Four Ways to Build Customers Into Your Brand

“We don’t have a logo,” says Dmitri Siegel, executive director of marketing for Urban Outfitters. “We don’t have a style guide. We have a spirit.” That spirit inspires all of Urban Outfitter’s marketing. The brand’s social strategies reflect this spirit and get its customers involved – so much so that on some levels, it’s difficult to tell where its corporate brand ends and its customer-created brand begins. (Disclosure: Urban Outfitters is a Bazaarvoice client.)

Dmitri has really helped me see how retailers can create a social experience; here are four of his key tips for letting customers shape a brand.

Know who you want to be your friends. Urban Outfitters started out by featuring some of its customers on its blog – fashionable, artistic people the company or its customers would “want to be friends with.” Urban Outfitters interviews these customers to draw others in who share the same style or lifestyle. Not every customer makes a blog feature, but the retailer doesn’t ignore the masses. It takes steps to get all types of customers involved – not just the fashionistas and style mavens who regularly review products. The company embraces different uses of its products – even when paired with clothing and accessories that don’t come from their stores, encouraging customers to send pictures of the entire outfit. Seeing how customers actually wear and pair their apparel in the real world brings the products to life for the Urban Outfitters team.

Be a good listener. This is basic, but many companies aren’t here yet. This point goes hand-in-hand with another point Dmitri often makes – stop talking about yourself so much. Many brands make the mistake of seeing social media as a new medium to push marketing messages and promotions through. Dmitri encourages brands to be quiet and let customers do the talking. Urban Outfitters digs into its customer reviews to learn what it’s like to be its own customer. One woman, for example, reviewed a shirt she purchased as too big, but went on to detail how she cut the shirt and wore it off the shoulder for a new look, and included a photo. Listening to customers helps Urban Outfitters see how its products are actually used and worn, which in turn helps the retailer better design and market new products.

Ask good questions. Part of being a good listener is asking good questions, and your customers’ answers can inspire your brand long after the question is forgotten. Last year, Urban Outfitters did a “lo-fi, high style” campaign/contest, encouraging customers to share photos and stories of cool items and outfits they’d created for cheap. As the photos rolled in, the marketing team realized their customers are as beautiful and creative as Urban Outfitter’s professional catalog photo shoots. Real photos of customers using Urban Outfitters products now inspire Dmitri and the design team daily. Today, when the retailer mashes up its own professional photos with those submitted by customers, even the marketing team can’t tell the difference – which is exactly as it should be.

uo3Focus on connections, not on numbers. Traditional advertising is ruled by “impressions” – the number of people who potentially see a marketing message. But social media can’t be measured in impressions alone. Social marketing is a conversation, measured in deep connections with individuals that build over time, creating annuities that continue to grow. Growing these relationships is the key to social success, says Dmitri, and one way to feed your community is to make some introductions. The more connected your customer base is with each other, he says, the better the experience and stronger the community.

Dmitri’s tips speak to the heart of social marketing – it’s a conversation, not a broadcast. By following these tips, other businesses can work to reach the level of true engagement with customers Urban Outfitters has achieved.

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