As a member of the co-op, I get a percentage of my purchases back every year, which I roll into new items from REI. And not just their brands, but also many other excellent brands like Merrell, The North Face, Columbia and Pearl Izumi. Solid, quality brands, and items I’ve kept for years. My multiple pairs of Merrell hikers that I’ve worn through. My North Face duffel bags that have traveled the world with me and look as good as the day I bought them. My Columbia rain jacket I bought because it just wouldn’t stop raining in Seattle.
REI and the brands they sell have inspired a long-term loyalty and a bit of brand fanaticism in me, and I’m eagerly awaiting the opening of its store here in the Des Moines area this fall. I’ve come about this loyalty mostly through interaction in its retail environments, where associates are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable on a variety of outdoor pursuits. It seems like REI employs a lot of brand fanatics in its stores. Add to that one million-plus Facebook fans and a well-stocked blog, and REI is cultivating a very strong community of like-minded individuals who love the outdoors.
Many brands in the B2B world aspire to the same kind of loyalty and fanaticism that companies like REI inspire, but often come up short. It shouldn’t be too difficult to generate some level of interest or passion from your end-users, people who spend all week interacting with your products in a field they hopefully enjoy (or at least want to become more proficient in). Yet B2B marketers often focus more on the C-suite or the purchasing department, and focus on content and exhibit behaviors that are almost exclusively business-focused — informative but mundane.
Using REI as an example, there are several ways to help create and cultivate B2B brand fanatics.
1. Create a good experience for them. Is your office or dealership a pleasant place to be? Do people feel comfortable and welcome when they visit? Is it easy to find what they need?
2. Have knowledgeable associates. Whether you are selling direct or through a dealer or distributor, make sure the information and service you deliver is relevant and what your customers are asking for.
3. Provide good content. To engage with your customers and build a relationship online or digitally, you need to provide valuable content. Teach. Inspire. Share.
4. Have some fun. This may be the hardest of all for B2B marketers to do, but very few people want to be around someone who is serious all the time. Lighten up. Show that your brand is human.
5. Don’t sell all the time. This is perhaps the most important, particularly in digital and social settings. There’s a time for selling, but there’s also a lot of time for building a relationship and cultivating a brand fan over time.
And just because it’s a business and a business purchase, that doesn’t mean you can’t create a brand fanatic. Just treat them like human beings who want a good experience, to be heard, to learn something, to have fun, and to not be sold all the time — basic stuff that so many companies, B2C and B2B, fail at regularly.
When brands, even B2B brands, exhibit these behaviors, there’s a better chance customers will stay a little more loyal and maybe become actual brand fanatics, where almost nothing will make them switch away from your brand. Where price or distance becomes less of a factor.
And perhaps your brand fanatic customer will even say nice things about you unprompted — perhaps in a blog post such as this. And that’s the best advertising of all.