Intimacy and Immediacy

Establishing and nurturing a connection with your customers is all important. The net – and especially social media – offers immediacy but does it give the intimacy of client-purveyor relationship needed to ensure customer loyalty?

Article by Rupert Watkins

The maturity of the net and social media has given British craft and heritage brands enormous scope in seeking fresh custom and consolidating their reputation as purveyors of high quality and unique services. Social media offers a constant method of propagating new brand items, ensuring the firm stays in the forefront of a customer’s thinking and through mediums such as Youtube, British brands can offer that all important consumer education nurturing the conscious and sub-conscious link between service, information and quality.

This immediacy and reach of the net though is not always an intimate one. Running social media accounts to gain wider brand awareness and market traction should not be approached in the same manner as those to inform, reassure and consolidate existing customer loyalty. We have seen that brands on social media focus very heavily on the end result, on the product or service you can actually buy, a number of brands we have spoken to have remarked they have seen a rise in sales through utilising the click to buy applications on Instagram for example.

Whilst this clearly merges and speeds up the awareness to sale loop which can only be a good thing for a brand, it does bring an element of risk. The brand is buying into the instantaneous gratification cycle, “I see I want” which at a wider level is not proven to reinforce interest – or even linger times by customers on firm’s websites. Understandably so, as the customer is not buying into that brand, he or she is simply buying the item that takes their fancy regardless of what label is stamped on it. There is no interest in the ethos behind that firm, no desire to understand the time and precision that has gone into that item; these could be described as transient or shallow purchases as though they drive simple sales numbers, they bring no certainty of subsequent interest.

The trend for immediacy is also seen in a number of high-end publications such as How to Spend It; frequently high outlay for a listing is followed by strong sales for the single specific item that has made a listing (covering the cost). However, when chatting with several brands, zero further interest appears to be generated, there is no rise in medium term traffic to their website, walk in custom or word of mouth referral. The one item sells out, once it has, no further sales are made – even of the same item in a differing colour or material.

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Immediacy or spontaneity on social media can be a double-edged sword for small and medium sized British brands. Those that take the time to communicate directly to their customers have reaped the benefits of satisfied buyers posting pictures of themselves wearing, using or generally enjoying the brand’s product; no cliched placement but a genuine digital recommendation to friends as opposed to followers. This in turn clearly creates the buzz of buying into the same brand to be seen as owning the “in” thing. This humanises the brand and we have come across a small number of very good exponents of this route to market. Generally, though this form of “guerrilla recommendation” probably works best for new or smaller craft brands. On the other side of the coin, in a bid to humanise the brand, many firms have turned to social influencers. In a voyeuristic world, people demand to see each other’s lives and whilst influencers are thus able to place brands in front of large numbers of followers, brands must remain aware those followers’ emotional curiosity is directed towards the individual – not them.

This is not an intimate relationship for brands too often unless care is taken to select and maintain a trustworthy relationship with the influencer. At best there is mutual respect between brand and influencer; the influencer has the opportunity to aid a firm he or she has long had a respect and affinity for. Too often though the perceived demands of immediate awareness and instantaneous feedback have meant too many smaller brands have made ill-advised decisions regarding their influencer spend and lacked the impartial guidance to rigorously analyse actual (as opposed to bought) followers, engagement and overarching return on investment.

Driving an intimate connection to your customers is invariably a longer term, more subtle and trickier proposition. Ultimately it is the need to make that individual customer feel important, feel wanted, feel that they come away having learnt something which in turn increases the utility of your brand in the potential buyer’s mind. For new custom, this can only be truly done in a face to face environment; bricks and mortar remain key – it is of little surprise for example that many British spirit and sparkling wine manufacturers focus so heavily on-site tours. It is the education – creating understanding through an experience – that goes with such an activity which is critical is establishing that emotional link. Even the most basic thing of being able to put a face against a brand, again humanising it, and hearing the story whilst actually surrounded to the means by which that item is made, be it workbenches or distilling towers carries an intimate weight. This is a connection that cannot be truly made digitally.

For those brands that are digitally based and lack physical stores what is the answer? There are obvious areas that, even without face to face seller-buyer contact, can engender trust. Showing appreciation has long been the simplest forms of establishing that first element of intimacy to a relationship. We know of several brands who send hand written notes to each customer, after all in this digital age receiving a hand-written letter about anything is likely to be unusual and stick in the memory. It’s time – time has been taken to care about the individual. There is the inevitable problem though as a brand grows more successful will that personal touch be pushed aside as a luxury rather than essential? In order to retain that client, we would argue it’s as important as the actual item. Studies by high street banks even six years ago suggested a five per cent boost in customer retention, ie loyalty, can result in up to a 75 per cent rise in profitability.

Customer Relationship Management is an area where social media can play a big role. It is where care and precision is needed to understand the feeds needed to gain new awareness are rather different to those needed to deepen a relationship. Messaging can be used to show progress on orders, demonstrate the care being taken on various parts of the manufacture. It can tell a story unique to that individual. If social media becomes a one track train to push product it’s a turn off to the consumer who has just bought it – why do I need to keep seeing it in my feeds?! Social media is the obvious medium to follow up purchases a month or two later and ask for feedback. It needs to be multi-dimensional in order to be as intimate as it can and the one issue we have too often seen is it is not; time is taken to ensure the same curated posts are uniform across multiple channels but we see less of brands using those channels in subtly differing ways to hit their different client groups. Current marketing thinking stresses rigid curation and uniformity across everything yet that cannot be used to appeal to individuals who react to different stimuli.

In a world of voyeuristic information overload, the ability of British brands to balance out the need to gain immediate awareness alongside the fundamental need to engender a level of emotional intimacy with custom to ensure long term satisfaction and thus profitability, has never been more stark. A focus on a visual rather than emotional journey, on short term immediate sales, has skewed thinking as many brands attempt to conduct the mass digital campaigns that only large luxury conglomerates have the money and access to A list celebs to pull off properly. British craft and heritage brands are stealth wealth experts, everything about them at their best is about building that understated rapport and intimacy. Delayed gratification, after all, is the most satisfying of all.  riddle_stop 2

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