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Your Brand’s Silver Bullet

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Written by: Colleen Lowe | Sincerely Truman

Blue ocean strategy. First mover. Game changer. Innovator. Disruptor. Every company wants it — the end-all, be-all, industry revolutionizing, no-one-can-touch-this product or service that is so good it markets itself. It’s a beautiful ambition, and few climb so high. But there is something that many of them have in common other than the big idea that started it all. It’s a self-perpetuating engine of growth and financial stability, an impenetrable armor against harmful external forces, and an army of unpaid marketers that work around the clock.

Raving fans, advocates, ambassadors, evangelists — no matter what you term them, the most valuable brands in the world understand that their most loyal customers are among their most valuable assets. (Second only to investing in their employees, but that’s another post.) These loyal customers are more likely to stick around despite increases in price, bad press, the occasional product defect or some other failing. They will actively refer and promote your brand publicly to their friends, family and strangers via word of mouth and social media. They’ll even go to bat for you against critics and naysayers — without you ever having to ask.

A few fantastically successful brands have been slowly cultivating their loyalty engines over the last 30+ years to become a force to be reckoned with, while others have only been in business for 5 years and are already making huge waves. In one way or another, they have managed to delight and engage people around the world better than most — so it’s worth spending a few minutes thinking about how.

Uber

Founded: 2009

Over the course of a single year, Uber grew six times its size. At the end of 2014, Uber was valued at $40 billion, dwarfing even Tesla’s valuation of $28.6 billion. The company is currently operating in 300 cities in 50 countries, and is set to generate more than 1 million jobs worldwide this year — not to mention they recently raised $1.2 billion in a financing round to boost international expansion. So why are the number of Uber users growing at such an exponential rate? Just ask anyone who uses the service — but make sure you’ve got some time set aside, because they’ll likely talk your ear off, compel you to download the app, and give you a guided tour of all of its features before they let you go. (Could Uber’s founders do any better?)

SOLVING A REAL PROBLEM & REDEFINING A SERVICE CATEGORY IN THE PROCESS

City by city, Uber’s technology and innovation is challenging the transportation status quo. We’re offering a real alternative to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam — a new mode of transportation that complements and improves the system we have today now. — Travis Kalanick, Cofounder and CEO, Uber Technologies Inc.

Uber provides a solution to a real problem that impacts millions of people — they have disrupted the monopoly of taxicab transportation in many cities rife with poor service and fulfillment and reinvented the experience in its entirety.

After you’ve downloaded the Uber app, entered your method of payment and set your location, with just one tap to request a ride you can get a down-to-the-minute ETA, track its progress on the interactive map via GPS, view your driver’s profile and contact him or her if necessary. When your ride arrives, it’s a nice, clean car set to a comfortable interior temperature and often stocked with free water bottles. (And personally, all of my drivers have been a delight to ride with). When you’re done there’s no hassle — your card is charged automatically and you can rate the driver’s performance if you wish.

The contrast of using Uber over a traditional taxi is so dramatic, it truly creates a ‘wow’ experience for its customers — one so powerful they can’t imagine going back to using a traditional taxi cab company, and they can’t help but share the love. First-time users are almost immediately converted to evangelists. The level of word of mouth marketing and press frenzy generated organically has led one of Uber’s investors, Bill Gurley, to remark, “The product is so good, there is no one spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing.” Uber completely redefined what it means to use a short-term car service through and through. 

Red Bull

Founded: 1987

In 2014, Red Bull sold more than 5.6 billion cans of its energy drink alone (an increase of 4.2% over 2013) and employed 10,410 people across the 167 countries where its product is sold. The company does over $6 billion in annual sales, has over 4.2 million YouTube subscribers, and 43+ million Facebook fans, making it one of the most popular brands on the world’s largest social networking site. The company still enjoys the most sales in its eastern markets (Turkey, India) as well as South Africa, but it is a brand that has built worldwide appeal. How is it that a sugary, caffeinated drink has engendered so much crazy brand love?

FIRST MOVER

Inspired by drinks from the Far East, Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz created the formula of Red Bull Energy Drink which was first sold in Mateschitz’ home market, effectively birthing a totally new product category. Rockstar, Monster, and many others have entered the energy drink race in the years since, but as the first to corner the market, Red Bull continues to dominate as the energy drink leader.

