In 2011, Borders the bookshop files for bankruptcy. A big part of why that happened was the firm’s decision to outsource all its online sales to Amazon. By the time Borders realised that customers were buying more books online than in-store, it was too late. Borders tried to wrestle back the power from Amazon, but the damage was done. Four years later the 40 year old company had disappeared.

Earlier this year Nike announced that it would be selling direct on Amazon. Before that customers could buy Nike products on Amazon. But the vendor was a third party, buying Nike products wholesale and re-selling them to make a profit. Of course this meant that Nike had no relationship with the end customer. No way to control the brand messaging. And no way to control the price its products were sold for.

As Dennis Green at Business Insider wrote: “Selling directly on [Amazon] eliminates a layer between Nike and the consumer, allowing the company to better control pricing and presentation. It’s not quite direct to consumer, but it’s a lot closer.”

Are you talking directly to your customers?

So what does all this mean? Well it is all about who has contact with the consumer. Most businesses now accept that consumers want more than to be talked to (which is advertising). Instead, they want to feel an affinity for a brand. Customers want a sense that there is a relationship between them and the companies they choose to spend their money with.

Of course that is hard to do at scale. When Borders started out, it was just two brothers in a first floor location in Ann Arbor, Mitchigan. At its peak, there were 19,500 employees in the US alone. Nike started out with Phil Knight selling Onitsuka Tiger shoes out of the trunk of his car at athletics meets in Portland, Oregon. In both cases, growth has reduced the ability of the business to engage with its customers.

Some brands are talking to their customers (not at them)

But just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you can ignore it. There are plenty of businesses that have grown significantly and managed to retain a relationship with its customers. Apple has done that, partly by building bricks-and-mortar shops around the world. Rapha has maintained a relationship with its customers partly by setting up the Rapha Cycle Club.

Obviously to do what Apple or even Rapha have done requires you to have their financial resources. But they all started small. So what can you do with less?

Tips to keep you close to your customers

  • Create great content. People are bombarded by content today. One of the ways you can ensure you have a relationship with your target customer is to create content that speaks to them. Ideally the content should be something they willingly consume and share. There are many, many businesses that are doing this really well. Some of our favourites include Rapha, REI, Soulcycle and Patagonia.
  • Be consistent. Like endurance activity training, consistency is key. With the amount of brand content being created sky-rocketing, which is having a direct impact – downwards – on engagement levels, if you are not creating content and sharing it regularly, your messages will become lost in the noise.
  • Involve those you want to talk to. People relate to people like them. Or at least to people that they feel they could aspire to be. There is always going to be a place for elite athletes (the WOW! Factor) and models. But by working with more relatable folks, you bring your brand inline with your customers’ experiences, aspirations and passions.

One of the ways to get closer to your customers

One tactic for getting closer to your customers, is working with relevant influencers. These are people who are creating content all the time, about something they are passionate about, specifically for an audience of people who share their interests. Thinking about the three tactics we just outlines above …

  1. Facilitating influencers to create great content – perhaps by funding an adventure they have always wanted to undertake or setting up an event they can participate in – is a fantastic way to access content. Pick the right influencers and you will have content that your target customers will want to consume and share.
  2. By working with a range of influencers you will have a consistent stream of content that you can use on your own channels. Rather than having to come up with content yourself or tasking an agency to do that for you, which can become formulaic or stilted, you will have an army of influencers producing text, photography and video for you that will keep your target customers engaged.
  3. And if you find the right influencers, you will have ambassadors that your target marketing can relate to. Influencers will tell their stories warts-and-all, which is the most relatable content of all.

If you want to find out more about how Freestak helps brands to find and work with relevant influencers, drop us a line and sign up to our (spam-free) newsletter where we share everything we know about influencer marketing.


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