The 4 things you need to do to convert customers into brand ambassadors

We all want customers or clients who are so thrilled with us (and our work, service or results) that they voluntarily and enthusiastically spread the word among their contacts and networks. But how does this work if you’re not a superstar brand with a ton of money to spend?

You need to do four things:

  1. Know your customers and what they want

  2. Give them something they perceive to have real value

  3. Don’t attach any strings or hide any gotchas

  4. Make it really fun

Here’s a quick case study based on an experience I had today that shows all four elements at work, really effectively.

We have an annual pass to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. When it opened about two months ago, the aquarium seemed like it would be a super cool place to visit, especially during the months in Cleveland when it’s important to have    indoor options to keep kids busy and entertained. (We have two boys, ages 3 and 7.)  My husband went once with our 7-year old son. At the time, we decided to get an annual pass.

Here’s why: if our family of four went to the aquarium together, and bought tickets for just that day, it would cost us $75.80. (Tickets for adults are $21.95 and for the kids [aged 2-12] are $15.95. The annual pass is $130 for a family. So, if we go even two times a year, together, the pass becomes the better deal. I had planned to take the kids, too, but hadn’t fit it in, yet.

Last week, an email arrived announcing a special Toddler Time party for annual pass holders with children aged two to four. It would give the 40 or so respondents who RSVP’d access to the entire facility from 8 am to 10 am, before it opened to the public. But the little ones wouldn’t just get to roam, unfettered, around “40 tanks of all sizes, which are home to thousands of living creatures. From the Ohio-native brook trout, to the ferocious piranhas, as well as the sand tiger sharks that reach more than seven feet long,” as the aquarium’s website touts.

As well, the inaugural Toddler Time party featured music, dancing, touch exhibits staffed with plenty of friendly aquarists, snacks, juice, storytelling, Captain Neil (with a booming brogue) and friendly, furry costumed sea creatures to cuddle and wave at. Oh, and the lovely folks at the aquarium set out hot coffee for the parents, too.

We were truly treated to a special, private and fun time. It cost an additional $7. But I would’ve paid five times that and still felt like it was a deal. My three-year old, Max, had fun, too. (And he ate three packages of Teddy Grahams!)

The experience converted me into a brand ambassador, for sure. Here’s how the aquarium delivered on the four elements:

1.  Know your customers and what they want

The set up is exactly what works with this age group: space, movement, food, things to touch, music, animals and water. And, it was what the parents wanted, too. About a 1/3 or so of the caregivers at the Toddler Time party were guys/dads — a much bigger chunk than I expected. The morning timing and location (the aquarium is downtown) made it a great way to fit in some fun time and wrap it, smoothly, into the rest of the day. I did the same thing.

2.  Give them something they perceive to have real value

It wasn’t just the thoughtful additions of snacks, drinks and coffee or music, dancing, stories and characters that made this so great. The private access made us feel like we were truly special guests. The staff welcomed us warmly and showed us around with pride. It wasn’t at all crowded. We got to feel like we were being honored as annual pass holders. Smart! I’m not going to be the only one who talks this up, and that’s bound to entice more folks to become annual pass holders.

3.  Don’t attach any strings or hide any gotchas

No one made me sign anything or promise to send anything in. I wasn’t hounded to buy one thing. In fact, the gift shop was closed — which was a sigh of relief to this mom, who dreads the parade past the goodies in the grocery checkout line because of the pestering. The experience was all treat and no tricks, just the way it should be when a business is trying to show customers extra value. Problem is, it doesn’t always happen like this. Customers notice.

4.  Make it really fun

This is almost the easy part, if you nail the other three elements. The aquarium took care of everything, including making it fun for the grownups. I had such a good time that when I dropped off my son at day care, afterwards, still chatting about it, our caregiver said she’d look into joining so she could take the kids. (She looks after five toddlers and takes them to the zoo and concerts and plays for children, so this facility would be right in line with those fun excursions.) And I am blogging about it. And I’m posting pics on Facebook. And I’ll Tweet. How much in advertising would that publicity cost?

The upshot is this: if you want to turn customers into brand ambassadors, it takes forethought and planning. But it doesn’t take a ton of money or a huge marketing staff. The effort is mainly in giving your customers what they want as well as value and fun, like this Toddler Time party. I want to share about it through social media because I now consider myself an ambassador of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and its brand.

When advising clients or others about seizing opportunities on social media or through other marketing channels, keep in mind the experiences you have when you are the customer. That’s a great way to test out the ideas to see if they are authentic and would work. This experience with the aquarium is just one example of how to do that.

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3 comments

  1. The 4 things you need to do to convert customers into brand ambassadors

    Becky,

    Great post. There’s still hope to bring authentic customer service back.

    There’s a 5th “thing” the aquarium has that probably should be at the top of the list. It wraps the rest into a perfect package.

    THEY CARE! When you truly care about people, the rest takes care of itself.

    Have a nice day.

    • The 4 things you need to do to convert customers into brand ambassadors

      Yep, great point. And, you’re right, that has to be embedded into the approach or no tactics will work because they’ll appear hollow. Customers are so sophisticated now, they can tell when you’re faking it. To me, that’s what the focus on authenticity is all about. You know authenticity because you can sense it. But it really is old school, as your post indicates –it’s just helped along and made easier by technology and tools such as social media.

  2. The 4 things you need to do to convert customers into brand ambassadors

    The mental process never changes. The delivery systems get faster and broader.

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