What Have You Done For Me Lately? Thoughts on the Brand-Customer Relationship


Last week I had the amazing privilege of attending Inbound 2013 in Bahstahn…err, Boston. One thing was apparent to me the entire time that I spent at the conference.

People freaking love HubSpot.

When Brian Halligan announced HubSpot’s new features like Social Inbox, COS, and Signals, people went nuts! Actually people applauded and cheered as much when the new features were revealed as they did when Brian Halligan jammed and air guitar-ed to Grateful Dead on stage. (So either people are really into HubSpot’s new features or B. Halligan’s dance moves need some work. I thought the dance moves were stellar so I know it’s the former.)

Sure, Inbound is definitely not all about HubSpot products, but I do think it takes a special brand to be able to unite over 5,000 marketers for three days. I also think that it takes more than just great products to cultivate an enthusiastic, loyal following (it’s obviously an essential part though; who’s going to get passionate about a brand offering crappy products or delivering crappy results?). Sometimes brands actually have more than people who think their stuff is really cool; they have people who talk about them, who share the content they create, who create their own content about the brand they love, who advocate.

At Inbound Dharmesh actually coined the word “delighton” (which then quickly got its own hashtag on Twitter). And if you’ve been following tweets or blog posts about Inbound, you’ve seen the Laura Fitton (aka @pistachio) quote that “You don’t just stop at the close. You continue with the delight.”

Whether you call it delighting or connecting or surprising, it matters. A lot. It’s a huge part of gaining people who recommend, create, share, and advocate and of building bonds that extend beyond the date range of products or services. I’ve seen and heard a lot of people chalk up this kind of thing to “fluff” because maybe it’s not as immediately measurable or tangible as closing a sale or getting someone to sign up for a free demo.

Time to give that fluff some substance! What does delighting or connecting or surprising actually look like? I found some awesome examples of brands who take steps to connect with their customers and members of their target audience and create those long-term brand-customer bonds. Delighton. It’s on.

That content

If you’ve been in the marketing world for longer than 0.5 seconds, you know that everyone is in love with content marketing. Free People is one brand that’s actually walking the walk and creating amazing content. The Free People blog has posts about topics its target audience is interested in: fashion, beauty, music, recipes, travel, DIYs, inspirational quotes. One of the coolest things Free People does is their street-style posts.

Free People Blog Header

Free People Blog Posts

Source: Free People blog

They photograph everyday girls wearing creative fashion ensembles in different locations: Cornwall, the First City Festival (these girls aren’t even in Free People clothing!). Spotlighting members of your target audience who have killer fashion sense? Love it. These girls are relatable to readers, and these posts give readers tons of new, achievable ideas for looks. Free People also incorporates into each post beautiful visuals and includes the Pin It button above each photo. Looks like it’s working.

Free People Pinterest

(All for posts on the front page of the blog.)

The main thing worth noting is that all of the content on the Free People blog is not intended to sell Free People products. It’s intended to provide people with Free (ha see what I did there) information and inspiration. That’s content marketing done right.

That connection

I honestly debated about including this because it seems like it should be such a no-brainer. Too bad a lot of brands aren’t using social media as one tool to forge connections. I’ve often found that people will talk about a brand on social media regardless of whether that brand actively participates in the conversation. Social media is built for connecting! Take advantage of it.

One brand that does an awesome job at this is Chobani: they respond to brand mentions in a witty, pithy way that shows the brand has a human side (gasp!) and isn’t just some corporate, soulless purveyor of yogurt (the best yogurt, I might add. If you haven’t gone Greek, do it.)



Chobani Connection

Chobani also has a consistent voice across their tweets. Nice!

But maybe humor doesn’t work for you. That’s OK! People may expect jokes from Chobani, but what do they expect or want from you? Solutions to problems? Answers to questions?

Warby Parker has a Twitter handle (@WarbyParkerHelp) devoted solely to answering people’s questions about their prescription glasses. They even compliment people on how they look in their new specs, communicating with people in a positive, helpful way. Again, it’s letting that human side shine through.

Warby Parker Twitter


Warby Parker Twitter Also notice that connection involves responding to people not only during some type of customer-service issue (though I will get to customer service later). Responding to people when things are wrong is important, but it’s just as important to respond when things are right! Meaningful relationships aren’t forged solely out of stormy situations (and often with brands, people become advocates because the brand has done something right), but those meaningful relationships can weather stormy situations that may arise in the future.

It’s Wednesday. That’s as profound as I get this early in the week.

That customer service

Complaints and problems happen, and while angry customers are sometimes scary (any other classic conflict avoiders here?), customer service can actually be an opportunity to pleasantly surprise people.

Nordstrom Twitter

Nordstrom Twitter Favorite Store

I know what some people think. “It’s such a pain when people complain on Twitter because the character limit makes it hard to get any detail and give a response!” Allow me to introduce you to this cool tool called email. Oh, and there’s also this thing on Twitter called a direct message where people can give you their email so that the info is between only the brand and customer! (just remember that you need to follow someone so that they can send you a DM).

Chobani Personal Connection

That surprise reciprocity

We all know from our own subjective experiences that it feels great when we get an unexpected positive surprise, right? Did you know that there’s actually science behind this experience?

Psychologist Norbert Schwarz conducted a study in which he occasionally placed a dime on a copy machine for the next person who used the machine to find. Later, he interviewed everyone who used the copy machine about their lives. People who found the ten cents were happier, more satisfied, and wanted to change less of their lives than those who didn’t find the ten cents. Can a measly dime really make that much of a difference in people’s lives? (This study was conducted in 1987, but still.) It’s not the money that affects people; it’s the unexpected, positive experience that can temporarily put people in a good mood.

