How Brands Keep You Coming Back
How Brands Keep You Coming Backback

by Ralph Allora

BrandChannel recently wrote about the intriguingly one-way relationship between Starbucks and its community of loyal fans. The coffee giant has managed to become one of the world’s most beloved brands despite the fact that, as BrandChannel points out, “they don’t even try that hard.”

Take social media, for example. Here, Starbucks seems to break all the rules: The company has managed to acquire more than 30 million Facebook Likes despite sporadic posting (sometimes days go by between Starbucks’ status updates).

When the company does post something to its Facebook page, the fans go wild: It’s not uncommon for a Starbucks update to draw Likes in the six figures, as well as thousands of comments. (And even then, the company rarely if ever chooses to respond to any particular comment.) The story’s not much different on Twitter, Pinterest or Google+: Lots of brand love, little offered in return by Starbucks.

So if Starbucks keeps its social media fans at arms’ length, what keeps the love affair going? It’s simple, really. Starbucks doesn’t need to keep talking. It’s in a position to let its stores (and by extension, its products) be whatever people want or need them to be: a comfortable place to meet old or new friends, a business meeting space, an opportunity to chat with the baristas, a spot to catch up on a good read… all over a very familiar cup of coffee. It’s about facilitating human connections.

It seems like the company is taking a similar approach with social media, in that it’s stepping back and letting its fans chat amongst themselves.

Make connections on your own terms

If you’re a brand manager, the Starbucks example raises the question: What is it about your brand that gets customers to stay engaged with it, even if you offer a niche product or service, and customers might need to purchase it only once or twice in a lifetime as opposed to once per day?

Unlike Starbucks, which has the luxury of ubiquity, with brick-and-mortar locations on practically every corner, you’ll probably have to do it in the digital space — on your website and/or social media channels. And you’ll have to do it in the mindspace of customers as they chat (probably at Starbucks) with friends or colleagues about what a great experience they’ve had with your brand.

Take our company, for example. We’re a niche B2B provider, and we directly interact with a small group of clients in face-to-face meetings, by phone, and via email. When a client’s project or contract is concluded, we’re no longer in regular contact with that team. But we look to stay engaged with them through other means — the content we provide on our blog and social media channels, the events we attend, the nonprofit cause campaigns we periodically run, the notes we send as a thank-you for a referral.

Our actual services are never going to be an ongoing daily ritual for any single client. But we do try to create an environment where our voice and expertise make at least periodic reappearances in our clients’ lives. Hopefully those appearances spark connections that lead to those clients coming back, and bringing new customers with them. 

Ralph Allora is co-founder and marketing director of TRAY Creative, a Seattle-based creative agency specializing in brand identity, marketing campaigns and web solutions for forward-looking companies and nonprofits.