As many entrepreneurs and small business owners know, it's often easier and cheaper to retain an existing customer than to find a new one. One of the keys to growing your business, then, is to maximize the long-term value of each customer, turning a one-off sale into a rabid fan who comes back to buy again and again, and maybe even sends along a friend. Loyal customers are the best customers, but how do you create them?

Ariel Kaye is the Founder and CEO of Parachute, a home essentials brand based in Venice Beach. Prior to launching Parachute, Kaye spent ten years working in brand development and advertising, and she's used those unique insights to help create loyalty among Parachute customers. 

Kaye shared a few of her tips about how brands can create more loyalty among customers and potential customers. 

Use Social To Showcase Your Values And Voice

"Instagram has been a vital brand awareness, acquisition and retention tool from the start," Kaye says. But it's not just about reaching new customers through strategic use of hashtags, or driving sales with discount announcements. "Instagram an extremely effective way to showcase the Parachute aesthetic and to share our focus on quality, design, authenticity and community," she says.

Your Instagram shouldn't just be a place to showcase product shots or employee selfies, but a platform for sharing your brand values, aesthetic and voice, she says. If those are clearly on display and in alignment with your customers' values, your Instagram feed can be a valuable tools for creating a strong sense of community with customers and potential customers alike. 

"While our Instagram serves many purposes, our overarching strategy is to publish aspirational, yet accessible, content that encourages customers to engage with our brand," she says.

Treat In-Person Experiences As Focus Groups

In today's day and age, many small businesses operate almost entirely online. And while digital showrooms offer a chance to reach a wider audience, it also creates distance between business owners, their products, and their customers. 

"The stores provide an opportunity for us to meet our customers in person and understand how they physically engage with our products," Kaye says. This is particularly important in a category like bedding, she says, where a tactile experience is key to the product and difficult to accomplish digitally. "We learn so much through these face-to-face interactions, and our goal is to continually implement these findings to improve the customer experience."

Whether your in-person customer experience takes the form of a retail storefront, a pop-up shop, a booth at a conference or fair, or something else, you should look for opportunities to create direct touch-points with customers to gain invaluable insights into their habits, thoughts and questions while shopping and buying. These insights can help you better serve customers digitally, allowing you to optimize for ease of purchase, reduced objections, customer happiness and -- ultimately -- long-term brand loyalty. 

And when your in-person experiences reflect the values and culture of the brand, you get the added bonus of social exposure, too. "We thoughtfully designed our stores so that shoppers would feel comfortable hanging out there, just like they would at home. They post photos of the stores on social, essentially advocating the brand for us."

Create Partnerships With Brands Who Have Shared Values 

In life, many friendships and relationships are built around our shared affinities for certain hobbies, schools, cities, TV shows, music, organizations and more. When we meet someone who loves our favorite show or went to our school, we feel a kinship already; when someone we like and trust makes a recommendation, we're more likely to feel that recommendation is a good fit for us because we know our values and priorities are aligned.

You can tap into that same sense of shared love to deepen your relationship with customers by creating strategic partnerships with other brands that your customers already love, especially when they have a similar aesthetic, complementary values, a social good initiative you also support, or other well-matched characteristics.

"When working with other brands, we strive to create something that is authentic to our aesthetic and also celebrates the partners' strengths," Kaye says. Parachute has partnered with brands like Jenni Kayne, Clare V., The Citizenry, and Madewell, among others. "Our product partnerships have earned us a reputation as purveyors of cool, high-quality home goods - and they sell out quickly!" 

Look for noncompetitive brands that your customers love, and try to find opportunities to highlight your shared values in the form of partnership, special discount package, exchange of social posts or something else. Here are some ideas for finding brands that might be a natural fit for a partnership:

  • Make a list of products that someone might use with your product. (What's a planner without a pen? A mug without a bag of coffee beans?) Identify some key players who create those products and see if you can create a package deal, a social post exchange, or an entirely new product together. 
  • What does your product help people achieve? What other products/companies help them achieve that goal in a different way? Asking this question can help you find non-competitive brands with similar values and goals for their customers. (ie. If you sell eco-friendly stationary, you might partner with a vegan snack brand or a recycled toothbrush company since they also appeal to people who want to minimize their environmental impact.)
  • Look at the photos your brand is tagged in on Instagram. What other products are often present in those photos? What other brands are often tagged as well? That's a good indication that your customers place you and those brands in the same category in their mind, and that your target audiences overlap enough to explore a partnership.