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Building brand loyalty isn't as easy as it used to be. For many retailers, clever slogans, funny ads or generous loyalty programs no longer cut it when it comes to winning people's hearts and wallets.

But maybe it doesn't need to be that difficult either. Vision Critical recently conducted a study with roughly 1000 Americans and found nearly universal agreement (86% of Americans aged 18+) that brand loyalty is strongest with those companies who consumers believe actually listen to their feedback. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why ongoing scalable customer insight communities are one of the fastest growing areas of market research.

Here are four articles I'm reading this week that speak to the power of ongoing consumer insights in building brand loyalty:

  1. Listening helps transform loyal customers into brand advocates.

Listening ties into saying thanks. As your brand advocacy grows make sure you're getting insightful data from everything your brand advocates do, and you're listening to itÛ_ You must know your brand advocates and what motivates them--even if your brand advocates are mostly similar or vastly different. Once you tune into their actions and motivations, you not only create more loyal and productive advocates, you can create a more esteemed and successful brand. - Theresa Trevor on Fast Company

Tweet this: Want to transform loyal customers into brand advocates? Step 1 is to listen. More via this @visioncritical roundup:

  1. Consumer insights can drive both product innovation and marketing.

During her four years at Starbucks, [Julep CEO] Jane Park developed a keen understanding of just how crucial the happiness of the customer is at every turn. "It's about thinking through every step of the customer journey," she saysÛ_ After Julep launched its own e-commerce site in December 2011, it expanded the test-lab concept into the digital sphere. The company now has a core group of about 5,000 customers, known as the Idea Lab, who've been culled from interactions over social media and website feedback. Mavens, as members of the lab are called, get weekly emails with questions both broad ("What is the thing you like least about your mascara?") and narrow ("Which of the following scents would you want your body milk to smell like?"), all a natural extension of the conversations started in those parlors. "Whenever we could do something that involved input, we let the lab know. It's the spiritual testing core of our brand," says Park. Lab feedback can be brutally honest; only about a third of the concepts Julep initiates make it to market. "The idea of failing fast has been part of our DNA."

The concept of focus-grouping new products is hardly revolutionary, of course. There isn't a beauty company on earth that doesn't do some version of it. But Julep has an unusually close relationship with its testers, making them feel as if they're part of the company rather than anonymous guinea pigs behind a one-way mirror. The idea is to create a community--and a deeply loyal customer base. "We feel like product development and marketing are one step," says Park. "When we're testing something, we're actually also kind of marketing it at the same time." - Taffy Brodesser-Akner on Fast Company

Tweet this: How @JulepMaven uses #MRX to test products and market to consumers: part of this @visioncritical roundup:

  1. Collaborating with customers lets marketing drive innovation.

Marketing teams can provide the most value not by trying to influence brand loyalty but by helping drive innovation. CMOs (chief marketing officers) like me need to flip innovation on its head and empower brands to engage customers, getting a better understanding of their needs, concerns, and future wants. That shift within marketing - a move from broadcasting to collaboration - can eventually result in true brand loyalty without focusing on the wrong dynamic. - Tyler Douglas, Vision Critical CMO, on MarketingProfs

Tweet this: #Marketing provides more biz value by collaborating w/ customers- @marketingprofs article in this @visioncritical roundup:

  1. Consumer feedback brings clarity when loyal customers disagree.

When you're faced with a decision that's going to make some customers angry no matter what you choose, it's hard to know which voices to listen to, or whether to listen at all.

There is no more valuable time to listen to your customers than when they disagree, however. If you take the time to dive deep into a controversial topic - ideally with a group of customers who have been providing ongoing input into your business - you have a better chance of identifying strategies that will either help you satisfy competing interests, or focus your attention on the most crucial customer groups. - Alexandra Samuel, Vision Critical VP of Social Media, on Harvard Business Review

Tweet this: When customers have conflicting opinions, #MRX can bring clarity. @harvardbiz article part of @visioncritical roundup:

Turning people into loyal customers can be complicated because the path to purchase has never been more complex. And marketing alone can't reverse declines in loyalty because consumers often evaluate more than the product or service; they also look for companies that are good for their customers, employees and society. Using scalable online insight communities and other engagement tools can help marketers, product & category managers to identify the things that matter to customers and stakeholders while flagging processes or initiatives that don't add value.

How is your business using consumer insights to win customer loyalty? Let us know in the comments.

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