Magazine article Marketing

Keep It in the Family

Magazine article Marketing

Keep It in the Family

Article excerpt

The strongest form of customer marketing has nothing to do with databases. It is about budding a community around your brand.

Harley-Davidson offers lessons in self-defence to women riders; Toyota Japan builds motor camps where owners of four-wheel drives can enjoy their vehicles in the great outdoors; and Snapple stages a convention and names new flavours after the customers who suggest them.

Why? Because customers thirst for connections, and this desire is building communities around brands. More than loyalty programmes, these 'brand communities' generate real emotion and intense loyalty.

The case which brought this home to the US automotive market is that of General Motors' Saturn division, which built the first US-made vehicle to steal sales from the Japanese.

Buyers send photographs of themselves to the factory, which are then pinned on the vehicle as it moves down the assembly line, so that the workers know who they are making the vehicle for. In 1994, more than 44,000 owners travelled from all over the world to visit the factory in Springfield, Tennessee, meet the people who built their cars and take part in a week-long festival of music, food and fun.

The majority of Saturn's new sales come from word of mouth. Happy customers are called' ambassadors'.

Harley-Davidson cannot keep up with demand, consistently selling out next year's models a year in advance. Year-old Harleys sell for thousands of dollars more than the list price of new bikes. The brand, which was on its knees before the onslaught of Japanese brands two decades ago, now dominates the market. And it rebuilt its fortunes through a powerful brand community.

Happy to help customers

Harley's chief executive officer rides at rallies where senior executives mingle with bikers and talk about riding as well as bikes and their development. The CEO's number is listed in the phone book and he takes calls from customers, making sure they are referred to someone in the company who can help with their enquiry.

Harley also holds 'town-hall meetings' at which executives answer customer questions. If a rider complains about an uncomfortable seat, designers are informed and the issue addressed in future models. Many employees are also owners and the line between company and customer is blurred.

Brand communities can also form around low-cost consumer products. Soft-drink brand Snapple saw the number of letters it received from customers grow to 100,000 each year. Its mail clerk became the advertising spokesperson and the firm featured many of the letters, poems and home videos in its ads. …

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