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Help Customers Fall Madly in Love With Your Company

June 12, 2017

What can Big Food teach us about wielding influence for good – not evil? And how can companies nurture “transformational consumers” who have lifelong love affairs with their products, brands and content?

By Tara-Nicholle Nelson, CEO, TCI

Most companies are fixated on growing sales and increasing revenue. They look at customers through the lens of the transaction, tasking their teams with a single objective: Create more sales. This focus on growth pervades their relationships with customers and tempts them into short-term thinking and bad behavior.

For one industry, that kind of bad behavior prompted damaging press coverage that had readers describing companies as “cravenly amoral,” their products as a “dystopian disaster” and their strategies as “crony capitalism.” That nightmarish scenario came true for Big Food companies – very large industrial food processors and manufacturers – in 2013, when The New York Times ran an excerpt from Michael Moss’s exposé, “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.” The Times piece, “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” explained how Moss discovered overwhelming evidence that food companies make “a conscious effort to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.” Unfortunately, these same foods played a disproportionate role in kick-starting America’s obesity and diabetes epidemics. 

The efforts of these “food optimizers” worked – more Cheetos and junk food sold. More transactions. More growth.

But this decades-long campaign to get people addicted to unhealthful foods is exactly what people think of when they think of companies trying to create habit-forming products. They think of big, evil conglomerates on a sinister mission to get people addicted to retail, screens and unhealthy foods, while banking a hefty profit.

This whole behavior-changing business scenario could have played out a different way. The flip-side conclusion of Moss’s investigation is that businesses are in the position to understand how to influence people’s behavior. There’s no reason companies can’t wield that influence for good instead of evil.

What if executives used what we know about building habits and changing behavior to help people create healthy, prosperity-inducing habits? What if we aligned our business models with people’s personal goals to change their behavior for the healthier, wealthier and wiser?

Massive change would occur, and the consumer response to businesses would change, too. Love, engagement and long-term, sustainable profitability would follow.

These “what ifs” point to an alternative realm of possibility for customer relationships, a path beyond the epidemic of distrust and disengagement. Here, business becomes a force for beneficial transformation in individual customers’ lives. Here, customers highly anticipate the opportunity to buy products, tell their friends about them, open, click, like and review.

I saw this transformation when I worked with HGTV, at Trulia, and as the chief marketer for MyFitnessPal. This new possibility for business is anxiously waiting in the wings, just itching to replace the tired status quo.

In this new realm, these thriving, engaging companies have a single thing in common: They are the knowledgeable mentor, compassionate adviser and provider of invaluable, transformational tools that customers can’t bear to be without (and can’t stop telling their friends and loved ones about, either).

From startups like the ones I mentioned to companies like CVS Health, Target, Airbnb and Apple, corporations are beginning to take a new approach. They are tapping into a uniquely human force, whether by design or out of sheer love for their users. These companies are pioneering a path where employees and customers are engaged. As a result, they consistently:

  • Rank as the most innovative companies in the world.
  • Rank among the most beloved, engaging brands.
  • Achieve stellar growth and beat their competition.
  • Are crowned the best places to work.

By helping their target audience make the critical life changes they crave, these companies have re-engineered their businesses to serve transformational consumers. Those people view their lives as a series of projects designed to change their behavior in pursuit of their aspirations, and they use products, services and content that help.

Transformational consumers engage in love affairs with the companies that help them change their lives. Some are wild, rollicking, steamy flings where customers don only Lululemon gear or take only SoulCycle spin classes. Others look much more like a lifelong, devoted marriage. These customers might not be starry-eyed, but they are remarkably consistent. They read the blog, open the newsletters, share the content – regularly. Better yet, they tell their friends about their beloved brands.

This level of deep customer engagement matters so much more than growth. Help customers make positive changes in their lives, and they will engage in lifelong love affairs with your products, brands and content. Those love affairs will help you beat the competition and drive loyalty, word-of-mouth and meaningful, high-impact growth over the long term.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is the author of The Transformational Consumer: Fuel a Lifelong Love Affair With Customers by Helping Them Get Healthier, Wealthier, and Wiser. She is the CEO of TCI, a consulting firm that creates transformational marketing and growth experiences, and the former VP, Marketing for MyFitnessPal and Under Armour Connected Fitness.