Is It Time to Hand Over Your Brand to Your Customers?

Published by: Tanner Carlson | Published on: 26 Feb, 2024
Is It Time to Hand Over Your Brand to Your Customers?

For years now, marketers have touted word-of-mouth marketing as the most powerful, influential, and effective marketing out there. Business owners heeding this advice have begged, borrowed, and bribed people to review them. But it’s been an uphill battle for most. That’s because when customers have a good (or even great) experience, they are less likely to review a product or service than when they are disgruntled.
What can we say? People enjoy mudslinging.
To build greater customer loyalty, marketing gurus have suggested allowing customers/followers to crowdsource decisions for brands. That’s where all those “pick our new flavor” contests come from. After all, when people join in on a decision, they become invested in its success. But then American Eagle took this crowdsourcing idea a step further.
Is it something you’re ready to do?

American Eagle’s Bold Move

For its spring catalog a few years ago, American Eagle ditched the expensive photo shoots with models and left the photography, styling, and direction to 10 Gen Z “cast members.”  These cast members were discovered on social media and were shown in their own environments, not as part of highly produced sets or locales. Cast members also shared their individual stories and experiences on social media.
Just as a business might showcase its employees, American Eagle drew attention to the customers that make the brand. It’s the highest nod to the idea that you are the company you keep. American Eagle is recognizing they are their brand, and their brand is in the hands of the people who wear and interact with its product.
This is a huge switch from the marketing department owning the brand to making the brand a universal commodity. (If you want to take a deep dive into the subject, check out Mark Shaeffer’s book Marketing Rebellion where he asserts, “We are in a new era where the sales funnel is gone, customer loyalty is undependable, and the customer is the marketer.”)

Tips for How You Can Embrace the Customer as Marketer in Your Business

If you want to try what American Eagle did, here are a few ideas on how you can embrace the concept on a smaller scale.
  • Give your most loyal customers or a local influencer who is in your target market a new product or service. Invite them to talk about it on social media.
  • Create a “board” of customers (in your target market) who will give feedback on new products or services. Provide them with freebies and VIP opportunities for their efforts.
  • When someone shares how much they love something you sell, ask if you can take a picture of them with it or record them on video.
  • Create a video with customers talking about their favorite things in your business.
  • Instead of you sharing new items or services, ask a customer to talk about them.
  • Tell the story of an employee who was hired because of their love of the brand. Employees are customers too. If they’re not, you should wonder why. (My son works for Chick-fil-A and he applied for the position for the sole reason that he loves their food.)
  • Give shoutouts online to customers who are doing something amazing, especially if it ties into your products or services. Tag them if you can.
  • Create customer recommendations in-store and online. A local bookstore asked customers to create reading lists and featured them each week on social media and its blog.
Finally, this is new territory in the customer/brand relationship. Your customers aren’t going to step forward and ask to do something for you (at least not initially. Although, these ideas/concepts will likely reach a point where brand fans will approach you when they see others representing your brand.) You will need to approach them. Do so strategically. You want to select people who love your brand but also are part of (or enjoyed by) your target demographic.
This marketing approach is especially poignant for local businesses in smaller towns whose chosen brand reps may feel a bit like celebrities. It can be a very effective marketing tactic. But more than that it is a chance for your customers to feel vested in your business in a way that will motivate them to return again and again because they will see your business as theirs.