If you haven’t had the chance to listen to Ep 3 of IWDR podcast, we talk with Sarah Jones Simmer, COO of Bumble on turning a product into a platform and a platform into a community. You should check it out, listen here.
In today’s marketplace, I frequently hear (and have been heard saying myself) that today’s consumer isn’t brand loyal. As an industry, there’s a lot of commentary around the idea that brand loyalty reminiscent of Mad Men days is a sentiment of yesteryear and loyalty is hard to capture, harder to keep, and easier to lose. And, there is truth in this reflection.
Consumers today come to the table with high expectations of experience. The connectivity of today’s consumer amplifies competitive markets and consumer feedback and opinion. There are no dark corners of illusions for companies to hide in, they either deliver a great experience or they don’t, and the world hears about it. Companies feel the pressure to deliver an experience and measure success by user engagement levels. Often times leaning into creating a product experience in hopes of amassing a following, sometimes they set out to build a community around their product with the intent of capturing engagement metrics. Truth is, this idea of establishing loyalty and engendering engagement can seem like a black box that is favored by a stroke of luck.
But, even in the fast-paced world of digital and emerging technology, there are some things about being human that never change. Just as it always has been, loyalty is earned through trust. And with so many options to choose from, establishing brand loyalty begins with earning trust. And trust is earned by the most old-fashioned of ways:
- Listen. Really listening to the needs of your user and leveraging feedback to create solutions drives the spirit of co-creation in brand and product development. Customers move from just a transaction to valuable members of what is being created. Leverage data points such as complaint or help desk tickets, sales information, social media chatter, consumer insights, and user testing feedback. As Olivia says in the podcast, being listened to is a valuable part of feeling safe. And she’s right. We can’t separate the two — it is impossible to establish trust with the user while turning a deaf ear to the user needs.
- Consistency & Reliability. Part of this exercise is defining who you are as a brand, what you offer, and why. Understanding these things and adhering to them with a fierce commitment directly influences your decision-making process in future scale and brand decisions. When stability and consistency become prominent across touchpoints in your brand — web, digital, in-person, marketing — users can trust that they know what to expect when they engage with your brand.
- Accountability. Hold your brand, your platform, and your product to strict accountability — both internally and externally. The truth is, your internal disconnects find their way into your end user experience…always (Olivia and I did an SXSW 2018 talk on Culture and End UX, listen here). If you only half-bake believe the principle and you aren’t willing to hold your brand accountable to it, your users will know it’s a gimmick. And gimmicks directly engender distrust. Moreover, what we are willing to be held accountable to will begin to shape the identity of the brand as a whole by providing an operating standard that drives decision-making, public responses, and future scale. Hold your brand accountable.
- Mission Driven. Be unapologetically passionate. There is a lot of debate on whether or not it’s couth for brands to weigh in on political, social, or even global human issues. Some say it’s risky and alienates potential users. Other say it’s good business to stand for something. Perhaps it depends on the brand and product. Either way, it’s difficult to connect with a brand that has no identity, no passion, and no purpose outside of making money. Taking a stand may indeed alienate potential users, but in more ways than one, it is a laser-focused view of your target market, attracting those with similar mindsets.
Creating a product that is functional and serves the needs of the users is one thing. Creating a platform that curates engagement and community is another. But creating a brand, with a voice and resonance, is what builds relationships — and this relationship with consumers is what builds trust. And trust is a precursor to loyalty — it’s not rocket science, that’s just being human.
Sarah Jones Simmer is the Chief Operating Officer of Bumble, the female-first social networking app that brings kindness and respect back into introductions and promotes equality in relationships. In her role, she oversees core business strategy, growth, and marketing initiatives, and facilitates the expansion of Bumble’s rapidly growing team headquartered in Austin, TX, with offices around the world.
Sarah has spent her career investing in, studying and operating businesses, focusing on mission-driven brands and supporting visionary founders who meet real market needs. She started her career analyzing equities and market conditions at a Los Angeles-based hedge fund, and later moved into strategy consulting, focusing on the intersection of business growth and social change. In that role, she advised clients from established luxury brands (Gucci, Clinique) to startups (23andMe, hint water), as well as high-net-worth individuals and celebrities, on a range of philanthropic and social good initiatives. Immediately prior to her tenure at Bumble, she was the head of business development and a member of the executive team at PHLUR, a venture-backed, vertically-integrated consumer brand focused on sustainable beauty.