clear on what they’re thinking and feeling. Instead, observe your community members in other social media communities before participating with them yourself. Doing so will give you a much better understanding of their perspective, which will make it much easier to connect with them in the future.
2) Make Every Connection Personal
Forming personal connections is an imperative part of developing audience loyalty. When it comes down to it, people feel more committed to brands that speak to them on a personal level, rather than using automated messages.
Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing states that he always has someone on his team to offer personal replies to every email, which he states are critical to building engagement and loyalty among his customers.
Image by Gilbert Samuel
This isn’t to say that auto responders should never be used. In fact, they can be a great tool for automating certain types of communications. However, you’ll still want to make sure that every message you send out is personalized as much as possible.
For example, make sure that the recipient’s name is included in each message and carefully segment your lists to be sure the messages you send are as relevant to your reader’s particular needs as possible. Have the “sent from” line reflect one of your staff’s accounts, so that list members feel like they’re receiving customized emails and that they can easily reply if they have follow-up questions or feedback.
HubSpot has composed a list of seven companies that used personalized emails very well, including Overstock and Slingshot SEO. Take a look at the rest of the list to see what lessons you can apply to your own campaigns from these examples.
3) Encourage Followers to Discuss and Use Your Product Publicly
Since you can’t write an article on brand loyalty without mentioning Apple, consider that brand loyalty among Apple users is so strong, that Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg had to ask fanboys to be less militant with their loyalty. How did they gain such a strong base of loyal followers? There are a number of reasons, but one of the biggest is that Apple users helped the brand earn new followers by encouraging current users to enjoy the products around their friends.
Fanboys exclusively use Apple products, which helped create a loyal following among other users. When those who weren’t already Apple customers saw the products being used so consistently, they became curious and often adopted the products for themselves. Loyalty can grow quickly if you encourage customers to use your products in and around their communities.
If your customers express strong loyalty, encourage them to share the benefits of your product or service with their friends. Encourage them to use the product with pride, and you’ll gradually earn a larger base of loyal users as a result.
4) Focus on Content Engagement Over Exposure
For years, marketers prioritized the wrong metrics. They focused on boosting traffic to their site, but often did so at the expense of engagement. They often used keyword stuffed SEO headlines to increase their organic search traffic until Google changed its algorithms. Unfortunately, many people are still using clickbait headlines, which can certainly boost traffic – but, again, at the expense of visitor engagement and trust.
Tony Haile, the CEO of Chartbeat, conducted a meta-analysis to understand the relationship between social traffic and engagement. From it, he found that the two were not at all correlated with each other, meaning that social exposure is a very poor metric to use for brand engagement.
Other studies have found that there’s frequently an inverse correlation between clicks and visitor engagement, which usually occurs because brands lure readers to their sites with misleading, clickbait titles. Avoid stooping to these levels. Cheesy clickbait headlines will only alienate your real users, causing them to never return to your site.
Instead, make sure that your content is actually engaging to your users. Attract them with a promise of value and deliver on it 100% of the time. Create compelling content that addresses the unique needs of your target demographic, and you’ll ultimately be able to connect with them on a much deeper level.
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5) Focus on Email
Alexis Anderson, the VP of agency strategy at Buzzfeed, believes that exposure should be earned through email over social campaigns. “Don’t buy display; buy dedicated emails,” she told Contently.
This seems like an odd statement from the marketing strategist of a leading content platform that receives more traffic from Facebook than any other source. However, many other leading marketers agree with her. Social media definitely plays an important role in building audience loyalty, but it should never be emphasized at the expense of email marketing. Email should always be the crux of your offsite marketing efforts.
The biggest reason to focus on email marketing over social is that you have much more control over it. Social media algorithms can change overnight, making it difficult to consistently connect with your customers. As an example, algorithm changes to Facebook last year caused the top 10 brands to lose an average of 40% engagement. That’s the kind of loss that simply can’t occur if you’re focusing your marketing and engagement efforts on your own, in-house email list.
