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5 ways to boost brand loyalty in the gift economy

by Khoros Staff | Nov 22, 2016

Editor's Note: This post was originally created by Spredfast before Spredfast and Lithium merged and became Khoros.

A friend of mine recently shared a story with me about an experience at Burning Man that’s stuck with me. On one particularly hot day wandering across “the Playa” she came across a sign that caught her attention. It read “Compliment Camp”.

Intrigued, she peeked in…

“Oh, wow! You have the most incredible hair I have ever seen,” said a man standing right near the door.

An immediate smile spread across her face.

“Whoa, look at her dress,” said another man.

“It’s not the dress,” the man standing by the door said. “Look how totally hot this girl is.”

For an hour, she sat on a dusty couch at Compliment Camp and was showered with compliment upon compliment. And when finally leaving the camp, she had a new bounce in her step, and felt as tall as “The Burning Man” himself.

As with all good things, word quickly spread about Compliment Camp, and the next day there was a two-hour line out the door.

Selfless giving of one’s unique talents, goods or services is actively reinforced at Burning Man. It is a gift economy at its core, which means that whatever anyone offers is given away for free, without any expectation for immediate or future reward. But imagine how many people would gladly give a dollar in exchange for a visit to a compliment booth? Hearing this story, it got me thinking about the thrill of the unexpected discovery. Those times when an accidental encounter or random act of kindness turned an ordinary day into a truly memorable experience. It also got me thinking about the principles of gift economies, and the opportunities they present for marketers in creating community, cultivating relationships and brand loyalty.

Gift economies present marketers with opportunities to create community + cultivate brand loyalty.

Similar to Burning Man, social media is at its core, a gift economy. For the most part, people engage in social because they are looking to create relationships and build community. It’s less transactional and more relational. Status is something that is earned through dialogue, relationship building, and giving—it is social currency. Many brands who engage in social continue to struggle with this fact, because they focus so much on bottom of the funnel activities. They think more in terms of market economies and less on gift economies.

Social media is, at its core, a gift economy.

The fact is, people engage with brands that they feel a connection to. Brands that they trust. In turn, they buy from those brands that they love.

But how can brands implement the principles of gift economies within their social and business strategy?

1. Focus on the relationships

Social affords us the opportunity to create deep and lasting connections with the people who matter most to us, whether that is a friend, family member, or customer. Brands so often get bogged down with transactional thinking that they forget about the customer themselves. Be human, engage in dialogue, and participate in conversation with your customers in a way that is authentic and provides a value exchange.

2. Walk in your customer’s shoes

We have all had experiences with brands that have been less than exceptional—some so terrible that it’s forced us to boycott that brand altogether. Far fewer of us have had unexpected, extraordinary interactions that have caused us to share our story with anyone who will listen. Each and every customer is unique. By keeping your finger on the pulse of your customers’ needs and listening, you can identify ways to create lasting connections.

3. Surprise and delight

We’ve all heard stories of “paying it forward” or the random acts of kindness from do-gooders. These moments, when captured on video, create as many social shares as they do tears. As I covered in a recent post, brands have a unique opportunity to create these unexpected moments that go well beyond the norm of consumer expectation. A personalized response or a small gesture can go a long way to building loyalty.

4. Create community

There are stories of native tribes throughout the world where status of the elders was not determined by age or by wealth, but instead given to those who gave the most to the community. The same holds true for brands—the more generous you are, the more you are held in esteem by your community. And in times of crisis, that community will support you in turn.

5. Empower employees

Contrary to popular belief, most employees care about their brand’s customers, and want to go the extra mile for them, both online and off. But oftentimes, they are handcuffed by corporate policy, regulations, or resources. Great companies allow their employees to build the culture of their brand. To build warmth into the brand DNA by empowering their employees to go above and beyond by showing that they care.

Great companies allow their employees to build the culture of the brand.

Giving without expectation

In this season of “Black Friday Doorbusters”, fighting with mall-goers over parking spots and scouring the Internet for any retailer who might not be charging a 10x markup on a “Hatchimal”, brands can do well to think through the principles of a gift economies. Many people believe that there is an implicit expectation in gift economies where the gift or favor is, at some point, returned. The same can be said for marketers who engage with their consumers with the hope that they will Like, tweet, or share their interaction…and broadly. But brands who give without expectation of return will create deep connections that will far exceed transactional concepts of loyalty.

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