Entrepreneurs long to see the telltale signs of a passionate customer base: lines around the block on product launch day, pushing and shoving as the doors open and celebrations at the checkout counter. But gaining a legion of loyal followers doesn’t happen by accident.
Companies such as Apple and Tesla Motors that owe their success to passionate fans gained these followers with a formula for product lust. They knew their target customers intimately, then gave them a product that exceeded their expectations in four dimensions: innovative technology, simplicity and design and features that ignite conversation. In return, customers flocked to product launches and became brand evangelists.
Passionate customers are the most critical component of building a brand, but you won’t gain followers by sitting on your hands. Building a passionate customer base requires hard work and a focus on exceeding customers’ needs in simple ways.
Here’s how to grow an enthusiastic fan base:
1. Seed your initial customer base.
Your first group of customers is the foundation of all future growth, so know who they’ll be, why they’ll rave and help them tell your story. They’ll first act as role models and then as advocates to help spread your mission, so make locating and engaging those core customers a priority. This is especially important if you’re introducing something completely new to a traditional industry.
I remember sitting next to Reid Hoffman when he was pitching early investors on LinkedIn in 2003. He had a dozen more presentations, even after raising all the money he needed. When I asked why, he said, “You all sign up to try LinkedIn before we pitch. I’m seeding my initial customer base with the entire venture capital community, one of the most secret, challenging and tight-knit communities with incredible hiring power.” I had fallen for his plan and become LinkedIn user No. 5,944. LinkedIn now boasts 300 million members.
2. Share your goals early.
Get your first group of customers excited about your mission by reaching out during the design process. Tell them your overarching goal, and ask them to help you figure out when you’ve reached that benchmark. Make them feel like they’re a part of the team to ignite their passion for the mission.
3. Make engagement a part of your routine.
If you only seek customers’ advice in focus groups, you’ll lose touch with their interests and priorities. Instead, engage directly with customers every day. Reddit, Facebook groups and other message boards are great, but I also engage customers when I’m out and about. For example, if I see someone using our product, I might strike up a conversation and ask questions to the customer and those around him. This allows me to gather feedback that I wouldn’t get in a formal focus group.
4. 'Wow' them in seven seconds or less.
To become brand evangelists, consumers need to experience a feeling of amazement within seven seconds of handling your product. So find someone who’s never seen your product and explain it to her in 20 seconds or less. Then put the product in her hands. Do you see that delight on her face? Does she turn to the person next to her to talk about certain features? If not, head back to the drawing board.
5. Never accept mediocrity.
My company doesn’t launch a product until we know our customers will see it as the best in its class. That means we have a lot of prototypes that never make it out of the labs. We have amazing innovations that don’t achieve elegance, so they get rejected. We have elegant designs that perform only 15 percent better, so they get rejected. We pride ourselves on that pile of rejects. Building a product that’s above the rest takes work, and it’s worth the effort.
6. Practice random recognition.
Passionate users love to hear that they’re contributing to your brand’s success. I regularly give public shout outs and write personal notes to those who say good things about us. Sometimes, I’ll even pick up the bar tab for someone I see using or talking about our product in public. Make a habit of acknowledging users who offer feedback, and let them know how much their support matters.
A dedicated customer base doesn’t stem from flashy technology and expensive advertising. To generate that level of fervor, companies have to set the bar high, exceed expectations and engage customers.