Better Together

I think we can all agree that the pandemic was devastating to our country. It destroyed businesses, it cost families their loved ones, and it put the entire country into a panic.

However, like all things in life, nothing is all good or all bad. We learned some important lessons from 2020 that we should not forget as we close out 2021 and plan for 2022.

Because of the constant sense of the unknown, the flux we all experienced, and all the ways we had to change how we did business – we had to communicate more and better with our customers. They ended up, in many cases, being our co-collaborators as we figured out how we could still serve them, given the constraints and fears on all sides.

While we’re all eager to put the pandemic behind us, this idea of partnering with our customers is one of those silver lining learnings that we might want to embrace for the long haul.

That truth was highlighted in a recent Deloitte report that emerged from the pandemic. I’ve cherry-picked some of the most important marketing trends so we can examine them in detail and walk away with some very tangible to-do items.

This week we’re going to focus on the fifth of the five, allowing your customers to participate.

Here are all five trends on the list:

  • Being agile.
  • Being a purpose-driven organization.
  • Building trust.
  • Being authentically human.
  • Allowing customers to participate.

What exactly do we mean by customer participation? You have lots of options. It could be as simple as getting your customers to provide feedback or leave ratings and reviews. They could be on a testing panel or be a part of a formal brand ambassador program. You could also invite them to vote on product packaging, partner with your customers to co-create content, or ask them to participate in research around your brand.

There are critical elements to successfully launching any customer participation program. Here are some of the basics.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all effort: One of the elements that make customer participation so effective is that the customers are more likely to participate in activities that they feel good about doing. But that doesn’t mean you have to offer everyone the same opportunity to support your brand. You know who your super users are. Be sure you leverage this, so they gain something unique and of perceived value.

Make it an insider’s club: Everyone wants to belong. We love knowing that we’re special and valued. We also love being in the know before everyone. By creating an exclusivity to some aspects of your customer participation program, you will create rabid fans who go out and recruit for you!

Don’t forget the haters: While it’s easier to lean into the customers who love you and tell the world how wonderful you are, if you really want a potent program you have to include those who do not love you as well.

It has to go beyond your products and services: To truly generate brand loyalty and even brand advocacy, your efforts cannot just be about what you produce or sell. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and share your organization’s heart with your customers. Let them understand not only what you do, but even more important, why you do it.

Pulling this off is no picnic. It requires that you step back from the fray of the moment and be willing to meet your customers face to face, with humility and your humanity on your sleeve. You need to let go of perfect and embrace the messiness of going to market.

Then you get to invite your customers in. Resist giving them the sanitized version of your organization. Let them see it all.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.