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How 12 brands created and sustained long-term customer equity


In this excerpt from his book Join The Brand, Norty Cohen shares the findings from hundreds of brand cases that have identified best practices for turning customers into brand ambassadors. 

10th Aug 2022

Creating conversations with potential customers is an evolving science that has its share of proponents and specialists.

However, nothing brings a smile to a marketer’s face more than a “repeat customer.” Real success happens when customers move past the trial stage to brand loyalty, lighting up a sweet spot on the balance sheet. 

Who are these loyalists? How can you get more of them? What makes fans into superfans? These are questions many of our clients are asking as attention spans continue to shrink and competition heats up.

Moosylvania started doing research on “How and Why Consumers Adopt Brands,” six years ago and we have fielded new research every year. The first five years led to the book, The Participation Game, which argued that people don’t consume advertising, they choose to participate in brands.

Along the way, we saw that when “fans” move into “superfan” territory, they reach a level of shared status with their favorite brands. We were inspired by the sheer force of dedicated brand loyalty and began fielding new studies on brand communities and the fans who form around them.

We looked at hundreds of brand cases and identified the best practices. We found that loyal communities can form rock-solid belonging for brands. Our second book, Join the Brand introduces this formula for amplifying and building long-term equity.

Ignite the fire, fuel the flame, pass the torch

First and foremost, the most dedicated fans are keen to assume the identity of the brands they love. A good story well told will ignite the fire. Having a believable mission is job one. 

Next, unite them and fuel the flame. Creating two-way connections will hold their interest. This could range from gaming to co-creation to a brand vocabulary with secret menus.

But how to get to long-term equity? That’s where pass the torch takes over the heavy lifting.

When consumers are feeling inspired, they become ambassadors, telling your story for you. When your identity helps build theirs and shareable content is abundant, you’ve set the stage.

Here are the four most successful ways we found for passing the torch:

1. Influencer networks

We’re not talking about paid influencers. We’re talking about creating official memberships that enhance your brand’s value proposition. It’s your opportunity to set the tone, language and personality that your best advocates can adopt.

  • The Skimm is a daily newsletter that has one qualification for its loyalists. Enlist 10 friends by sharing the enrollment information and they will become a Skimmbassador. With this status, they are entitled to qualify for rewards, contributed by advertisers who are organically blended into the content.
  • Sephora is a community platform allowing users to post photos, join groups, recommend products and chat live with advice. As a Beauty Insider, superfans are rewarded with loyalty points aligned with two-way conversations where the newbie shares photos and officially joins the party. The Sephora brand is a bystander – out of the way, but helping to provide expert advice.
  • Cholula Hot Sauce invites fans to become an official Cholulian and join the “Order of Cholula.” This is a good example of not taking yourself too seriously, particularly when they welcome you with a limited bottle of sweet Habanero sauce.

2. The consumer is the communication

We’ve all seen enough actors saying they care about a brand. Superfans will say it better and at some point, they may become the perfect communicator, genuinely sharing the word.

  • REI became a marketing case study with “Opt Outside,” a platform that was born on Black Friday. When the retailer introduced the hashtag for consumers and made a statement by closing on the biggest shopping day of the year, everyone including partner brands jumped on board. It’s true to their story and consumers are happy to adopt it.
  • The Country of Sweden decided to make its Twitter account completely citizen run. “Curators of Sweden,” which lasted seven years and had 200,000 tweets, showed the world a diverse and inclusive view. Hundreds of voices emerged and together, truly shared the magic.
  • Honda Next Door allowed consumers to covet something of their neighbors: their SUV. Honda realized that fans make the best salespeople, so they signed up 1,000 drivers to turn their garages into mini dealerships throughout Europe.

3. Control the buzz

You’re at the party. You’ve brought good ideas. Your brand is in the conversation. A little suggestive selling is now in order. Sometimes it’s just a twist on what people are saying or it could be self-induced in-the-know repartee:

  • KFC found its voice by personifying their famous Colonel. They sparked conversation by pushing out a twitter feed and only following 11 people: five former Spice Girls and six guys named Herb. Once discovered, buzz ensued.
  • Ikea found fame when the design house Balenciaga pushed out a $2,000 fashion shopping bag that looked eerily like the 99-cent bag every Ikea shopper has come to know and love. Twitter jumped on it and it was perfect fodder for a spunky series of buzzworthy digital ads on how to identify the original Ikea bag.
  • Southwest Airlines has always been about fun and not taking themselves too seriously. When fans tweet at them, the response isn’t corporate speak, but sometimes just a simple GIF of a flight attendant smiling and waving back. No words. Not one. Just “we know that you know that we know this is a thing.”

4. Family ties 

When fans become superfans, it’s time to invite them over. Sharing family moments is the ultimate lifelong move. Here’s what happens when you do:

  • Target invited a couple to shoot their engagement photos in the store. It reflected how they connected and where they shopped regularly. Shopping and weddings seem to go together for everything, including fun photos.
  • Taco Bell brings weddings to a whole new light with a store in Las Vegas dedicated to ceremonies that include a 12 pack of tacos. To promote the opening, they held a national competition in which 150 couples submitted entries and 17,000 fans voted on their free wedding. 
  • WAWA is a beloved convenience store chain that has allowed aspiring artists to film their music videos and host weddings on their parking lot. Either way, the emotion of loving the store is a shareable moment.

Ultimately, when consumers want to be ambassadors for your brand, good things happen.  Promoting your loyalists is ultimately much easier (and more effective) than promoting yourself.  With a consistent base of followers, every step of the way becomes more logical from monthly promotions, to introducing new products to organically creating referrals.

Excerpt from Join The Brand, by Norty Cohen, Jillian Flores and Meggie Petersen. Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Hudson News and select independent book sellers.

Norty Cohen is the founder and CEO of integrated marketing agency, Moosylvania.  He is the author of two books, The Participation Game, published in 2017 and Join the Brand, 2018.  He is a former owner and founder of Hatch Research, a global research consultancy.


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