Every business owner wants to cultivate a loyal customer base and avoid toxic relationships. But B.J. Bueno, founder and managing partner of The Cult Branding Company in Orlando, says doing so is not easy; it requires disciplined brand management and employee buy-in. He spoke recently with Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein about strategies that entrepreneurs with limited resources can employ to cope with brand fanatics and brand detractors. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.
Karen E. Klein: What causes customers either to fall in love with a small business or to hate it?
B.J. Bueno: Feeling is the beginning. A transactional customer looks for cheaper prices. He is thinking when he is shopping—as opposed to being guided by his feelings. If your product is a commodity, for your customers, it will be like going to the supermarket.
Most small businesses can’t afford to compete on the commodity level. They want customers who become brand believers. Now you’re in a different realm, where the consumer feels first and thinks later.
Angry customers can become aggressive about spreading bad faith through word of mouth or online. What triggers someone to act out a vendetta against a small business?