A UNIQUE MARKETING CONCEPT (& GREAT CONTENT)

Many industry experts will tell you that the real success of the Red Bull brand is built on genius, consumer-centric marketing. Red Bull is not just a product, it has come to represent a lifestyle that resonates wildly with their target customer — the younger side of the active, adventurous 18–34 demographic.

Mateschitz actually launched Red Bull Media House as a subsidiary media company in 2007, which now has offices in Austria and Los Angeles. The company produces a wide range of content, often video, around extreme sports. They have a roster of “Red Bull Athletes” and extreme-sporting events they sponsor around the world, fueling the constant generation of amazing, jaw-dropping content. Mateschitz has said he believes “that brands need to take the phrase ‘acting like a publisher’ literally.”

Red Bull’s strategy puts their product secondary to the activities that their target customer engages in and gets excited about, demonstrating they genuinely know, love, respect and support these extreme activities as much as their customers do. All of this together creates a swell of strong, empowering emotions focused on personal achievement, fearlessness, and pushing limits that connects powerfully with its customers.

Apple

Founded: 1976

Apple enjoyed a record-breaking first sales quarter this year with 74.8 million iPhones sold, making it the top-selling smartphone vendor in the world. Over the last six years, Apple has taken 62% of the smartphone industry’s $216 billion net operating profits (Samsung was a long second with 26%). No matter the benchmark or report you’re reading, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees that Apple is easily one of the best brands in business today, and a brand that possesses an overwhelming amount of customer loyalty. These people aren’t just fans of Apple, they’re Apple fanatics. In a recent poll of smartphone users, 89% of iPhone users said they would tell their friends to buy one, and one-third of Apple users said nothing would convince them to switch and try a smartphone made by another company.

UNRELENTING COMMITMENT TO INNOVATION

Superior design, superior functionality and a delightful user experience are just a few of the elements that guide the creation of Apple’s products, but perhaps more than anything else, Apple products redefine their categories. Under the reign of Steve Jobs, Apple was ruled by commitment to the utmost in quality and design excellence. Jobs would not introduce a product until the technology had caught up to fully realize Apple’s vision for the ultimate product experience. Apple focused on a few enormous projects, and executed on them incredibly well.

HELPING CUSTOMERS FEEL A PART OF THE JOURNEY

Apple has always given its customers a very transparent view of the company’s vision, its core values, and the hows and whys of the products it develops. Live-streaming events have become a cornerstone of new product launches and special announcements on Apple.com, and customer feedback opportunities are ever-present and utilized to continually improve on its products and services.

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves. — Steve Jobs, former CEO, Apple

STELLAR CUSTOMER SERVICE

Apple also provides wonderful in-person customer service. At Apple’s retail store Genius bars, Apple tech experts will actually walk you through how-to’s and quick and easy fixes to common problems (if you’d like to know), and Apple employees are actually empowered to do what’s best for the customer, even if that might mean violating the written rules of a particular policy. 

What will drive your brand’s loyalty engine?

It’s clear that Uber, Red Bull and Apple each have different market strengths and excel in different areas. But one thing they all do extremely well is pinpoint a deeply felt want or need of the audiences they seek to serve, and determine the best way to connect to, or answer, that need to the fullest extent.

In Uber’s case, to completely solve all the inherent pains of using a taxi service, they had to redefine an entire service category and build a new system from the ground up.

For Red Bull, to connect deeply to its customers’ lifestyles and passions, its founder recognized he had to do something quite unorthodox: the product itself had to take a back seat, and investment in sponsoring extreme sports athletes, events, and creating awe-inspiring content — even launching a media house as a separate entity — had to drive the brand.

And for Apple, it was a vision to “think different” than everything that had come before. To seek to be the technology innovator that created a beautifully designed, simple, and utterly delightful user experience across all of its products. At the same time, the company put the customer first, inviting them in, and making them feel a part of what makes Apple, Apple (e.g., “I’m a mac”).

By seeking to serve or connect to that deeply felt want/need in the most powerful way they can, these brands have been incredibly successful at inspiring the kind of brand love that powers amazing growth — the silver bullet — the kind of customer loyalty that can’t be bought, but when carefully cultivated, pays huge dividends.

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