Another study asked people leaving a grocery store to rate their satisfaction with their home televisions. People who received a free sample of food at the store minutes before being asked rated their satisfaction higher than those who didn’t receive a sample. Again, it’s not the food sample that makes people more satisfied with their lives, it’s the experience (unless we’re talking about Nutella).

Surprise reciprocity can take the form of free swag, sure, but I actually think it’s more effective when that free swag has some type of meaning behind it. I wanted to go to Inbound 2013, but it was a tad pricy for me, so I signed up for HubSpot’s Hustle program. Basically if others signed up for Inbound using my code, I could attend for free. The problem: no one signed up using my code. HubSpot knew I wanted to go, and they also knew that I had failed miserably with the Hustle program. (#lethargy) So they gave me another shot to go for free. All I had to do was creatively respond to an email and tell them why I would make Inbound epic.

Inbound 2013 Hustle

This act of surprise reciprocity had a lot of meaning behind it (it was kind of like HubSpot was saying to me, “Hey, we know you gave it a shot, but Hustle didn’t work for you. But fear not! You can still have another chance!), and it felt personal.

Another great, oft-cited example of surprise reciprocity: Zappos tells you that your order will be delivered in 3-4 days but it automatically upgrades everyone to priority shipping. And just a quick, feel-good anecdote for you on Zappos’ community: Back in 2008, Tony Hsieh announced on Twitter that he and 20 employees were flying to San Francisco to hold a happy hour and meet Zappos’ Twitter friends. Within an hour and a half, 200 people showed up with “Zappos” written on their hands.

Surprise reciprocity can be a small thing too. I placed an order with a small online boutique and received a handwritten note along with my order. How many brands use handwritten notes to thank you for your purchase? Usually you just get some generic receipt and that’s about it.

Tnuck Note

Now, I wouldn’t automatically buy from this brand again just because of the note, but whenever I think of the brand, I think of this note, especially because of (here’s another brief psychology lesson for you) something called the peak-end rule. The peak-end rule means that we judge and remember our experiences by two things: how they were at their peak and how they ended. We actually tend to disregard the net pleasantness or unpleasantness of our experiences. My experience with this brand effectively ended when I received my order, and it ended on a positive note with this (positive) unexpected gesture.

What happens when you create valuable content and establish meaningful relationships with people?

People create content about you

The Red Bull Stratos jump and the Red Bull Music Academy went over big.

Red Bull Marketing Lessons

Red Bull School Of Rock

Red Bull Marketing Content


Food bloggers are wonderful brand advocates and influencers. They create content about the brands they love and thereby expose their followings to those brands.

Chobani Noble Pig Blog Post

Source: Noble Pig

Chobani The Bitter Side of Sweet

Source: The Bitter Side of Sweet

These food bloggers share the love on social too…and Chobani responds!

Chobani Responds To Food Bloggers


Chobani Connects With Food Bloggers

(And now I’m also dreaming of apple pie and Chobani yogurt in a blender.)

BuzzFeed loved on Taco Bell, and people loved on Taco Bell in the comments.

BuzzFeed Social Media Sassy Side

People create content for you

Ah, BuzzFeed. Mock them for endless listicles and nonsense about cats all you want (even though BuzzFeed is totally getting into long-form content), but BuzzFeed has created a solid, active, participatory community. And they give back through the Community section of the site: BuzzFeeders can submit posts; if a post is fun or interesting or magical, editors feature it; and everyday BuzzFeeders just like you and I have the chance to go viral!

BuzzFeed Community

But BuzzFeed does even more than allowing clever, funny, talented people to go viral. It showcases Top Users.

BuzzFeed Community Top Users It gives community contributors perks in the form of Cat Power. When one of your posts gets accepted, your Cat Power increases from 0 to 1. The more Cat Power you get, the more posts you can submit and the more perks you get. (Cats have become such a symbol of BuzzFeed, the Internet, and virality that I actually think Cat Power is perfect.)

BuzzFeed Community Cat Power

People can also receive awards for participating on and contributing to BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed Community Awards

All of these things give people incentive to participate and rewards for participating. And getting a little boost to your ego by being a BuzzFeed Top Contributor is always a good thing, right?

ModCloth is another brand that has a solid community and a wealth of user-generated content. ModCloth has a style gallery where people submit photos of themselves wearing their favorite ModCloth clothes. It showcases “all the expressive, creative, and inspirational personalities” of the community.

ModCloth Style Gallery

People can heart (or “love”) photos right from the style gallery, shop the pieces that girls are wearing, and pin/tweet/FB share the photos. A user-generated photo gallery is such a simple idea but it lends to word-of-mouth marketing and peer recommendations. Plus, it shows ModCloth’s audience relatable, real people. Ever been worried about buying clothes because they look great on the model but they probably won’t look like that on you? Yea, you know what I’m talking about. The style gallery gets around this all while bringing together fashion-minded people who form a positive community.

Any brands out there you’ve seen creating valuable content or just doing things that most brands aren’t doing? Share the delighton tactics!

About The Author:Olivia Roat
Olivia Roat is an inbound marketing consultant at Mainstreethost - a Buffalo, NY search marketing firm / web design company. Connect with Olivia: Google+ | Twitter | Linkedin