Excerpts from Chapter 3: Speak to your Customer’s Intelligence

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A commitment to authenticity in dealing with customers is another common thread that connects the entrepreneurs we spoke with when developing this book. As demonstrated by strong mission statements that transcend their internal communications to reach their target audiences, most, if not all, of these business leaders have connected emotionally with their customers. This has occurred not only through effective marketing and public relations programs, but through a non-adversarial, respect-based approach.

By emotionalizing their brands and producing exceptional quality not commonly found in competitive products and services, these entrepreneurs have created loyal and enthusiastic consumer bases.

Today’s consumer, like today’s businessperson, is more perceptive, skeptical, street-smart and savvy than ever before. To thrive in this highly competitive business landscape requires being different. Authenticity requires addressing your audience on their own level and having their best interests at heart, whether they are internal, including employees, or external, such as potential and existing customers, or business partners.

Jim Koch, creator of the Samuel Adams brand, has a particularly succinct way of looking at the authenticity of his relationship with his customers. “When I recall starting Sam Adams, one of the reasons I did it was that I wanted to have beer that I liked to drink, and nobody else was making it,” he explains. “So it was really easy to identify with my consumers because I was the first one!”

How can you be more real about standing behind your product than that?…

…We have found that today’s successful entrepreneurs take the needs and wants of their customers seriously. They don’t speak down to them, but rather speak to them on their level. Connecting with the customers is the cornerstone of building brand loyalty and a brand following.

Of course, having the superior product or service leading the way is only the first step. You have to get it to your consumer. As we have already heard Gary Hirshberg joke, “We can ship our yogurt 3,000 miles, but it’s the last 18 inches that make all the difference—getting that spoon to the customer’s mouth!”

As with most entrepreneurs, Gary Hirshberg finds the Internet an important medium for communicating with Stonyfield’s customers. “We use our packaging to send people to our website,” he told us. “Here, we can have a deeper conversation about these issues that are important to us and to our consumers. We are trying to deliver on the promise that we are trying to help people as a solutions company. We deliver on that, in part through our website. Here we have the opportunity to really deliver on who we are. We don’t just go out and say we stand for this or that. We actually give people access to ways that they can find stuff. We have about 700,000 consumers who have actually subscribed to one of our four online newsletters with all the news that’s fit to print. We have over 300,000 unique visitors every month and they stay an average of over five minutes, which is virtually unheard of. We know that other companies would kill for this kind of ‘stickiness.’”

As we will see in this chapter, authenticity in customer relations comes down to four cardinal rules:

  • You must offer a genuine advantage to your customers or to consumers.
  • Your marketing messages must be real, customer?centric and add value to the product or service being offered.
  • Your sales and distribution team must relay these key differentiators.
  • You must stand behind your product and keep your brand promise.

Jim Koch, creator of the Samuel Adams brand, has a particularly succinct way of looking at the authenticity of his relationship with his customers. “When I recall starting Sam Adams, one of the reasons I did it was that I wanted to have beer that I liked to drink and nobody else was making it,” he explains. “So it was really easy to identify with my consumers because I was the first one!”

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