Comment: Getting back to basics

Building a loyal community is important, says Natalie Sportelli, but the product should always come first.

Natalie Sportelli is head of content at brand review platform Thingtesting.

The other day, I checked my text messages and found a few from my mother, fiancé, a friend and a mac-and-cheese brand. At some point, I must have made a trade: my cell phone number for a discount code. This exchange helped the brand secure access to this corner of my personal life, and I satisfied my craving for cheesy pasta. On that day, I replied to the others, but I left the brand on read. 

For today's brands, it's never been harder to capture (and keep) our attention. As consumers, we're disloyal, fickle and easily distracted. That's why brands are constantly adapting, adopting new ways to reach us and start building a relationship. Every brand wants to become a fixture in our lives and, to do so, they're finding new, creative ways to get us to buy in. 

In the most tech-forward section of the modern brand world, a growing number of companies, which sell everything from soda to sneakers, are launching non-fungible tokens (NFTs) with a goal of recruiting customers into their company's journey. Brands have also sought to include customers in product development, similarly incentivizing this group to weigh in on new ideas and participate in research and development. That kind of hands-on buy-in is gold for brands, but not all will choose to take this route. 

Many others are leaning into more traditional tactics to get us on board. Community-building efforts like social media and messaging channels that unite customers in conversation around a brand are getting more attention. Subscription offerings are exploding as companies seek to lock us in for repeat deliveries in exchange for a lower price. The same is true for the rise of membership programs, which give customers other ways to contribute to and find value from a business. 

Beyond getting us to spend more, these efforts incentivize customers to stay connected to a brand. And, if this relationship works out, brands can derive even more value from them. They can encourage and share user-generated content from loyal customers who post photos or videos of their products in the wild, incorporating them into their marketing. Brands could also offer this group an opportunity to function as sellers, where they use the power of personal recommendations to spread the word about the brands.

Brands are in a race to stand out, and they have plenty of clever ways to pull us into their orbit. But is all of this mostly just noise? Maybe the way to our hearts and wallets is much more straightforward. When I think about the brands I buy and reorder, it always comes down to two qualities: they fill a need and they work really well. For brands, right now could be the best possible time to go back to the basics and refocus efforts on simply making really good things, listening to customer feedback and focusing on ways to improve. I can't speak for everyone, but I find that effort a lot more valuable than noodling on text messages.

A version of this article was first published in Courier issue 49, September/October 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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