6) Leverage the Right Relationships
Finally, consider that your audience will be much more loyal to you if you’re endorsed by the right people. Collaborate with people that can be powerful advocates for your brand causes your audience will feel more committed towards you. After all, if they see that you have the support of others they trust, they’ll be more likely to offer you that trust as well by extension.
According to a survey of executives of major U.S. corporations, 46% of respondents argued that the increase in brand advocates was one of the most important factors in social media. The benefits of using brand influencers to help leverage your own marketing campaigns are likely to become even more apparent as marketers shift their strategies from purely boosting exposure to increasing engagement and loyalty.
Richard Marriott is living proof of the benefits of collaborating with social media influencers. He collaborated with 55 SEO experts to boost his organic search traffic by nearly 350% in just one week. You can be equally successful by reaching out to leading bloggers, journalists and social media power users in your vertical.
Measure Audience Loyalty
It’s human nature for people to feel more loyalty towards those that consistently make an effort to benefit them. As a result, it’s important for brands to constantly gauge the perception of their followers and to take steps to correct any issues that have been raised.
1) Identify and Respond to Negative Feedback
Unfortunately, measuring overall sentiment for your brand is considerably more difficult than measuring exposure. You can access Hootsuite or any other tool to see how many mentions your brand is receiving across the Internet, but those tools can’t specify whether those messages are positive or negative. Even tools like Social Mention have limitations, as their algorithms aren’t always perfect at separating the good from the bad.
The only way for you to know really whether your brand mentions are flattering or not is to go through each comment manually. This will take some work, but real time social monitoring platforms like Hootsuite allow you to do so more efficiently. Real-time Google Alerts can also be useful for tracking feedback as it occurs.
Once you’ve identified any negative feedback, respond to it in a constructive way. Clarify any misconceptions and politely thank the respondent for bringing the issue to your attention. If you clearly made a mistake, take accountability, apologize and make assurances that it won’t happen again.
As you do so, make sure that your apology sounds genuine. Seek Social Media wrote up a post about the way that Ann Taylor’s social media team offered a halfhearted apology after their sites kept crashing while people were looking for details on upcoming Cyber Monday deals. As Seek Social Media pointed out, their apology fell flat, because they didn’t seem sincere.
Ultimately, the best way to sound sincere is to give a solution to the people that have suffered as the result of your error and make an inviolable promise that the problem will not reoccur.
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2) Touch Base With Your Audience
It’s easy to get into the trap of talking at your audience all the time. Managing a social media page or a website is very much like having a megaphone – you sometimes forget to actually listen to your audience. You’ll need to be proactive about avoiding this mistake if you want to build a strong base of loyal readers.
Instead, make it a point to engage your readers directly from time to time. Ask probing questions on your social media profiles or blog posts to solicit feedback on certain issues. Or, reach out individually to followers to get their take on the specific things that may be adversely affecting their perception of your brand.
3) Measure Engagement
While overall impressions of your site aren’t easy to measure, gauging engagement is much more straightforward. Google Analytics is one of the most popular and simplest tools for measuring engagement, as you can use it to measure the number of repeat visitors you’re receiving and how long they spend on your site.
There are also a number of more advanced tools for measuring visitor loyalty, depending on your unique needs. One that you may want to look into is LunaMetrics.
Unlike Google Analytics, LunaMetrics allows you to see how many times an individual user has visited your site. Combined with the program’s loyalty chart, this is a great way to see how loyal your most engaged fans truly are. You can even use the tool to measure the number of visits an average user makes before making a purchase, as well as to determine where issues exist in your sales funnel that could be improved with a better focus on brand loyalty.
Building Loyalty Takes Effort
Earning the loyalty of your audience isn’t an easy feat, but it’s well worth the effort. Loyal followers are critical to boosting your brand image, generating exposure and driving sales. No matter what type of product you make or what industry you’re in, make it one of your primary priorities in your branding strategy.