Affinity has a transformational value on brands.
Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon have all moved beyond having a simple transactional relationship with their customers to one that creates intimacy and serves their needs in a more holistic manner. These companies are generous, they are unselfish, and their approach is well beyond one of asking for the next sale. Whereas most companies self-promote in order to obtain the customer’s next purchase, elite brands seek not only to create customer loyalty, but to be loyal to their customers.
The overwhelming majority of companies are only good at fostering transactional affiliations with customers. They ask for their business, the customer gives it to them, and that is largely the end of the relationship. Companies frequently try to obtain repeat business; those who do so well attract supporters – customers who have moved beyond individual transactions and consciously prefer your brand, buying repeatedly. Relatively few companies are effective at recruiting promoters, people who actively share their positive impression of your brand through advocacy to others. Those brands which have strong networks of promoters are often very successful, but there is a fourth level of customer affinity that not only drives even further degrees of loyalty, but also leverages customer assets to build brand value even further, creating a positive feedback loop for both the brand and customers: co-creation.
Co-creators actively add value to the brand by contributing to its offerings for other customers. They are so invested in the brand that they add to it themselves. This may be altruistic, but may also be to realize some kind of return, be it financial, recognition, or otherwise.
Most companies pay careful attention to how loyal their customers are to them, measuring things like net promoter score and tracking sentiment on social media. They think that good customer service will win the loyalty of customers, and while good customer experiences may turn transactors into supporters and perhaps even the occasional promoter, good service is not enough to routinely transform customers’ affinity to the highest levels. In order to move up the affinity ladder, brands need to not only focus on how loyal their customers are, but how loyal the brand is to their customers. If a customer is anything more than a transactor, they are giving you more than money. Likewise, you need to be doing something more than selling products and services (in other words, creating transactions) to better foster that affinity. You need to actively add value to the lives of your customers outside of the transactional realm.
Building co-creation opportunities often, but not always, requires a degree of altruism. You must seek to provide opportunities for your target market which do not actually cost them anything.
Examples of Co-Creation
Many businesses are built entirely around co-creation. Yelp or any user-driven recommendation website are almost entirely based on co-creation. Facebook is driven by co-creation. Airbnb is a co-creative endeavor, relying on its hosts to build the success of their platform. Your business, however, does not need to be centered on a co-creation business model in order to leverage it for increased customer affinity.
Customer-centric resources are tools that any company can use to greatly heighten customer affinity. By helping customers solve problems outside the context of a buying journey, you will provide massively positive experiences that will increase affinity. While resources do not require a co-creation component, such a component may be integrated into them. Consider the Nike+ ecosystem, where users can share workouts, compare progress with friends, and help motivate each other. The GoPro Channel is another well-known co-creation resource, where GoPro leverages its own popularity to support its customers’ best creations.
Social Media, “Engagement” and the Affinity Failure
Many marketers consider themselves to have succeeded at forging relationships with customers if they have high “engagement” metrics or large social followings. These are not indicators of affinity and are often vanity metrics. A social follow is by no means an indication of support, and it certainly does not suggest that the follower will promote your brand. In the life sciences and most B2B industries, social media is largely a platform for the dissemination of content. It is a utilitarian tool. While the ability to foster personal relationships with members of your target audience certainly exists, social media is not a natural channel for brand-customer communication. If your goals are to increase your audience size and reach, seek new social followers. If your goals are to increase customer affinity, look for non-transactional ways to provide value to your audience.
As customers not only take greater control of their purchasing decision journeys but compress them as well, brand affinity becomes increasingly important. Those brands which are able to create heightened levels of customer affinity will have immense advantage in an accelerated journey which reduces the consideration and evaluation phases. Customers are increasingly making decisions based on established preferences. The brands with the greatest customer affinity will be the winners.