Friday, January 30, 2009

3 Things My Cats Can Teach You About Brand Engagement

It seems like everyone is writing about using social media to engage your customers with your brand and establish meaningful relationships, so it must be pretty easy, right?

Well, in a way, yes it is— so easy that even my cats can show you how to create deep engagement between your customers and your brand—if you follow these 3 simple guidelines:

1. Establish Relationships, Not Transactions
2. Give Them A Reason To Come In (and recognize them when they do)
3. Do What THEY Want You To Do, Not What YOU Want To Do

My cats (SAM and Cleo) and I have a typical customer-to-brand relationship. I’m the brand. I have goods and services that they want and need; they have payment that I want.

The currency my cats give me is affection, which they show by purring. To me, their purrs are the reason why I’m in the business of having cats.

The cats, of course, don’t purr just because I want them to—I’ve got to provide them food, water, a clean litter box and lots of attention. They’re demanding customers, but their purrs are their way of telling me that they are satisfied customers.
1. Relationships are better than transactions.

As customers and brands, we have a lot of transactions during any given day—I put food in their bowl, turn the water on in the sink for a drink, open the door and let them outside, scratch behind their ears when they have an itch, play with them when they are frisky, clean the litter box, etc.

For each one of those transactions, I get a small payment—I pet the cat and the cat usually gives me a nudge of appreciation in return.

But these are transactions anyone can do. The cat doesn’t really show affection—she isn’t purring, she’s just allowing me to take what I want from her. It’s like ringing up a sale at the cash register—I don’t really want to give you my money, but it’s what it costs to get the goods, so I do it. The cat lets me pet her because that’s what the service cost. There's no meaningful connection.

The real sign of my cats’ happiness comes when they come to me of their own volition, and spend time in my lap with their little purr motor churning away.

When that happens, the cat is saying that I did a LOT of things right that day, and they appreciate the effort.

That’s the sign of a relationship and deep engagement. And it’s a lot more satisfying for both of us than just a quick pet. Are you petting your customers, or are they purring for you?

2. Give Them A Reason To Come In and Recognize Them When They Do.

I want my cats in the house every night. I used to live in Lake Tahoe where bears, coyotes and owls would eat cats that weren’t inside after dark. So I like to take care of my cats (customers) by bringing them in at a regular time, partly to soothe my own fears that they are still there.

How do you do that?

Give them a reason to come in. For a brand, they might come for your blog or discussion forums where they can hang out with friends, a promotion or they come looking information updated daily. Give them a reason to come.

My cats love to eat. I regulate their food intake so they have dry food available all day long but their food dish is usually empty by evening. They’re not starving, but I like to keep them a little hungry so they have a good reason to come home.

Every night at 10 pm, I call for the cats, refill their dry food and give them a treat of canned food. They like being outside chasing bugs and things a LOT...but they like to eat even more. I know I’m motivating my customers with something they really want. I do this consistently, every day.

The result is that they now know how to tell time. My cats can be away all day long, but they still stroll into the house between 9:30 and 10:00 pm. every night on their own accord looking for food.

It’s important that they ALWAYS get food at that time and that I recognize them when they do come home. They don’t always act like it, but the fact is that my cats like it when I make a fuss over them—they appreciate the recognition. A simple “thanks for coming in, SAM" always gets his acknowledgment. If I DON’T say anything, he walks right by me and ignores me.

I always have to remember that the cats don’t come home because I want them to--they come because I give them a reason to. If I stop giving them that reason and recognition for doing so, they will stop coming.

And here’s a cool thing-- if I’m working late and haven’t noticed that it’s past 10 pm, both cats will start raise a ruckus and let me know that it’s time to feed them.

As customers, they are telling me that they fulfilled their part of the deal by showing up and that they are used to a consistent behavior. They remind me to uphold my customer service standards. It’s a good reminder.

3. Do What THEY Want You To Do, Not What YOU Want
To Do

My cats are brother and sister but couldn’t be more different from each other. Cleo is affectionate, doesn’t stray too far from home, curious, loves to be cuddled and always comes when she is called. She’s the loyal customer who always wants to know what your company is up to.

SAM is more aloof, gets annoyed if you pet him when he’s not in the mood, doesn’t like to be picked up, doesn’t like change, tolerates attention and is cautious. He likes to be ‘around’ me, but keeps his distance. EXCEPT...twice a day, without fail, he turns into a loving, affectionate purr machine for around 15 minutes. And then he goes back to being aloof.

Ever have a customer like that? I think MOST of them are like SAM. You’ve got to take advantage of that 15 minutes of affection when HE wants to give it, or it's gone.

Keep in mind that MY objective is to get purrs from the cats, and that it's something that I have to entice them to give. But obviously, I can’t treat them the same way to get purrs—they both like different things and different tactics.

Cleo always greets me when I walk in the door. She knows the sound of my motorcycle and can be in the backyard catching lizards, but when she hears my bike pull up, she runs inside the house and is waiting for me at the front door like a dog.

She’s like an Apple customer whenever there is a new product announcement by Steve Jobs. She wants to be close to me and wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.

SAM is a lot cooler. If he’s in the house, he’ll look at me and give a slight nod of the head, like “it’s okay if you come over if you pet me, but I’m fine if you don’t.” If I try to pick SAM up, he either runs away or howls in protest. He clearly doesn’t enjoy it.

He’s like most of your customers. He wants acknowledgment, but not a lot of attention. He wants to be left alone until he dictates the terms of the interaction. I'm okay with that.

Here’s the thing though—if I give my attention to SAM before acknowledging Cleo, she gets jealous and will cry and paw at me until I pay attention to her instead. I have to pet her before I focus on SAM. If I don't, she goes and sulks for awhile.

The lesson there is: pay attention to your most loyal customers FIRST. They’ve earned it, they want it, and they demand it. Reward their loyalty and they will continue to give it to you.

The point is, of course, that it takes time to observe the different behaviors between different customers (cats) and to learn to respond appropriately. What makes one cat (customer) happy isn’t what makes another one happy.

It takes patience, an ability to listen and a willingness to adapt to each customers needs to develop a rewarding relationship for both sides.

They Want To Purr

Lastly, it’s important to remember that most cats would prefer to have a nice warm lap to cuddle up with, regular food and know that they are going to be cared for—it’s a much better life than an alley cat that has to scramble daily to satisfy its needs.

Your customers are like that too—they WANT to have a good, consistent relationship with your brand—it makes their life easier and more enjoyable.

Follow these 3 simple rules, and you’ll have your customers engaged and purring too.

Am I missing anything? What do your pets teach you?

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