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How to inspire your customers and inspire brand advocacy

There is no simple formula for inspiration. There isn’t a single process or “8 simple steps” that will help you change customer behavior. Why? Everyone is different. We are all inspired by different things and at different stages of our lives. As a boy, I was so inspired when Daniel Larusso leveled Johnny Lawrence of the Cobra Kai in the Karate Kid that I begged my mom to sign me up for Karate lessons. Today, those things don’t really inspire me much anymore, well maybe a little … oh, and Karate lessons only lasted a few months. I am now inspired by other things that weren’t as relevant to me when I was young as they are today – the ocean, traveling, and of course my little girls who inspire me everyday to work hard.

But one question that we must ask ourselves is whether a brand can actually inspire their customers?

I believe they can. But it requires a fundamental shift in the way we think, and act, and plan and go-to-market. We must stop referring to customers as target audience, segments or page views; and consider that they are real people, with real emotions. We must learn to give without any expectation at all of receiving anything in return. I call this reciprocal altruism and sometime it’s as easy as just saying, “thank you”, maybe an @mention to a customer or maintaining a positive attitude when we are getting grilled online.

Certainly ROI and business value are important here and I am not saying that we must be scared of the “hard sell.” The great thing about content marketing is that you can move customers up, down and through the purchase funnel by simply by providing content that matters – the right content, at the right time, in the right channel to the right customer; and not forgetting about how paid, earned and owned media work together across the digital ecosystem.

It reminds me of a book that was written well over a decade ago and it was definitely pioneer thinking at that time. Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing” was written on the premise of reciprocal altruism. He argued that marketers must build trust and credibility with their customers and then “ask them for permission” to market their services. Same concept today and even true for IRL relationships. It’s simply applying what we already know to be true as humans.

And the truth is, there are some companies that inspire for one reason and one reason only. They have bad-ass products. I don’t care at all if they say “thank you” on Twitter or crowd-source community feedback because they are looking to create a new product. As long as they continue to innovate and stay bad-ass, I will continue to be inspired, buy their products and tell all my friends about it.

So the key takeaway here is this. If you have a commodity product or service, you need to try really hard at applying reciprocal altruism to your B2B content marketing strategy. You will surprised at your customers’ reaction. And, if you a market leader or your products is 2nd to none … just, just carry on with your bad self!

Note: This post was originally written on August 23rd, 2012.

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