Peter Drucker, the inventor of modern management, said, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.” It’s fair to say that many business leaders agree with that statement. And yet, it’s easy to forget that staying competitive comes down to understanding what the customer wants, as well as who you are and why you exist. The importance of these questions depends on the product or service. Do you have something that’s unique or one that needs to be unique? Is your company more like Apple, who focuses on innovation? Or like Nike, who relies on marketing? Either way, you need both. Apple wouldn’t be Apple without compelling ads. And Nike would slowly be forgotten without its trendsetting designs.

Your company needs to build brand trust and that comes from having a compelling marketing strategy as well as an innovative product or service. When customers, lapsed or otherwise, agree with, feel enthusiastic about, and gain interest in your brand, that’s when you know you’re onto something. At which point, it might even be possible to achieve loyalty. It’s not enough to focus on just one thing, and the reason for that is simple. We’re all fighting in highly competitive markets, meaning every transaction, and every decision has one winner and lots of, well, non-winners.

The right combination of marketing and innovation that works for your brand, and its lapsed customers, comes from good insights and ideas. Here are several things to consider, with thoughts from Clever Samurai’s VP and Creative Director Joe Amaral and Leigh-Ann Clarke, director of sales at sales lead generation company, 360 Leads:

Never leave a question unanswered.
Everything happens for a reason, an adage that’s particularly true when it comes to customer relationships. Like friends who’ve drifted apart, consumers who haven’t made purchases in a while always know why. And it’s important to find out if they’ve been let down or taken for granted, bombarded to the point of burn out or tempted by something new. Leigh-Ann Clarke, whose clients at 360 Leads include Toshiba and Shell, says, “do your research, look at the data, pay attention to patterns, listen to a consultant—and make sure you truly understand your audience. Keeping up with trends, knowing your stats, building new systems, focusing on a strategy—that’s where success begins.”

Be different in a way that makes a difference.
Determine your unique value proposition and run with it

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. What is it about your company that makes it worthy of attention? Why should they buy from you and not the competition? Most importantly, have you updated or upgraded the products and services that prompted customers to lapse in the first place? Nothing will matter if you don’t. Joe Amaral, who has built and marketed many major Canadian brands like Bell and McDonald’s, says “Customers don’t mind being persuaded, rewarded or wined and dined, as long as disappointment isn’t right around the corner.”

Let the product or service speak for itself.
Clarke says, “People pay attention when it’s genuine. It pays to be real, to tell it like it is, and, this is the crucial part, to be an effective use of time.” Customers are more like “prosumers.” They’ve got product reviews and competitive information in their pocket. Buying into anything is influenced by a million voices at all times. Their decision path is typically more than halfway set before they even click on or step foot in your store. Whether you choose social, email, notifications, partner pages or direct mail, treat the availability of these channels as an open invitation. When they need you, they’ll find you, and when they do, make sure it’s a great experience.

Don’t assume you should start from scratch.
Habit primarily drives human behaviour (including consumer behaviour). These routines and unconscious decisions fuel our way of life. Consider whether you have removed a trigger, made an action harder or caused a negative experience. Maybe it’s a change in packaging that prompts customers to assume their go-to product is out of stock. Or a slowdown in service that encourages them to switch temporarily. Amaral suggests that whatever the reason, they’ve only fallen out of habit. So rather than lapsed or lost, it might be more useful to think of these customers as latent. All you need to do is find out how to get them back into the routine again.

Change can be good if you’re aware of what your product represents to your customers.
Ask yourself, how does the product impact culture? Or does culture influence the product? What associations do your customers have with it? Clarke stresses the importance of this question, “Did they lapse because of a trend you overlooked or were you so busy chasing trends you didn’t notice the customers who liked you the way you were?”

Use data to predict the point at which your consumers are most vulnerable to leave.
For example, when Amaral was working on the Petro-Canada business, he found that when gas hit a certain price point, customer loyalty disappeared. Once you can recognize that data point in the consumer relationship, you can form a tactic.

Make it simple.
In other words, make it easy for customers to interact with your business. Whether you decide to optimize operations, rethink a layout, or add technology, look at it from their perspective. Make it make sense to them, not you. Keeping it simple sounds like advice that goes without saying. But sometimes a thorough re-evaluation is what your company needs, especially when you’re talking to customers who might be willing to give you a second chance.

We are all customers. Every single one of us has at one point thought, “I wish company XYZ had this service,” or “If they did this I’d probably shop there more.” We’ve all played that game, where we imagine how much better the company would be if we were the ones in charge. Well, your lapsed customers are thinking just that. These are the people who’ve already decided whether your company is worth their time. Who’ve already experienced your outages, tasted your products, shopped at your stores, spoken with your customer service representatives, interacted with and bought your products. The ones who used to believe in the brand but decided to back out. If you talk to them the way they want to be spoken to and show them something they want, you’re guaranteed a second chance. Because as they say, the customer is always…

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Cara Lau

Cara Lau is a copywriter at Clever Samurai (cleversamurai.com), world traveller, environmentalist and aspiring it-girl. #foodie #hipster #feminist #millennial

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